Education competencies: Creativity

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Generates many new and unique ideas; makes connections among previously unrelated notions; is unafraid to use unorthodox methods; is seen as original and value-added in brainstorming settings.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Generates new ideas regarding his or her job Generates many new and unique ideas Develops innovative ideas and methods of doing things Consistently generates and employs original ideas for himself or herself and for others, tackling both simple and complex problems
Tries old solutions to problems, but will search for new methods when challenged Searches for new and more effective methods, making connections between previously unrelated ideas Pursues new methods and solutions, thinks outside the box, connects disparate ideas, is unafraid to use unorthodox methods Uses analysis and cross-pollination of information from one situation to another to solve problems
Is seen as creative and a contributor in brainstorming settings Is seen as original and value-added in brainstorming settings Is seen as a motivator and guide for others to generate new ideas in brainstorming sessions Is seen as bringing out the best in others in brainstorming sessions or one-on-one, leading them to discover new connections, new solutions, and new ways of doing their jobs

Overdoing creativity

  • May get so infatuated with marginally productive ideas that he or she wastes time
  • May get involved in too many things at once
  • May not follow through after the idea
  • May be disorganized or poor at detail
  • May be a loner and not a good team player
  • May not relate well to those who are less creative

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • What original ideas have I come up with lately?
  • What patterns do I see emerging in the information I have about a problem?
  • What is the least likely or oddest answer I can consider to solve my problem?
  • What specific analogies can I apply to a situation to broaden my perspective?
  • Do I employ brainstorming sessions to discover connections?
  • Whom can I enlist to be part of a broad, diverse, creative think tank?

To avoid overdoing creativity, ask yourself:

  • Am I intolerant of detail?
  • Am I too ambiguous in communicating my ideas?
  • Am I involved in too many things at once?

Interview questions

  • Think back to a time when you were brainstorming with others—a time in which you were a particularly creative and valued contributor to the brainstorming session. What was the group brainstorming? How did you contribute? In what ways were you particularly creative? What was the result of the brainstorming?
  • Please describe a job (or a period of time in your career) in which you exhibited a pattern of generating new and unique ideas. Describe the situations, the ideas you generated, and what happened as a result.
  • Think back to a time when you were faced with a problem or challenge that required “outside the box” thinking to come up with a solution. What was the situation? Describe the thought process you went through to come up with the solution or approach. What was the solution and why do you consider it “outside the box?”

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Remove the restraints: Throw uncertain things out there for review. Broaden your perspective. Be a little impractical and get out of your comfort zone; try some new things.
  • Try value-added approaches: Get fresh ideas. Take the time to study the issue deeply. Think out loud and discuss the situation with others. Turn the problem upside down and inside out. Ask broad questions to aid the search for solutions.
  • Unearth creative ideas: Don’t rely on logic and rules. Generate ideas without initially judging them. Jump from one idea to another. Look for the least likely and the odd, ask what’s missing, and come up with new patterns. Recognize that mistakes and failures are learning devices.
  • Apply some standard problem-solving skills: Ask more questions before attempting to craft solutions. Visualize the situation (through a storyboard or flow chart). Consider worst-case scenarios and anticipate problems. Take a break, or sleep on it.
  • Define the problem: Ask questions and determine the causes of the problem. Spend the first half of your time defining and rethinking the problem. Generate several possible solutions before picking one.
  • Select a group to help: Assemble a diverse group of people to attack a problem. Seek fresh approaches from people from other organizations, functions, levels, and disciplines.
  • After defining the problem, brainstorm: Clearly and thoughtfully define the problem. Then, throw out ideas and record them, but don’t evaluate them. Anything goes for an agreed-upon time. Then ask the group to select the most interesting ideas. They can add to, combine, or clarify ideas, but no criticism is allowed.
  • Experiment and learn: Try lots of quick, inexpensive experiments to increase your chances of success.
  • Apply structure: Come up with the best option and subject it to testing and criticism.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Help someone outside your department or organization to solve a problem.
  • Launch a new program, project, or curriculum.
  • Relaunch an existing program or project that is not going well.
  • Assemble a temporary group of diverse people to accomplish a difficult task.
  • Manage a group through a crisis.
  • Take on a tough and undoable project that others have tried and failed at.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Monitor yourself more closely, and get off your autopilot. Look at each situation from a fresh perspective. Ask yourself questions consistently, and try new solutions for old problems.
    • Find a parallel to the current problem and learn from it. Look for comparison or contrast points, and determine what has or has not worked in the past. Search for the reasons why certain things do or do not work across different situations.
    • Break up your work routine when you are blocked. Incorporate dissimilar tasks, activities, and rest breaks when you come to a roadblock.
    • Try some new things out of your normal comfort zone. Try something opposite to your nature. Explore, take a risk, and go beyond your own limits and boundaries.
    • Debrief someone else after a successful or non-successful event. Ask why he or she made certain decisions and what this person might do differently next time.
    • Envision doing something well in a group. Do creative exercises with others to come up with different ideas and solutions.
    • Skim data repeatedly to find insights. Reread available information until it makes sense.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Get feedback from your direct reports. Set a positive tone, and don’t retaliate if you don’t agree.
    • Get feedback from peers or colleagues. Promote trust to get honest, quality feedback.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Be willing to learn. Be open to learning new lessons and behaviors. Ask many questions and reflect on what you learn.

Recommended readings

  • Birch, Paul, and Brian Clegg.Imagination Engineering—The Toolkit for Business Creativity.London: Pitman Publishing, 1996.
  • Butler, Ava S.Team Think.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1996.
  • Ceserani, Jonne.Big Ideas: Putting the Zest into Creativity & Innovation at Work.London: Kogan Page, 2003.
  • DeGraff, Jeff, and Katherine A. Lawrence.Creativity at Work: Developing the Right Practices to Make Innovation Happen.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2002.
  • Firestine, Roger L., PhD.Leading on the Creative Edge—Gaining Competitive Advantage Through the Power of Creative Problem Solving.Colorado Springs, CO: Piñon Press, 1996.
  • Foster, Jack.Ideaship: How to Get Ideas Flowing in Your Workplace.San Francisco; Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2001.
  • Hesselbein, Frances, and Rob Johnston (Eds.).On Creativity, Innovation, and Renewal: A Leader to Leader Guide.Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2002.
  • Lucas, Bill.Power Up Your Mind: Learn Faster, Work Smarter.Yarmouth, ME: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2001.
  • Lucas, Robert W.The Creative Training Idea Book: Inspired Tips and Techniques for Engaging And Effective Learning.New York: AMACOM, 2003.
  • Miller, William C.Flash of Brilliance.Reading, MA: Perseus Books Group, 1999.
  • Rich, Jason R.Brain Storm:Tap Into Your Creativity to Generate Awesome Ideas and Remarkable Results.Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2003.
  • Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de [Translated from the French by Katherine Woods].The Little Prince.New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1943.
  • Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de [Translated from the French by Katherine Woods].The Little Prince[sound recording]. Redway, CA: Music for Little People, 1993.
  • Von Oech, Roger.Expect the Unexpected or You Won’t Find It: A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publisher, Inc., 2002.
  • White, Shira P., and G. Patton Wright.New Ideas About New Ideas: Insights on Creativity with the World’s Leading Innovators.Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2002.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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