Dr Amy Climer

Episode 31: Creativity Training: What It Is and How It Works

I am often asked to explain what creativity training is and how it works. In this episode I clarify creativity training by walking through sample activities and describing a typical creativity training. I also explain three different types of creativity training and the one you need will depend on your goals. Organizations much continue to innovate if they want to thrive. Creativity training gives team members the tools and techniques they need to be more creative and solve problems for the organization. 

What You’ll Learn

  • The importance of being creative and how creativity training can help
  • Three different purposes of creativity trainings

Resources Mentioned in the Episode

The Weekly Challenge

Think about how you can be more creative in 2016. Do you need creativity training? Can you deliver training to your team? Reach out if you need help. It’s what I do best! 


Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read it below. Enjoy!

Amy Climer: Happy New Year! Welcome to Episode 31 of The Deliberate Creative Podcast. My name is Amy Climer. Today is December 31st. Happy New Year everyone. I hope you are having a wonderful New Year’s Eve and a wonderful New Year’s week. I love this time of the year. I love New Year’s. We spend the month from Thanksgiving to Christmas, from the end of November to the end of December where there is a lot of festivities and, of course, there is the major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, which I celebrate. I do not know if you as a listener do, but I definitely participate in those holidays, and a lot of family time and a lot of gift giving, which is super fun. I love all that.

But I really like this week, the week after Christmas, the week of New Year’s, where to me it is just an opportunity to kind of be a little bit more quiet, to slow down, to think about the year that has passed, and to think about the year ahead. I am a big fan of taking some time to reflect back on the year, and to look at what I have accomplished, to look at what I did well, to look at what I did not do so well, and what I might want to change or improve for the next year. So that is something that I am hoping to do later this week.

I am a big fan of setting goals for the year. I definitely had a number of goals that I set in January of 2015 that I looked back at periodically throughout the year to assess, “Okay, where am I going, how am I doing with these goals.” And now here it is December and I would say that some of them I have met, some of them I have not, some of them are taking longer than I expected, which is the story of my life really. Things always seem to take longer than I think. I guess that is the problem with being an optimist. But those that I have not accomplished I am still working towards, which is exciting.

Usually, setting goals at the beginning of the year is very common.  There is something about that, that beginning where it is just a nice time. Like let us look ahead, what are we going to accomplish for this year, what do we want to accomplish for 2016? Some of you might have the goal to be more creative in your life. Or if you are working for a team or an organization and you might want to help them become more creative in 2016.  I will say I am a fan of the phrase “Innovate or Die.” I think that applies to organizations and so if you are a part of an organization you have to always be creative. You have to continually innovate. You have to be paying attention to what is going on in the industry, what is going on outside of the industry, because sometimes that is even more valuable. And looking at how do we provide the most amazing services and products to help our customers and our clients and our students, whoever it is you are serving. Being creative is an incredible gift that we have as human beings and I think it is our responsibility to use that gift, one, in a responsible way, but just to use it, period.

A lot of times what happens for me is I am out and about and I meet people, whether I am at an event or — you know how it is — you just meet people and inevitably the question comes up of what do you do for a living? So I tell people that I have my own business and I work with teams in organizations to help them be more creative and more effective. Sometimes that leads into a conversation about creativity training, and the person I am talking to might say, “Oh no, you could not help me. I am not creative at all. In fact, I do not have a creative bone in my body.” That actually is a common phrase. And some people say, “Wait, wait, you can teach people how to be creative?” And the answer is yes, I sure can. It is not magic, it is not some mystical, mysterious thing I do, it is actually a pretty straightforward process. And if you are a regular listener of this podcast you have probably heard Episodes 3 through 7 where I walk through the Creative Problem Solving process. That is the process that I teach 90% of the time when I am working with teams in organizations.

