I’m Not Creative. . . .

Recently I had a lovely lunch with a relative who shall remain nameless (but he knows who he is!). We talked about many things, including the stunning wildlife photography he has been doing since his retirement. He is becoming particularly adept at photographing birds in flight, with amazing images ranging from dueling goldfinches to bald eagles carrying nesting materials. In the course of the conversation he mentioned a desire to learn more about Photoshop, but remarked that he was sure he wouldn’t do well at it because he “isn’t creative.” I asked why he would say that and he responded that he knew he wasn’t creative because he “can’t even draw a stick figure.”

Oh my. Needless to say, he picked the wrong relative for that remark, and he was treated to an enthusiastic lecture on the difference between representational drawing and creativity, the need for creativity in all disciplines, and the evidence for his creativity.

My relative is not alone. Two of the most common misunderstandings I hear among those beginning to study creativity are that 1) creativity exists only in the arts and can be judged by how well a person can draw a realistic image and 2) some people are creative and some just aren’t. Neither of these statements is true and both of them are damaging, particularly because an important part of being creative is believing we can be creative.

Research reminds us this relationship is real. A recent meta-analysis examining the relationship between creativity and creative self-efficacy across 41 studies* found that while the strength of relationship varied with different measures of creativity, in general, the more individuals believed in their capacity for creativity, the more creative they were likely to be. Growth mindset matters, too. To believe in our capacity to be creative, we must believe it can be developed.

As we think about beginning a creative new school year (at least in the northern hemisphere), it is important to think about giving students both opportunities to be creative and support in believing they can do it. This might include:

  • Talking about how creativity looks in many disciplines, in the arts and beyond;
  • Telling stories of creative people’s struggles, failures and growth. Stories of your own creative struggles can be particularly meaningful;
  • Pointing out the creativity in students’ responses to questions, approaches to assignments, invented games, prom decorations, and problem solving. Let them see the creativity in the things they do each day.

How else can we help students envision their own creative potential?


Haase, J. & Hoff, E. V. (2018). A meta-analysis of the relation between creative self-efficacy and different creativity instruments. Creativity Research Journal, 30(1), 1-16. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2018.1411436


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