The Great Creativity Debate: Nathan Schwagler, The Dali Museum

The Great Creativity Debate: Nathan Schwagler, The Dali Museum

By Kelsey Ogletree, April 5, 2016

Nathan Schwagler is co-director of Innovation Labs at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Taking inspiration from the celebrated artist, Schwagler has developed a training program that teaches organizations how to unlock imagination and trick people’s brains into being more creative. He still plays with Legos—in fact, he has 40,000 in buckets outside his office.

We challenged Schwagler, along with three other experts (their stories coming in the next week), to face off on the topic of creativity. Where does it come from? How can you channel it? How can you put it to work to improve your events, your association and the greater good? Schwagler weighs in first.

What makes you imaginative?

Creativity is a function of genetics to some extent, but there’s also a psychological perspective. People can learn to be more creative. I get to work inside a building that is unique in terms of its physical structure, and it also has the most diverse collection of Dali in the world. There’s something special about his paintings and their ability to unlock imagination. I want to be an architect of imagination and a designer of doing. I design activities for people to think better and learn what it’s like to be in creative flow.

Is creativity broken in today’s world?

Absolutely. People have never been more creative, yet I think the systems that make up a corporate structure have never been more prohibitive to creativity. Companies grow, and scale and get good at making money. But then it becomes a product of its own success. It’s a bloated system that can’t pivot or be flexible to adapt to the marketplace, and it gets more difficult as the company gets larger. So it’s not a resource issue, it’s a flexibility issue. That’s why you see so many companies outsource R&D or do what they call acqui-hiring, like Facebook did with Oculus Rift—it’s a better investment to buy startups than for them to try to do it on their own.

What is the biggest myth about creativity?

That people aren’t creative. In the Western world, we like to associate creativity with the arts. It’s about music and painting and poetry. That’s a travesty because we know from research creativity manifests itself in different ways. Instead of asking “How creative are you?” the better question is “How are you creative?” For example, everybody has problem-solving creativity: How do you get up and get to work on time, get the kids fed, organize your day, etc.? You have to do a lot of creative thinking to get all that done.

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