What Creativity Training is and How It Works [5:15]

I want to explain a little bit of what creativity training is and how it works. It may be something that you are interested in either facilitating yourself, with your team or with your organization, or you may be interested in having someone like me come in and help you with that. There are a number of ways that could go, and I will talk about that. But the first is, what is creativity training? Creativity training is to teach you how to be more creative, obviously. But a lot of people have this misconception of what creativity is. It is not about your ability to draw. And I talk about that in Episode 1, Defining Creativity. It is not about that. It has nothing to do with your artistic talent. You need creativity in order to be artistic, but you could be highly creative and not be artistic at all. Creativity is about your ability to generate and implement new ideas that are unique and valuable. That is it. So if you generate and develop and implement new ideas for your organization, or if your team does that, that is creativity. That is what I mean when I say “Innovate or Die,” and that if you do not do that your team and your organization is not going to flourish, and if they do not flourish eventually they sort of whither away and something else comes and takes its place. So it is very important.

Creativity training – in some ways I think you could say it is teaching us how to use a process that we already naturally have. It is teaching us skills that we already have the capability and the capacity to implement. It is giving us some framework. So the Creative Problem Solving process is a four stage process, and I am not going to go into it, but I will just reiterate those four stages. They are clarify, ideate, develop, and implement. So in a creativity training I teach all four of these stages and we actually tackle a real problem that the team is already having. Sometimes this is where the team comes together and they all work on one problem, sometimes individuals might be working on different problems during the training, either way works really well.

So that at the very least, at the end of the training — which is usually a day long training — so at the very least at the end, people walk away with solutions to a problem that they have been facing. Ideally, they also take these concepts and take the tools and techniques that they learn, and they apply that to the next time they have a problem, which is most likely the very next week because what we do as human beings is we solve problems. That is our specialty. So I teach the process, we focus on real problems. I do not like to look at sort of, “Oh, let us just have this pseudo problem or let us just make up a problem and solve some fake problem.” I think that the training sinks in when it is actually something real.

In that training we go through a number of tools and techniques for each of the different stages of the Creative Problem Solving process. I want to just tell you a few of them, and again you can listen to Episodes 3 through 7 and there are some more in there, but here is a few that I did not mention before. This is called Find a Random Trigger. Basically you take a book, you flip open the book, you pick a word on the page, maybe it is the first word or sometimes you can just point to the page and see what word is there. That is your random trigger. And now you are going to think of at least five ideas related to your problem that are somehow based on this word. That can be just a fun way, it is just a different way to think about coming up with ideas.

Combining different concepts together [9:18]

This next activity is something that I would do more of as a warm up, if I just want to get people thinking in a really wild way. Actually, during that ideation stage it can be really helpful to just come up with the wildest ideas you can think of. You may or may not actually use them, but those ideas can trigger other ideas. So sometimes to illustrate that point is I will do a warm up activity. This one is about combining different concepts together. There is a number of ways to do this. I might give someone a prompt, I might give the group a prompt and say select one of these objects and draw what it might look like. Often people might be working in groups of two or three to do this. For instance, a vehicle that is also a kind of fish. A computer that is also a kind of teacup. A piece of furniture that is also a kind of fruit. As you can see, we are bringing completely different things. I mean, furniture and fruit? What do those two things have to do with each other? Not a lot. These creative thoughts can really start percolating when we bring in two very different things. So that is an example of maybe a warm up activity that I might use.

Generating of Ideas [10:42]

Another activity, and again this is another warm up activity, although sometimes this could be more specifically related to the problem. It depends on what the group is focusing on. This is about generating a bunch of ideas about something that is pretty common, that we do not really think much about. The concept is to take a basic household object, maybe a paperclip, a brick, a trash can, a stool, just something that you would have around your house or office, and for the group to generate as many different purposes for that object. What are some unusual things you might consider that object for? Then you can get a little creative, innovative. So if you have say a brick, you might look at well what if that brick was made out of Styrofoam instead of clay? What if that brick was five times bigger than it is, then what would you do with that? And you could really start doing some twists to the whole problem, the whole challenge.

By the way, these three creative activities that I just mentioned, they came directly from a tool called  Zig Zag Creativity Cards. This is a deck of cards that was created by Dr. Keith Sawyer. He is a professor of creativity at University of North Carolina, and he will be on the podcast in a couple of months. So you will have an opportunity to learn more about him and his idea about zig zagging, and that creativity involves a lot of zig zagging. I will put a link to the deck of cards in the shownotes. Teaching these tools and techniques to help people pull creativity out of themselves is a key piece of creativity training.

