Is Creativity a Hard or Soft Skill?

“Your weapons. You will not need them.” – Yoda, Star Wars

creativity hard or soft skill

According to Linkedin, creativity is the most important skill in the world. Creativity is not merely a gift; it is a skill that can be learned and taught. But is creativity a hard or  soft skill? How can you actually learn to be (more) creative?

Learning to be creative can be like learning to become a warrior or a knight. Luke Skywalker is a virtuoso with his lightsaber, but to fight the empire he also needs the mindset of a Jedi. That is what Yoda teaches him. Harry Potter needs to learn magic spells and potions, and he studies the magical power of animals and creatures. But he also needs to form his character traits and strengthen the power of his mind. For example, through occlumency lessons he learns to shut out unwanted intruders from his brain and protect himself from manipulative influences.

Heroes and warriors need hard AND soft skill training.

Creativity —  a hard skill

Creativity is typically considered a soft skill. But learning creativity has both hard and  soft skill components. I consider creativity techniques hard skills because they are teachable and measurable. Creativity techniques are cognitive methods for coming up with new ways to solve problems. One example of a creativity technique is “blending ideas.” You take two existing ideas and blend them together to form a new idea. When Gutenberg invented the printing press, he combined the concept of printing with mobile letters and the technique of a wine press. Combining two ideas that haven’t previously been connected is an approach to deliberately search for new ideas. The candy manufacturer Reese’s played with that image when “explaining” the invention of peanut butter cups in a commercial —  two people bumping into each other, one with chocolate, the other with peanut butter. Blending is just one of many creativity techniques: they all are similar in the way of offering a systematic approach for generating new ideas.

books about creativity techniquesMany books on the market present creativity techniques from this cognitive angle. The picture to the right shows some well known books about creativity techniques. They introduce lateral thinking strategies and enhance creative problem solving skills. Practicing those methods and developing lateral thinking skills improves the ability of coming up with new ideas. While learning creativity techniques can be quite helpful, it is not mandatory to study them to have breakthrough ideas. But breakthrough inventions are not possible without having internalized the soft skill side of creativity.

Creativity —  a soft skill

Creativity can also be seen as a soft skill —  the creative mindset. In this case, creativity is a set of character traits, behaviors, and a way of thinking. For example, one of the main drivers for creativity is curiosity. Wild, undirected curiosity that is evoked by a trigger, a spark. This curiosity is like the initial scent for a hunting dog, something that sets off the track. The curiosity driven quest gets us emotionally hooked and leads us through valleys of failures and mountains of excitement. While using and integrating our cognitive abilities, they remain only part of the journey that encompasses other characteristics like courage, openness, and perseverance. As is true for all soft skills, this part of creativity is hard to measure. It is therefore no surprise that the typical creativity tests (Guildford, Torrance, etc.) evaluate the measurable hard skill components.

But breakthrough thinking requires more than just creativity techniques, just as it is not enough for Luke Skywalker to be masterful in fighting with his lightsaber. Entering the journey to discover new creative ideas requires the fortitude of a Jedi. It takes bravery and boldness to leave the proven path and explore new territories. It takes grit and determination to bounce back after setbacks and failures. And it takes humility and compassion to discover ideas that are meaningful.

In the Goblet of Fire Harry Potter wins the Triwizard tournament because he asks for help and because he provides help and compassion. And while he is utilizing his magic techniques, like flying on a broom and using his knowledge about dragons, it is not his technical brilliance as a wizard that makes him succeed; it is his character and his mindset.

How to practice the soft skills of creativity?

The pathway to learn the soft skills of creativity, to develop the creative mindset, is less methodical than learning creativity techniques. Unless we have a master like Yoda to teach us, it can be hard to find the challenge that we need to grow. Art is one of the most successful ways I know to develop creativity soft skills. Leonardo Da Vinci and Albert Einstein are prominent examples how a lifelong practice of art can lead to breakthrough inventions and ideas. Art teaches us to develop our imagination, it cultivates our self-discipline, and it increases our intellectual independence.

Implementing hard skills is easier for business because they are quantifiable. With a quick before and after test you can count how many more possible solutions a team can develop after applying a new creativity technique. The soft skills of creativity are harder to measure but nevertheless have a huge impact on the culture of organizations.

Tackling 21st century problems creatively will take both lightsaber techniques and Yoda-trained mindsets.

“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

— Leonardo Da Vinci


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