Kirsten Weir in Nautilus:
I’m intrigued. Is creativity a skill I can beef up like a weak muscle? Absolutely, says Mark Runco, a cognitive psychologist who studies creativity at the University of Georgia, Athens. “Everybody has creative potential, and most of us have quite a bit of room for growth,” he says. “That doesn’t mean anybody can be Picasso or Einstein, but it does mean we can all learn to be more creative.” After all, creativity may be the key to Homo sapiens’ success. As a society, we dreamed up stone tools, the combustion engine, and all the things in the SkyMall catalog. “Our species is not fast. We’re not terribly strong. We can’t camouflage ourselves,” Puccio told me when we spoke on the phone. “What we do have is the ability to imagine and create new possibilities.” Creativity is certainly a buzzword these days. Amazon lists more than 6,000 self-help titles devoted to the subject. A handful of universities now offer master’s degrees in creativity, and a growing number of schools offer an undergraduate minor in creative thinking. “We’ve moved beyond the industrial economy and the knowledge economy. We’re now in the innovation economy,” Puccio says. “Creativity is a necessary skill to be successful in the work world. It’s not a luxury anymore to be creative. It’s an absolute necessity.”
But can you really teach yourself to be creative? A study published in the Creativity Research Journalin 2004 reviewed 70 studies and concluded that creativity training is effective. But it wasn’t entirely clear how it worked, or which tactics were most effective. More recent studies, however, take us inside the brain to tap the source of our creative juices, and in the process upend longstanding myths about what it takes to be Hemingway or Picasso.
Some of the earliest scientific studies of creativity focused on personality. And some evidence suggests that innovation comes easier to people with certain personality types. A 1998 review of dozens of creativity studies found that overall, creative people tend to be more driven, impulsive, and self-confident. They also tend to be less conventional and conscientious. Above all, though, two personality traits tend to show up again and again among innovative thinkers. Unsurprisingly, openness to new ideas is one. The other? Disagreeableness.