The Difference Between Divergent Thinking and Convergent Thinking [12:41]

Another important piece of creativity training, is helping people understand the difference between divergent thinking and convergent thinking. And to recognize how, usually, we try to do those two types of thinking at the same time, and it causes all sorts of problems. If we separate those two types of thinking from each other, we are much more successful.

Divergent thinking is where we are coming up with as many ideas as possible. We are diverging. We are going in all these different directions, perhaps, where we are generating, where we are looking at quantity, we are looking at getting a little wild here. That is divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is where we are selecting the best. We are analyzing, we are looking at all the ideas that are out there and figuring out what are the top five ideas here? So we are evaluating. I would say that, at least in the US, most of us have been very well trained in convergent thinking. We have been taught from a young age to evaluate, to analyze, to synthesize, but we have not been taught as well on how to do divergent thinking. So I tend to focus more on a divergent thinking when I lead creativity trainings.

Separating those two types of thinking can be incredibly effective. Usually what happens with teams is they meld the two. So they will start a brainstorming session, and they will start generating ideas, and after idea number five or so somebody says, “Oh no, we cannot do that. We do not have enough money.” Or, “We tried that in 1992 and it did not work then so we are not going to do it now.”  So as the divergent thinking is happening, they are analyzing and they are evaluating the ideas and they are bringing in that convergent thinking, and it shuts down the divergent thinking. But if we separate those out, we can be much more successful at being creative and coming up with new ideas.

So I teach that and I explain we have specific rules that we follow during the divergent and convergent thinking process, which may sound a little unusual to have rules for creativity, but it actually works really well. On a previous episode, I talked about creativity blocks. One creativity block is actually when there is what I call the Blank Canvass Effect, where there is just anything goes. Actually it is more helpful if there are some parameters. Not too many parameters, of course. But when there are some that can help us focus, and when we know okay, there are some certain rules for the process of how we are going to move forward, it can be much more helpful, particularly with a team. So those are a few of the things that I teach in creativity training.

What Creativity Training Looks Like With an Organization [15:33]

I want to talk about what creativity training looks like with an organization. There are a number of ways that an organization might do creativity training. One might be where I am brought in to facilitate creativity training for a large group of people — and it can be anywhere from ten people to fifty people — and the focus is on teaching that Creative Problem Solving process. So that is one way. Just come in, teach this process, we will focus on the real problem. That is one option.

Another option is actually not so much to spend time on teaching the Creative Problem Solving process, but just to facilitate the process. So if there is a focus on – we have this big problem, we want some help solving it, we do not necessarily need to learn all the nuances of Creative Problem Solving for future use, but we really want to focus in on this specific problem and go in a lot of depth on that. That is another option, to have someone like me come in and facilitate that process.

The third option is to work with a smaller group of people to teach them how to facilitate Creative Problem Solving, where they can in turn then facilitate that for the entire organization, whether that is a one-time thing or whether it is something that they are called to do on perhaps multiple times a year. So those are three different ways that I have worked with organizations to help them understand creativity and implement creativity in their organization in order to be more innovative and more successful in the work that they are doing.

I will say that the trainings are a lot of fun and they are incredibly effective. I have had just some great response from teams who have come back to me months and months later and said, “We are implementing the things you taught us, and we are also implementing some of the ideas that came out of the training,” and that is just really exciting to see. Because I think what can happen is a lot of times when trainers will come in and we do a short training, a half day or one day, the challenge is making it stick. So my ideal, actually, when I am working with organizations is to be able to come back multiple times, whether that is to do coaching calls with a smaller group of people who are then facilitating, or whether that is to break the training up into multiple segments and so we are learning little bits at a time, whatever the situation is, that is always the ideal. To be able to come back and have multiple touches is ideal because that can really deepen the learning. Because it is hard to learn everything at once. But even if I do not come back, there are a lot of ways that I try to set teams up for success so that they can continue that work on their own and keep coming back to it.

