Practice Area Column

Seven Ways Leaders Can Cultivate Creativity

Creative thinking can help educators connect the dots and elevate solutions.
Photo: Shutterstock
Melissa Morriss-Olson

The forces for preserving the status quo are especially powerful within academic organizations and are often institutionalized in ways that make change very difficult. Moreover, many times those who are well positioned and authorized to lead change are weighed down with workloads and responsibilities that can kill the creative impulse.

And yet, the evidence is clear: Higher education, including international education, is experiencing great change and disruption. One way or another, our institutions are going to shift, either from inside or outside.

How, then, do we break through the structural fixedness that keeps us tethered to our comfort zones and blocks us from seeing things in new ways? Here are seven suggestions for cultivating creative habits of mind that have worked for me as provost at Bay Path University and for colleagues who are similarly challenged by the demands of leadership:

1. Make creative thinking a habit.

Many of us believe that creativity is something a person has or doesn’t have. And yet, research suggests that creative thinking is no different than any other behavior that we might want to change or develop. Thomas Edison’s creative thinking habits provide a great example of how creativity can be cultivated by anyone in nearly any industry. As illustrated by his notebooks, which span 6 decades, the keys to becoming a habitual creative thinker include generating as many ideas as possible, asking “Why?” and “Why not?,” keeping an idea journal, and adopting an exploratory frame of mind.

As with other common habits that

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