I pour a cup of coffee, sharpen my pencil, and get ready to create. I’ve dusted off a half-conceived novel outline I abandoned three years ago, but this time I’m not waiting for my muse to intervene. Instead I hit the play button on the Creative Thinker’s Toolkit, an audio lecture series from The Great Courses that I’ve downloaded on my computer.
Gerard Puccio, a psychologist who heads the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State, and the voice of the toolkit, tells me to engage in “forced relationships.” Choose a random object, he instructs. I scan my office and settle on a bag of Skittles left over from Halloween. Next, he says, describe the object’s attributes. “Sweet, round, colorful, chewy,” I write. I start to draw more fruitful connections. The word “small” leads me to think about making the main character isolated, reacting against a life that has become too constrained.
I’m intrigued. Is creativity a skill I can beef up like a weak muscle? Absolutely, says Mark Runco, a cognitive psychologist who studies creativity at the University of Georgia, Athens. “Everybody has creative potential, and most of us have quite a bit of room for growth,” he says. “That doesn’t mean anybody can be Picasso or Einstein, but it does mean we can all learn to be more creative.”