That is a little bit of understanding of what creativity training is about. I will say just physically, the ideal is just a big room full of round tables with a lot and lot and lot of Post-It Notes, sticky notes. I use a lot of sticky notes, poster papers, easel paper. It is stuff that you would have around your office anyway. So we do tend to use a lot of that, and it is fun. Usually by the end the room is just full of all these ideas taped up to the wall. It looks like organized chaos in a way, but it is not chaos, it is actually fairly structured and very effective. So that is a little bit of what creativity training is and how it works, and it is really effective. Even if you are someone who is thinking, “Oh no, I do not have a creative bone in my body,” you do. You do. It is in there. You have just ignored it for a while, but it can come out. So if you are interested in creativity training, give me a call, shoot me an email and let’s talk. I just love doing this work.

Weekly Challenge [19:48]

So for your weekly challenge this week, I want to challenge you to think about what your goals are for 2016, and in what way can you become more creative. In what ways can you bring more creativity into your life or into your team’s life or into your organization. How can you help your organization learn how to innovate and not die? So think about that and if you would like any help with that, definitely let me know. I will also put a link in the shownotes for Keith Sawyer’s Zig Zag Cards, which are a great tool. I highly recommend them. I have a deck sitting right here in front of me. That is a tool you can use to help you become more creative. There are 48 different techniques in there, different tools that you can use. Three of them I mentioned here, some of them I’ve mentioned in other episodes. And many of the techniques he has mentioned have been around for a long time and so they have been researched and tested, tried and true techniques for sure. So I definitely recommend Zig Zag Cards. You can find the link at the shownotes which is climerconsulting.com/031 because this is Episode 31.

iTunes Review

I also like to end today with a big thank you for a new review I got a couple of weeks ago. This review is from me24585 and that review title is Lots of Great Ideas, five stars. They said, “I love your podcast. I do not usually listen to many podcasts, but since I am walking the Camino de Santiago with students in January, I have been doing some long training hikes and listening to your podcast.” Okay, that is really cool. “I am through all the back episodes so now I cannot wait until the next one comes out. They are very informative and insightful. A good combination of practical ideas founded on solid research. I will use some of the ideas in the college courses I teach.” Yay, that is so awesome. Thank you so much to me24585. I appreciate the comments and I appreciate the five star reviews.

If you have not written a review yet on iTunes, I would love to get a review from you. And if you do write a review, I will give you a shout out on the podcast. So yeah, if you are thinking of like, “Oh, what kind of thank you could I give to Amy for putting together these podcasts?” That’s it right there, just go write me a review. If you have already written a review, or even if you have not, please share this with other people. If there are others out there that you think will benefit from learning about creativity and teams and leadership from this podcast, please share about it, post it on social media, tell your friends.

Thanks you all. I really, really want to say thank you and have a fabulous New Year. I really appreciate so many people who have emailed me or called me and thanked me for the podcast. I am so glad that you are listening. It motivates me and hopefully it is motivating you to be more creative in your life. Thank you again. Happy, happy New Year, and I will talk to you all in 2016. Bye.

Note: The links on this page may be affiliate links. That means I get a small commission of your sale, at no cost to you. However, I only share links to products that I or my guests believe in. Enjoy them! 



Rave Reviews

  • Amy Inspires Creativity Growth in Everyone
    January 5, 2022 by cjpowers7 from United States

    Amy Climer’s show helps all of us grow our creative muscles. She is authentic and cares about her listeners. Amy empowers us with tools that work in the office, training sessions, and our communities. The best part is her ability to make what feels out of reach, something that can be accomplished with simple steps forward.

  • A great way to get inspired!!
    March 8, 2021 by binglish from United States

    Love listening to Amy’s podcast! Her guests are awesome and conversations are full of inspiring information.

  • A must for people who want to think better
    May 26, 2019 by Dhensch from United States

    Amy Climer hit a home run with this podcast and continues to get hits with every episode. I was hooked with the first one and binge-listened to the four solo episodes about the Creative Problem Solving process. Her knowledge of the subject of creativity and innovation is incredibly deep. And, she makes it easy for others to learn and apply. I have listened to other "expert" podcasts and Amy's is different in that she holds nothing back. Episode after episode offer practical insights, tips and tools. She has a generosity of spirit that is contagious.

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