Can Creativity Be Learned? Two Books To Enhance Your Creativity

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“Starman” Illustration by the author.

I’m not completely certain people can go from non-creative to highly creative, but many authors who write on the topic seem to believe it can be so. I do believe, however, that our creative faculties can be expanded, that thinking creatively is indeed a skill that can be learned.

In reality you don’t really want high degrees of creativity when it comes to accounting, for example. But in the creative professions, such as advertising and design, it’s a major asset.

In 2008 while coveting various books in the gallery store at the Museum of Modern Art, I came across and purchased an excellent volume about creativity called IdeaSpotting: How To Find Your Next Great Idea, by Sam Harrison. For some reason people assign a mysterious, mystical quality to the process of creativity, not recognizing that thinking creatively has very definite steps which can be learned and put into practice. It is not magic. There is no “muse” whose presence is necessary for us to have an idea.

A second book, which I own and have returned to several times over the years, is A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young. Young writes that scientific giants agree that “knowledge is basic to good creative thinking,” but that this is not enough. Rather, “knowledge must be digested and eventually emerge in the form of fresh, new combinations and relationships.”

Later in the book he writes, “An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.”

If you need help in this area (developing your intuitive faculties and breaking free creatively) I would endorse A Technique most heartily, and from what I have read thus far of IdeaSpotting, it will also be on my list. Here are some comments from the intro:

“Trainspotter” is British slang for a dull, obsessive guy whose hobby is standing for hours on station platforms, meticulously recording the serial numbers of train cars passing by. If the British call you a trainspotter, they’re likely calling you a loser.

IdeaSpotters, on the other hand, are surefire winners. The only thing they have in common with trainspotters is a predilection for notebooks. Rather than record engine numbers, IdeaSpotters capture ideas.

As for me, the key idea for Idea Spotting is to actually take the essential step of recording it on paper before it slips away and is lost. Ideas can be elusive, flutter through your mind much like a butterfly across a field. It doesn’t always alight and is thus not easily captured. Learning how to use your internal “virtual butterfly net” is a skill that can indeed be learned.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Originally published at on March 8, 2019.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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