People often think that creativity is something you’re born with or you’re not. “My sister is the creative one in the family; she goes to art school,” you might hear an accountant say. Advertising agencies even label their departments as such: project managers deal directly with clients, while “creatives” are given the space to write and direct campaigns.
It turns out that narrative is flawed. A new book, Building Your Creativity: Tools For Having Ideas And Bringing Them To Be, argues that creativity is hardly a fixed trait. Rather, like any other skill, creativity is something you can train yourself to cultivate with the right kind of practice. In fact, it’s more of a science than an art.
I talked to one of the book’s authors, Esteban Gast, to find out what that kind of training looks like. Gast teaches a course on creativity at an unexpected place: the University of Illinois’ College of Engineering. “Creativity and engineering have been separated culturally, but at their core, they’re both systematic disciplines,” he says. “People are shocked to find that there are multiple studies that show creativity can be enhanced. You can teach yourself to be creative just as you can teach yourself any skill, be that piano or long division.”
According to Gast, this process requires more than just “believing in yourself” — a common refrain in many of the creativity self-help guides out there. His team’s approach involves tangible techniques and specific action plans, which his book brings to life for readers through a series of hands-on exercises.
Gast is quick to point out that, like piano and long division, building creativity requires patience and hours of practice. So reading all the way to the end of this blog post won’t make you instantly more creative. But it will give you seven things you can start doing now, whether you’re an accountant or an art student, to bring more creativity into your life.