Analysis: creativity is now one of the top skills required for employment so here's how to do things better and differently

Weird. Arty. Out there. Different. That's what many of us think about creative people. Bestowed with a mysterious and powerful gift from birth, imbued with a sort of divine inspiration owned by a select and fortunate few, creatives walk amongst us but are not of us. They break boundaries, think differently and produce art and literature which enhances our world and helps us better understand it.

And it's not just art - scientists are in there too. Some great scientific breakthroughs appear to have come from a moment of creative genius. Alexander Fleming's observations of mould (eventually) gave us penicillin, while Archimedes' musings in the bathtub gave us a way to measure buoyant force (and a handy way to calculate the gold in your crown, should you be needing a solution).

The rest of us non-creative humans have been doing just fine without creativity - until now. It suddenly feels like creativity is everyone’s business. Creativity was announced as one of the top skills required for employment in 2020, LinkedIn claims that how to think more creatively will benefit you the rest of your career  and Forbes declared it to be the skill of the future. It is not just the big guys and small companies need it too. Small and medium enterprises, which make up 99% of businesses in Europe, require skills to enable creativity. In Ireland, the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 states that we should place more emphasis on creativity and entrepreneurship in undergraduate curriculum (as a generic skill).

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Design leader Catherine Courage talks about using creativity to change corporate culture at TEDxKyoto 2012

All of that means companies are recognising that ideas are their most precious commodity and employees who produce them are in demand. Good news if you were born creative, but what about the rest of us?

A new NUI Galway project is currently working to debunk some of the myths around creativity and helping small business owners realise that creativity is actually a skill. Like any skill, it can be learned and improved. Creativity is the process of generating new ideas from original thinking. These ideas are the inspiration which, with some effort, can lead to innovation.

The two concepts are different but linked. Creativity is the first step, where you identify problems and generate ideas to solve them, while innovation is the second step, where you select, develop and implement creative ideas. In other words, it is the practical application of a creative idea.

Creativity and innovation address ways of doing things better and differently. There are different theories around creativity but people who are creative generally share some characteristics such as flexibility, openness to experience, willingness to accept risks and being good at finding problems worth solving.

With a little effort, you can develop these characteristics too. Why not try the following?

(1) Accept your creativity

It may have been educated out of you or you may simply have lost confidence, but the first simple step is to start questioning your assumptions and remind yourself that your brain is amazingly creative. Think about all the activities you already do which involve solving problems. This resourcefulness is a form of creativity. Ask yourself if you are an innovator who is good at doing things better, or an adapter who thinks differently and give yourself a pat on the back for your skills.

(2) Forget group standards

Challenge what you think you know. Challenge rules. Ask why they are there and what would happen if they were not. Challenge preconceived notions and any kind of automatic thinking with the potential to cloud innovation opportunities. Challenge what you see and hear. This will help you push past initial observations and get to the crux of the problem.

(3) Take more risks

Take risks frequently and be prepared for whatever outcome you get. The results may not meet your expectations. Fail forward, and learn from your mistakes along the way.

(4) Challenge everything

Become hyper-aware of your environment and try to notice the common and every day with new eyes. Capture fresh ideas and don't be afraid to use them later.

(5) Take some downtime

Creative thinking uses both sides of our brain but we often favour one type of thinking over another and lose our ability to play and be creative as we get older. Don't overlook opportunities to let your right brain make its mark. Schedule some time for daydreaming to give these slower mental processes a chance to be effective.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