Creativity and Innovation in Instructional Design and Development

Editor’s Note: Caropreso, E. J., & Couch, R. A. (1996). Creativity and Innovation in Instructional Design and Development: The Individual in the Workplace. Educational Technology, 36(6-), 31-39.

This article considers ways to enhance individual creativity and how a creative individual can help develop a more creative workplace that utilizes creative approaches to instruction and instructional products. The nature of creativity is discussed from several perspectives, including: (1) the problem of definition and a general point of view; (2) some basic elements of creativity; (3) enhancing the creativity of individuals; and (4) roadblocks to individual creativity and how to overcome such obstacles leading to more productive, creative individuals and work environments.

Creativity seems “fluffy,” that is, unsystematic and hard to define. In many settings, particularly training environments, creativity is often discouraged as a seemingly inappropriate waste of time and money. However, instructional designers in businesses and other settings, as well as scholars, are re-evaluating this notion of creativity, particularly in the area of product innovation and product development. For example, a recent series of articles by Dick (1995a, b), Rowland (1995), and Willis (1995) has explored the relationship between systematic design and creativity. We noted with interest the dialogue between these authors regarding what can be termed as constructivist vs. behaviorist approaches to instructional design.

We share some of these authors’ questions and concerns. For example, we are concerned about issues related to defining terms and concepts, but we don’t believe that creativity can be defined, as seems to be done by Dick, by reducing it to the opposite of boredom (see Dick, 1995a, b). In fact, in this paper, we directly address the issue of unmotivating and uninteresting instruction; this is one of our specific purposes. We also share the concerns about meeting client needs, but we believe that clients as well as managers and designers/developers can be educated about the nature and impact of creative design. In this vein, we’d like to share some of our concerns that have not been addressed in this dialogue.

We are concerned about the levels of learning and the types of knowledge and skills that designers/developers target in their instructional design. If instructional designers believe that their job is limited to the development of declarative knowledge and basic procedural skills, a behavioral approach to instructional design will suffice. We base our presentation on a belief that there exists a need to target and develop complex learning outcomes, together with the skills needed to apply these learnings in real-world settings. Despite our shared concerns, our point of view in this paper is beyond these philosophical issues; our purpose is to present an applied approach to developing and supporting creativity in the instructional design/development process.

Especially as businesses seek new sales strategies, more desirable employee relations, and more innovative products, management has discovered the need for more innovative products and for more innovative training. Unfortunately, most of the instructional materials and methods being produced in industry are repetitive and therefore often unengaging and uninteresting; from company to company, they often look identical. This lack of innovation can create three distinct and inappropriate results: (1) ineffective instruction/training (we didn’t meet our instructional outcomes); (2) undermining of learner motivation and, concurrently, of design team motivation; and (3) lack of sustained improvement in both the learner and the designer[1].

Interestingly enough, for years business people have respected intuition when it occurred, but typically relied on logic and analysis for problem solving. Successful business people have demonstrated a keen sense of intuition, “knowledge which exists without some sort of conscious reasoning” (Ray & Myers, 1986, p. 8). But this behavior was never labeled as creativity; it was considered to be an instinct, and as such, was perceived as difficult to explain and impossible to teach to others.

In an effort to avoid this unexplainable “quality” and to try to keep product development simple and cost-effective, many businesses overemphasize analysis. This is no less true in the field of training. Once a problem has been identified, not merely acknowledged (the step in problem solving that is most often left out), problem solvers tend to approach problem situations in several non-creative ways. For example, problem solvers might analyze a problem until it goes away, refusing to deal with it directly, expecting others to solve it, or allowing it to become a “lower priority,” which they never get to. Occasionally, the problem is “miraculously” solved, that is, no one knows exactly what became of the problem, or through top-down management, the manager “solves” the problem. This lack of focus on creativity combined with an overreliance on analysis forces designers and/or developers to limit and restrict their instruction rather than use a design model as a heuristic. In many companies, this over-analysis tends to be the most important step toward a solution. The team leader (or boss) defines the problem and soon the rest of the team will generate 20 solutions. A solution will be identified and attempted and/or some product will be developed. Unfortunately, and often at a later time, it is discovered that “the” problem wasn’t really solved because the “real or actual problem” wasn’t identified in the first place; this is especially true since most “real-world problems” often involve complex problem situations rather than single “problems.”[2] Unlike this analysis approach, which is focused only on a solution and/or the product, a creative approach to problem solving is an ongoing process.

