In our latest Marketing Smarts Podcast, we talked to Alicia Arnold, senior VP of digital at Hill Holliday, about the myths surrounding creativity. At the center of our conversation was one myth: Creativity cannot be taught.

Listen to it later:

“You can’t have a one-legged stool.”

When a young Alicia Arnold heard those words, they didn’t sit right with her. After all, what about stools that you see in diners that have just one leg and are flared at the bottom?

Alicia, who serves as senior vice president of Digital at Hill Holiday, eventually grew to see her own natural inclination to question conventional wisdom (“Everyone knows stools have three legs!”) not only as a sign of her nascent creativity, but also as an important component of the creative process as a whole, a process she has committed herself to studying, practicing, and, above all, teaching.

In the most recent episode of our Marketing Smarts Podcast, we talked to Alicia about her new book, Creatively Ever After, and the many myths surrounding creativity. At the center of our conversation was one myth in particular: Creativity cannot be taught. It’s important to dispel this myth for several reasons.

First of all, as businesses increasingly become publishers, marketers (and others) feel more and more pressure to create interesting, engaging, and useful content. They also need to figure out ways to re-imagine the content they have produced and are producing. To do this well, you need to develop your creative skill set and apply it to the content challenges your company faces.

And of course, as soon as you are talking about a “skill set,” you are talking about something that can be taught!

Second of all, no one can do it alone. “Creativity takes teamwork,” as Alicia puts it.

According to her, the creative process consists of at least four different abilities:

  1. The ability to clarify a problem or situation (which usually involves asking a lot of questions)
  2. The ability to come up with new ideas (or “ideate”)
  3. The ability to develop ideas into workable solutions
  4. The ability to implement these solutions and make ideas a reality

Because most people turn out to be strong in one of these four areas, and because very few are equally strong in all four, creative solutions generally require a group effort.

Moreover, Alicia has found that as people become aware of these different aspects of creativity, they not only begin to appreciate their own role in the creative process, but they also start to see how one might harness the creative capabilities of diverse individuals across the organization (rather than assuming, as many do, that creativity is the special purview of just one department).

This leads to point three: Unleashing the creative capabilities of individuals across your organization can actually transform it.

In the podcast, Alicia tells a story about teaching a certain project manager, who was very good at asking clarifying questions, how to understand the ways in which she was, without even realizing it, practicing a form of creativity. A few weeks later, this woman came back to Alicia and said, “People say I’m different now, that I’m more fun to work with.” Can you imagine the impact if people said that about everyone working for your company?