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Creativity as a Collaborative Practice

Learn more about creativity as a collaborative practice.

Sometimes we think of creativity as a solo pursuit. We think of famous painters or innovators and single them out as creative geniuses, working alone.

This is not the norm nor usually the best way to be creative in a professional or educational setting. Creative work will most often benefit from collaborative practices. The reason for this is that our frame of reference, or what we will learn later to call the ‘space of possibilities’, is limiting. We know that working together will enable us to come up with more original and innovative ideas because our brains can tap into other brains. Other people can challenge our own perspectives and assumptions.

This does not mean we do not need to let our mind wander and spend time alone to think (O’Reilly 2021), something we will explore more later, but we do often benefit from exploring problems and testing our ideas with others.

A good example of this is explained by Ed Catmull (2008). Catmull co-founded Pixar and was, at the time of this course development, the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. He explains that ‘in filmmaking and many other kinds of complex product development, creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems’ (p. 66).

However, it is not just enough to get together in a large room around some poster paper to think up ideas. Catmull Clarifies that:

Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization. The leaders sort through a mass of ideas to find the ones that fit into a coherent whole – that supports the story – which is a very difficult task (p. 66)

Creativity Principles

Catmull shares Pixar’s three principles, and these can be adapted by other organisations and they are good reminders to all leaders and educators who want to encourage creativity. They are:

  1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone
  2. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas
  3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community

Catmull provides some ideas for how to implement this.

  • Ensure there is enough trust in a team or class to encourage risk-taking. This means that a leader’s responsibility is really to ensure the group is resilient enough to withstand a potential failure. It is not about minimizing risk but instead solidifying resilience.
  • Have a brain’s trust that can be consulted when you face a challenge or get stuck. The trust can discuss and debate ideas, without hierarchies or fear of saying the wrong thing. You then take what you want from their ideas. No pressures and no expectations.
  • Show and share work often so that people are not aiming for perfection, preferably every day. This can encourage them to take risks and try new things. They are less likely to fixate on one idea (which is a natural brain process that can hinder creativity). This encourages interactions and a trial and error approach.
  • Encourage interdisciplinarity, get the group to work in different spaces and with people from different groups too. Change the class or office layout to avoid silos emerging and jargon that can act as a barrier. Ensure everyone is clear that they are responsible for using language that everyone can understand.

If we take this advice on board, whenever you want to come up with creative and original ideas, it is always better to bring people together and provide opportunities for people to explore, experiment, play, and have fun in a trusting environment.

Creativity is not something that will happen when people hold a fear of failure or embarrassment. We know that leaders and teachers have a huge role to play in ensuring their teams feel safe and not defensive (Sinek 2018)

Let’s Reflect

Based on the ideas identified above, what do you think might be some barriers that may prevent your organisation or classroom from adopting the 3 principles?


Catmull, Ed. (2008) How Pixar fosters collective creativity, Harvard Business Review, pp 64-72
Sinek, S (2018, July) How To Be a Leader – Motivational Speech
Retrieved from here.
O’Reilly, J (2021). Want to help your team be more creative? Give them some alone time. Retrieved from here.
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