The systematic design model as developed by authors such as Dick and Carey (1990) and Gagne and Briggs (1979) is like a road map. When you take a trip, you can travel the most direct route and get there in the shortest time, which can lead to an uninspiring trip and often an uninspired traveler, especially after many trips down the same road. On the other hand, travelers can change their travel plans by deciding to leave at a different time, using a different vehicle, taking an alternate route, taking more time to arrive, etc. Though the destination may be the same, the experience is different. In instructional design/development terms, when creativity is used to develop a “richer” and more personally motivating instructional product, the trainee is trained more richly and fully, and his or her attitude about the training is likely to be more positive, which, in turn, pleases that client. The traveler arrives more refreshed and excited about the trip.

The heuristic which is the instructional design/development process requires creativity, the specific epistemology, constructivism vs. behaviorism, notwithstanding. The need for creativity must be recognized by management as well as by instructional designers. This perception must also be developed by clients, because client satisfaction leads to further business opportunities. But if clients have a limited understanding of and appreciation for creative products, they will not appreciate the time and resource demands necessary for their development and therefore the necessary time and resource demands to develop creative instructional design. Creative behavior should be an integral part of the design/development process because this behavior is useful, resourceful, correct, and valuable to the process. Creativity is not simply being different for the sake of difference. The end product, the instructional materials or methods, for example, is important. However, designers must start to explore their own creativity as well as the environment within which they work in order to develop more innovative instruction. This can and perhaps should entail a lifetime of exploration, not a series of isolated or random “good ideas.”

In his recent article, Dick (1995a) suggests that a principal condition for producing creative instruction involves the development and maintenance of a supportive climate. He indicated that new skills, especially what can be termed creative skills, require the support of an appropriate environment, including the recognition and encouragement by management. We couldn’t agree more. In fact, this summarizes our basic position. What we attempt to describe are what we perceive to be some of the essential elements in this relationship between the individuals attempting to develop creative instructional design products and the work environment that enhances their creativity.

It’s easier to be creative in a company whose policies and management encourage creativity, but it is not a requirement for individual creative expression. Through the years, researchers have explored two different ways to infuse creativity into a variety of settings: (1) change the environment or (2) change the individual.[3] Many authors have advocated the social psychology of creativity (e.g., Amabile, 1983; Csikszentmihalyi, 1975; Simonton, 1975), in which the work environment is altered to allow for more innovation and creativity (see Couch & Miller, 1991). This makes sense, especially when most psychologists would agree that it is easier to change the work place than it is to change individuals. However, this does not mean that individuals cannot change, becoming more aware of their own and others’ creative potential.

This article addresses ways to enhance individual creativity and how a creative individual can help develop a more creative workplace that utilizes more creative approaches to instruction and instructional products. We will discuss the nature of creativity from several perspectives, including: (1) the problem of definition and a general point of view; (2) some basic elements of creativity; (3) enhancing the creativity of individuals; and (4) roadblocks to individual creativity and how to overcome such obstacles leading to more productive, creative individuals and work environments. In his response to Dick, Rowland (1995) notes in his closing remarks, “…there is much more to designing than what we currently know; that methods need to be reconsidered, and that creativity is an area where we would benefit from careful definition, dialogue, and research.” We believe that Rowland is suggesting that a useful construct of creativity can be identified, one that is applicable to individuals in unique circumstances, yet which can be interpreted to be global and generally applied. This is in stark contrast to Dick’s (1995a) claim that the meaning of creative design is so idiosyncratic and individualistic that any type of general but flexibly applicable construct is unspecifiable. Our perspective directly addresses some of Rowland’s (1995) concerns.

The Nature of Creativity: A Definition

Creativity is an essential skill necessary to meet the needs of future designer/developers of instruction, yet creativity is one of the most elusive and therefore variously defined concepts in psychology and education (see Tardiff & Sternberg, 1988). For example, Dick (1995a) does not attempt to operationalize creativity, but he certainly suggests an interpretation when he connects it to individual and domain-specific perception, then anchors it to one end of a continuum of instruction, the other end of which is boredom. With concepts such as this, it should come as no surprise when people wonder if creativity in art is the same as creativity in business, or if creativity in science is the same as in the theater. We believe, along with many others (e.g., Amabile, 1983; Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1987), that the difference between the artist and the business person or the instructional designer/developer is not necessarily in the nature of creativity but rather may be found in the interactions between the individual, the environment, and content of one’s work. Many factors apparently influence the potential for creative outcomes, regardless of the particular definition of creativity used in a given situation. Some of these influential factors will be presented in the following sections.

