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Posted on Sun, Jul 25, 2010 : 5:49 a.m.

Help wanted: Creative thinkers to solve business problems

By Tamara Real

It's 2012 and a medical devices firm wants to expand into serving the needs of wounded veterans returning from the wars. It's 2015 and the board of a major Fortune 500 company is looking for a new CEO. It's 2020 and a conservative think tank needs a new director of security policy. What do these employers all have in common?

They're probably all looking for creative thinkers who can come up with novel solutions to their business' challenges. And they're probably all having a hard time finding those creative problem solvers.

According to a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs, creativity is the No. 1 "leadership competency" of the future. This is not the artist-starving-in-the-attic-for-his-art activity that sometimes gets confused with creativity. This is the production-of-something-original-and-useful creativity that solves problems ranging from business mergers to fashion, storm-water management to sports equipment improvements.

And sadly, as a country, we're not doing a very good job at preparing our young people with the creative thinking skills needed for these jobs.

Creativity (and creative thinking) is not an exclusive gift bestowed on a lucky few, although like most talents, some people are more capable in this area than others. Creativity requires divergent thinking (the ability to generate many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (the ability to evaluate and synthesize those ideas into the best solution), according to a recent article on the subject in Newsweek.

This is where the arts comes in. Arts activities celebrate and nurture the skills most necessary for creative problem solving. The arts promote habits that cultivate curiosity, imagination and evaluation skills, according to Michael Blakeslee, senior deputy executive director of MENC: The National Association for Music Education. Arts activities such as music, dance, theater, visual arts and media arts bring vividly to life concepts necessary for conflict resolution, interpersonal communications, product development and much more. These skills are all critical for negotiating a quickly changing, highly challenging world.

Blakeslee and others involved with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student, have just released a 21st Century Skills Map for the Arts that demonstrates how the three Rs and four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity and innovation) can be fused within arts curriculum.

Other researchers, however, go even further and say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom. Writing for Newsweek, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman say "the argument that we can't teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn't about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process."

Certainly times are tough and difficult decisions need to made regarding school budgets. But let's be sure to not short-change our children as we educate them.



Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 8:38 a.m.

Sorry, but I can't take seriously someone who feels that the city should spend close to a million dollars on artwork in front of the new municipal building. Real creativity would be finding a way to use the money to truly help the citizens of Ann Arbor. That would be some real creative problem solving


Mon, Jul 26, 2010 : 12:13 a.m.

Excellent article. I would add that creating an environment that fosters creativity is key. Indeed if curricula were R.A.D. then students would be well on their way to being more creative. What's R.A.D.? R-Respect for the past A- Awe of the present experience D Dreams for the future Add to that a curricula that has workshops that work to solve problems and teach the basics of design thought processes, and creativity as well as entrepreneurial activity are sure to follow.


Sun, Jul 25, 2010 : 10:38 a.m.

Well stated. In fact, creativity was one of the 9 common lessons from music that transalted into business success in my book "verything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music," a compilation of interviews/profiles of 32 CEOs and business leaders who played music as a child or adolescent and view that experience as a defining one in preparing them for business success. Here's the link: FROM THE BAND ROOM TO THE BOARDROOMThe 9 Common Lessons of Music Education That Translate into Success Thanks for your support of music and the arts!