Creativity and Innovation as Learning

Kay Peterson

In, hybrid workplaces, employee engagement, the great attrition and WFH, leaders and employees have a new shared vocabulary, and new demands.  Not only do people need to become fluent in using these terms, they also need to become skilled in understanding and managing them. This will require creativity, innovation, and learning from experience.

This month, thanks to our Learning at the Edge podcast guests Kate Crawshaw and Trudi Boatwright, we are exploring creativity and its important role in learning and development. Our podcast guests reminded us of the importance of play, environment, and psychological safety – all of which promote creativity.

Creativity sometimes gets pigeon-holed, they said, and is seen as simply the ability to draw or paint. However, every section of the learning cycle has a creative thought process, they pointed out. “Creativity creates the space where deep learning can happen.”

Creativity has been linked to innovation and learning by experiential learning practitioners with interesting results. In their 2011 paper The Socio-Cognitive Dynamics of Entrepreneurial Ideation, Robert M. Gemmel, Richard J. Boland and David A. Kolb looked at technology entrepreneurs and how they use social behaviors, techniques and cognitive processes to come up with ideas for new products, processes or services. The results revealed a complex, multilevel social process that emphasized active and social experimentation.

“Greatest ideational productivity occurs when trusted partners exchange and refine ideas through a form of shared cognition,” the article said, reminding us that creativity is an individual and a social process. Creativity is enhanced by the quality of our relationships and the trust we feel around others.

Do you feel at your creative best around your work colleagues?


Do you make others around you feel safe enough to be creative?

The Imagining learning style is most easily linked with ideation and creativity. Certainly, the Imagining style calls forth our openness and inclusiveness, our ability to diverge before reaching a conclusion, and an ability to see a situation with fresh eyes. Yet, we believe that all learning styles bring their own version of creativity.  After all, don’t we all need a form of creativity in analysis, strategy, judgement and our behaviors?

In the workplace, creativity and innovation can only flourish if it is incorporated into the business’ practices. McKinsey reports that the top performing companies use four key practices to transform creativity and innovation into business value:

1. Daily practices for creativity.  This includes prioritizing creativity, innovation and marketing.

2. Customer fanatics.  This includes observing customers in their own environment and understanding their problems.

3. Feed speed.  Making quick decisions, embracing some risk, and having specific deliverables, clear goals, and accountability.

4. Adapt quickly. An attitude of ongoing improvement and learning.

At the Institute for Experiential Learning, we believe that the quality of one’s learning empowers choice and transformation.  It starts with making the process of learning explicit.  We guide individuals and teams to improve the quality of their learning and to apply it to what matters most to them.  In the process, they will also improve awareness, connection, collaboration, judgment, and creativity.

We suggest, right now, everyone needs to be a creator and innovator.

For more on creativity and innovation, see The Growth Triple Play: Creativity, Analytics and Purpose in McKinsey. And for another perspective, see Creativity is Not Enough in Harvard Business Review.