August 16, 2017

Can everyone be creative?

Can everybody become a genius? Can everybody become creative? It’s true that companies everywhere are now competing to win in an increasingly fierce war for talent. They are trying to uncover the best talents anywhere and everywhere they can, and that includes people with a spark of genius and those who were born with creativity and problem-solving skills.

Part of the reason is because the world is becoming more and more complex. In a globalised world where changes can be felt halfway around the globe in an instant, problems are becoming more intertwined with the systems that connect us all.

Moreover, new problems arise every day and we can’t simply rely on the same old methods, solutions or approaches to solve these new problems. Hence, companies are expecting to fill their talent pool with highly creative people in the hope that they can help figure out the right answers to these new problems.

The problem is that not everybody can be genius, nor can everybody be as creative as we want to.

Still, most of us tend to believe mistakenly that only people with creativity can come up with innovations. We need to be reminded that they are not the only ones who can solve new problems.

What is more, we need to let go of the idea that creativity or artistic talent is gifted by birth only. Most of us still cling to the false notion that innovation is all about a brilliant individual who has a flash of inspiration. We think that only a handful of mavericks such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk have what it takes to generate game-changing ideas.

But that’s simply not true, and it is becoming a more widely held belief that creativity and lateral thinking can be learned. We are all naturally creative but the challenge is that our education systems and most companies, organisations and institutional settings tend to kill creativity by imposing an overly conformist notion of things; thus, they shut down the natural curiosity and creativity that we all had as children.

Throughout our careers, we are taught to obey the rules, to conform to the opinions and behaviours of others, and to agree with information that supports our views. As time goes by, the pressure grows as we move up the organisational ladder, and by the time we reach high-level positions, conformity has been deeply embedded in us; hence, we build highly structured management hierarchies.

The thing is, we can all still learn to think creatively and innovatively, and we can do so by applying Design Thinking.

Many word-leading design-oriented companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Ikea, Lego and others, have achieved success through applying Design Thinking in their product development process. They have demonstrated the business impacts of this powerful discipline, which can be applied in both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) situations. In this sense, Design Thinking has been used effectively to improve internal processes and cultures in all industries.

In the book Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, authors Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King and Kevin Bennett wrote: “[I]nnate genius isn’t the only way to solve business problems creatively”. The writers share the stories of ordinary managers in various organisations using the creative problem-solving process known as Design Thinking.

Yes, they are ordinary people just like you and me. Their stories are nothing like those of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and others that we consider miracle-makers. Rather, they are simply dedicated managers working with designer partners, using design tools and processes to achieve creative and surprisingly successful outcomes.

The bottom line is that Design Thinking is a way to reawaken our dormant creativity with a clear and proven process. The thinking itself is equal parts process and mindset, and both must be embraced for it to truly work.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre. She can be reached by email at or

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First published at BangkokPost