170 How to Coach People to Be More Creative

YES! AND… Collaborate. Innovate. Transform – Creative Gorilla #170

 How to Coach People to Be More Creative 

How to coach people to be more creative

The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.”

Oscar Wilde

Recently, someone asked me how I might coach someone to be more creative when they think they are not creative? The question provoked a lot of thinking on my part and I would like to share my response with you as leaders so that you can deal with such a situation.

Everyone can be creative

In my career as a business leader and as a tutor with the Open University, I met a few people who told me they were not creative and I observed quite a few who were not being creative. You probably have too.  However, that does not mean they are not creative, it means we have different ways of approaching it. Dr. M. J. Kirton, creator of the Kirton Adapter Innovator (KAI) style profile, says:

“Those who are adaptive in style are characterised by precision, reliability, efficiency; seen as methodical, prudent, disciplined. Those more innovative in style are seen as thinking tangentially, approaching tasks from unsuspected angles; undisciplined, unpredictable.”

From this description, do you agree that adaptive people are more likely to say they are uncreative? In my experience it is true, but as Kirton explains, “One must remember that adaptors and innovators can have equal capacity, insight and creativity.”

So, if someone tells you they are not creative, reassure them that we can all be creative, though we have different ways of contributing to creative outcomes.

Four issues that inhibit creativity

Having reassured them they can be creative, identify if any of these four issues may be inhibiting their creative ability. Do they:

  • View creativity as idea generation, not as a whole process?
  • Judge too quickly?
  • Create mental boundaries that limit their ability to think creatively?
  • Use inappropriate thinking tools?

Let’s address those issues:

They view creativity as idea generation, not a whole process

Research (e.g. by Parnes Osborne, Basadur) shows that creativity is a complete process. While models vary slightly, they all agree that there is a beginning, middle and end, e.g. stages such as Find opportunity, Explore opportunity, Generate ideas, Create a solution, Plan and Implement the solution.

People who say they are uncreative often think this because:

  •  Media focus on the people that generate ideas (overlooking that it often takes a large team to implement the idea) or
  • They find idea generation difficult, particularly when working with people who are quick at idea generation.

I reassure “uncreatives” that they can use their strengths at other points in the process and explain that there are tools they can use to help them think creatively.

They judge too quickly

At each stage in the creative process there are steps to diverge and converge thinking. Divergent thinking encourages people to explore. It is important that people do not judge either their own ideas or the ideas of others during this step as it inhibits divergent thinking. Those with an adaptive style often have quick and good judgement; a strength, but not when diverging. Therefore, advise them to defer judgement until the time to converge thinking. If “the critical spirit creates”, as Wilde states, it should be at the right time!

They create mental boundaries

People often create boundaries or “walls” to their thinking, “boxing themselves in”. They:

  • Apply “rules” from previous situations that may hinder change
  • Make assumptions that may be unfounded
  • Bring their prejudices to the situation
  • Allow their egos to cloud their judgement
  • Approach situations with a narrow perspective, their  “mind set”.

To be fair, most people are guilty of this, but some are guiltier than others!

How can they move these walls, make the box bigger (rather than think outside it!) and encourage divergent thinking? Advise them to:

  • Recognise that their thinking, the walls, restrict their creativity
  • Involve a wide group of people (including people from outside their normal groups) in creative sessions. A wider group will help to overcome the issues above and outsiders will help reduce conventional thinking
  • Use creative thinking tools to expand the box. Which leads to the next point

They use inappropriate tools (or have inappropriate tools used with them)

Creative thinking is a skill you can learn by using the appropriate tools. Some of these tools are intuitive (e.g. finger painting and guided imagery) and some logical. Kirton describes some of the characteristics of adaptive people as “methodical, prudent, and disciplined.” Therefore, when working with adaptive people, use more logical tools; as counter intuitive as that might sound, it works!

You can find an example here: https://yesand.co.uk/how-might/.


To coach people who consider themselves uncreative, encourage them to:

  • Consider creativity as a whole process
  • Defer judgement when in the divergent phase of creative thinking
  • Challenge factors that bound their thinking
  • Use logical tools for idea generation until they feel comfortable with using more intuitive tools.


Discuss this issue with your colleagues and see if they can add other ideas.

To Close

As I end this article, a point surfaces in my mind and that is the issue of trust. You have to build a climate of trust so that people know if they voice an idea, it will not be “shot down”. I have a theory, unproven, that many people who say they are not creative, were told at some time in their life “that’s a stupid idea.” As a result, they made an unconscious link to, “I am not creative”.

You won’t be using any ideas for target practice this week, will you?

If you would like to know how we can make your people more innovative, please see www.yesand.eu or contact us.

John Brooker I Collaborate, Innovate, Transform.

Read: www.yesand.eu and Facebook

Talk: +44 20 8869 9990

Write: [email protected]