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Industry Experts Explain How to Tap Into Your Creativity, Overcome Failure at Work

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Is Creativity an Art or Science?

For many people, creativity may feel like either something they’re born with, or something they’ll simply never possess. But is that truly the case?

From our earliest school days, some of our peers excelled at all things that called for creativity: art projects, short stories, chorus and musical theatre, even various assignments in math and science class that needed posters, drawings, or presentations for the class. If you were not among these students, you may have felt totally void of the creative knack and resigned yourself to other endeavors, leaving that portion of group projects for your partners.

But creativity is not just drawing or performing. In fact, it comes in practically endless shapes, sizes, and forms: from choosing the right words to putting together a resume or powerpoint, even to cleaning up an Excel sheet or taking clients out for dinner. Given its countless manifestations, one has to ask: Is creativity an art or a science?

Does your job require you to be creative? A cognitive psychologist and a Harvard liberal arts professor sat down to discuss the similarities and differences between their approaches to creativity, as well as the common link that some of our world’s greatest creative minds—from artists to mathematicians—had in common.

As it turns out, though they disagreed on their approaches to studying creativity, they agreed on the one factor necessary for mastering a given skill.

creativity team work at desk

Source: Shutterstock/SFIO CRACHO

How can you tap into YOUR creativity?

Meet the Experts

creativity sarah lewish scott barry kaufman headshots

Source: Facebook @Sarah Lewis; @Scott Barry Kaufman

Sarah Lewis is an assistant professor of Art History, Architecture, and American and African American Studies at Harvard. Her recent novel, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, studies in depth the way in which various great minds untapped their creative genius, placing as much emphasis on their failures as well as their successes.

Scott Barry Kaufman is a cognitive psychologist who specializes in the psychology behind creativity. His recent book, Wired to Create, explores ways to measure creativity and the creative capacity of a given individual.

Here’s how they agreed or disagreed on various topics related to understanding and expressing creativity, especially in a given industry.

Can Creativity Be Measured?

scott barry kaufman creativity quote

Source: Facebook @Scott Barry Kaufman

In Kaufman’s work at the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, research focuses on a way to quantify creativity by measuring outputs of imagination and creative work in real time. If successful, this could show psychologists how to further develop and cultivate it, thus allowing individuals to reach their creative peak. One problem, however, is that creativity involves a lot of failure, which makes it more difficult to keep track of and measure.

On the other hand, Lewis doesn’t believe that creativity can be measured per se. Instead, she looks at creativity in a historical context: What is the central process behind creativity? She also recognizes that failure is essential to understanding creativity: Why does it stop some people while further propelling others?

Kaufman explained to Lewis that in retrospect, history only focuses on artists’ and thinkers’ greatest successes and masterpieces while their failures or less popular works fade into indifference. In terms of measurement, the more we fail, the better our chances for success. Lewis doesn’t study this statistical approach to creativity and failure, but she admits that it’s intriguing.