What is creativity? Typically, creativity has been considered in terms of the following four categories: process, product, person, and place (Stein, 1969, cited in Simonton, 1988; Tardiff & Sternberg, 1988). No simple or singular answer has yet been identified, but the following components seem to be frequently specified by many theorists and researchers alike (for example, Amabile, 1983; Caropreso & Andres, 1994, 1996; Sternberg, 1988): (1) Novelty or newness with usability.[4] Whether general and cross-disciplinary or discipline-specific, creative behavior or outcomes defy traditional, conventional, or previously accepted expectations for behavior or products; for example, solutions to problems which are unexpected or have been outwardly rejected at some point will be seen as the only appropriate solution to the problem through the efforts of someone’s creative vision; and (2) Freedom to play, to manipulate ideas, and/or objects, to experiment, to take risks, to conform to normative expectations when necessary, to make many trials and many errors without regret, all as part of a creative problem-solving process. Amabile and her colleagues (e.g., 1983; Hennessey & Amabile, 1988) have confirmed through their research that a response will be judged to be creative to the extent that (a) it is both a novel and appropriate, useful, correct, or valuable response to the task at hand, and (b) the task is heuristic rather than algorithmic. Even routine activities can be approached creatively.

The Nature of Creativity: Some Basic Elements

Creativity is a very complex process. Unlike Dick’s (1995a) suggestion that it can be interpreted as the opposite of boredom, few theorists or researchers have agreed on all features of creativity. Davis (1992, 1995) has described some fundamental factors influencing the development of creativity that seem to be generally agreed upon.

The Nature of Creativity: The Individual

Traits and Characteristics

Davis (1992, 1995) surveyed the literature on descriptive characteristics of creative individuals and identified 12 fundamental categories of creative characteristics. From this set of 12 categories, we can create a working model of creative individuals. The 12 categories include:

Based on his research, Davis noted that two essential features mark creative individuals: (1) intense intrinsic motivation and persistence; (2) remarkable, yet expectable differences in the manifestations of creativity, that is, no two individuals will necessarily be or act alike in expressions of their creativity. These are important and useful characteristics in a design/development context. Managers and/or supervisors able to support and encourage creative behavior will develop conditions that will allow for solutions to a much broader range of design/development problems. A creatively functioning design/development team or work group might behave in some or all of the following ways:

Abilities and Skills

There has yet to be a consensus regarding the relationship between intrinsic traits and the influence of the environment and learning to develop the individual’s creative potential. Whereas the features of creative individuals reported by Davis are probably not directly subject to training, many creative skills can be learned and developed. The following list presents some of the skills typically demonstrated by creative individuals that have been shown to be influenced by training and practice (see Davis, 1995, for a list of 21 abilities). For the sake of space, each skill is connected to “ideas” as a general category, though we could have just as easily used “products,” “problems,” “solutions,” etc. (see note #2).

We would like to point out two features of this list of skills. First, only seven of Davis’s list of 21 skills have been presented; similar descriptions exist, as creative skills are considered to be numerous and various (e. g., Amabile, 1983; Barron, 1969; Guilford, 1986; Sternberg, 1988; Torrance & Safter, 1990). No one individual possesses them all or at high levels, necessarily, but most skills can be practiced and with practice and support they can he enhanced. Second, high levels of creative output that reflect both unique and useful behavior or responses to problems require a combination of the expansive, free-flowing, unrestricted processes, often described as divergent thinking, and analytic, evaluative decision-making processes, often described as convergent thinking. True creative production rarely occurs in a vacuum, without context or application, but it just as rarely occurs without freedom, playfulness, and the ability to view situations or problems from many different perspectives.

Individuals can identify and develop these abilities and skills in themselves. The first step in developing them is to decide that a need for them exists. The second step is to simply start working on improving one’s creative potential by working on one or more skills. Often, these skills interact, necessarily, and can be practiced together, though it may be easier to learn one or a few skills at a time before moving on to others. Trying to change everything at once is often difficult. Finally, you must try to avoid certain “roadblocks to creativity.” The next section presents descriptions of some of the most common and damaging limitations to developing and using one’s creative potential, and some effective approaches for circumventing these constraints on creativity based on changing the work environment.

