Talent or training
(The teaching of creative thinking. Page 7)
Many people feel that creativity is a natural talent and that nothing can be done about it. This attitude is held for two reasons:
1. It provides a very good excuse for not having to do anything about creativity.
2. The person with this view has not yet come across any serious method of improving creative skills and has been put off by the messing around and "crazy" approaches used so often.
It is often said that Beethoven, Mozart or Van Gogh did not have to learn creativity. There are two points to be made here. The first point deals with artistic creativity. The word creativity in the English language covers an extremely broad area. Many artists are not really "creative" in my sense of the word but are productive stylists producing within a style of perception and expression but not really changing that style.
I am interested in the creativity involved in the changing of perceptions and concepts, and that is why I have given the specific term lateral thinking to this process. There may be an overlap with artistic creativity and some artists (composers, etc.) do use my methods, but there are other aspects which may be quite different (emotional and spiritual resonances, etc.).
There is no reason to suppose that an artist will make a good teacher of creativity simply because the word creativity is involved in art.
"I am interested in the creativity involved in the changing of perceptions and concepts."
The second point to be made about the "Beethoven" remark is that the purpose of creative training is not to produce super-geniuses but to give everyone a workable level of creative skill. When we teach mathematics in school, we do not pretend that every student is going to become a Poincare. We know that mathematics is useful in most activities, and we want to give students the ability to use that skill. Not every coached tennis player is going to win at Wimbledon, but most people can be taught to play a useful game of tennis.
If we do nothing at all about training creativity, then we have to fall back on natural talent because there is nothing else. But that does not mean that nothing can be done. Natural running ability can take us a certain distance at a certain speed. We could be content with that. The invention of the bicycle provides a mechanism by which the same human muscle power can take us much farther and much faster. Natural mathematical ability would not have gotten us very far without formal notations and methods. Today computers are allowing mathematicians to go beyond human ability.
In the same way, formal techniques of creative thinking allow us to become much more creative. When I wrote my first books on lateral thinking, I half expected truly creative people to ignore this work and to claim that they knew all there was to know about creativity. Exactly the opposite happened. Such people were the first to show a great interest in what I was doing, and they wrote to tell me how useful they found the techniques.To this day highly creative people tell me that they don’t just rely on their own natural talent, but also formally use lateral thinking techniques step by step when they need a new idea.
There is the very old-fashioned idea that creativity means "freedom" and therefore any techniques or methods must inhibit creativity. This is nonsense.
Life is full of examples of "liberating" structures which allow us to do things we could never do without these structures: carpenter's tools, painter's brushes and paints, a ladder, a cup, mathematical notation, maps, surgical instruments, the telescope, etc. These are all structures which allow us to exert our talents more effectively.
People who are talented in creativity find that the training and formal techniques enhance their skill. People who have never considered themselves to be creative find that the formal techniques allow them to build up a useful skill of creativity - and the creative attitudes follow from the use of the tools. People who are conformist and have hitherto believed that creativity is only for "rebels" find that conformists can learn the "game" of creativity and can become even more creative than the rebels.
There is not an either-or polarization between talent and training. As with any skill, the two go together.