The Nature of Creativity: individual and Environmental Roadblocks

Creativity can be constrained and individual potential can be deadened by experiences or factors related to both individuals and the workplace environment. Amabile and her colleagues (e. g., Amabile, 1983, 1989; Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1987; Hennessey & Amabile, 1988) have uncovered a number of factors that will virtually guarantee that creative outcomes will either not occur or not reach high levels when they do occur. Combined with an individual’s potential lack of confidence in or insecurity about his or her personal creativity, such workplace factors will surely inhibit individual creativity.

Evaluation and Reward

Research on evaluation and its effect on creativity indicates that creative people create for the sake of the intrinsic reward, not for external praise or rewards, particularly financial reward as the only or primary extrinsic motivation (Amabile, 1983; Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1987). This notion reflects the passionate drive or commitment of creative people (Torrance, 1979, 1987). If you want to be creative, find projects which appeal to your intrinsic motivation, and avoid working exclusively for external reward (remaining aware that extrinsic factors are often present and that we all need the “rewards” of our efforts to survive economically). Additionally, constant evaluation, especially if the evaluator is not trusted, stifles creativity. Evaluation is often unavoidable in most business settings; however, to avoid the stifling element of evaluation, try to get top management to evaluate after the project is over rather than during the formative phase of the project. Or simply build a trusting relationship with management which allows one to develop creative products without their external evaluation. Ultimately, the client is the final judge of the product and thus one can’t avoid evaluation totally; this reinforces the need to inform clients about the role of creativity in design and development. Also, avoid falling into the trap that managers may inadvertently use to motivate people, financial reward (business people have a strong sense of financial reward as being the most important reward). Most creative people say they do their job so well because they are internally motivated. Many very creative people feel that they lose their intrinsic motivation, or it’s threatened, after receiving external rewards. For example, Albert Einstein claimed to have lost much of his motivation after having received the Nobel Prize.


The by-word in business today seems to be “competition.” You hear about competition from everyone from car manufacturers to pyramid sales people. “We need to be more competitive in the world market.” This may be true from the perspective of “gaining market share,” but in the design/development process, creativity is hampered or even destroyed in a competitive environment.

Though creative people may also act for extrinsic reasons, they are typically intrinsically motivated; therefore, they are often not motivated by competition, or they may be seriously constrained by high levels of competition. One way to maintain creative potential is by trying to avoid being put into a situation where you are required to compete for your ideas to be heard. A design/development team is created because no one person is capable of knowing everything necessary to produce a quality learning product. Cooperation is essential to produce a unique product.

Restricting Choice

An overly structured environment may hamper or even destroy individual creativity, for example, by limiting individuals’ opportunities to arrange their own work spaces, most productive times, types of materials, etc. Many creative people do their most creative thinking at times which might not conform to those of their business colleagues, such as late at night when they are alone, or while working on tasks unrelated to the problem at hand, not during team meetings or at their desks at the office. Einstein, for example, felt strongly that creativity could not be promoted by force and rigid regimentation. He felt this way, at least in part, due to his schooling, which was militaristic and which stressed memorization and severe discipline at the expense of personal decision-making, reflection, and problem solving.

Rigidity in the work place can interfere with the creative process. Managers often hire designer/ developers who think like the manager. This may make the manager’s job easier in terms of controlling staff and working conditions; the designer/developer knows what the manger is thinking and what the manager likely wants. Some managers hire only those graduates of certain universities, an extreme example of hiring “like-minded” people. The new employees were all trained by the same people and often may have the same “workplace” values and attitudes.

You can gauge the potential rigidity of your workplace by asking two simple questions: “Is the work force diverse?” and “Are the hours flexible?” Diversity and flexibility are essential environmental features that support workplace creativity. And such flexibility is not just one-sided. Creative people willingly work intensively for hours each day to complete an important task or create a worthwhile project. This type of intense work will not happen in a setting that structures work hours or in a setting where fellow workers are worried about “looking bad” or being compensated for long hours. Try to find a job which allows you to be flexible rather than a job where management and employees are “hung up” on arbitrary rules.


Alternative perspectives on problems and their potential solutions are not always apparent or even desirable in many work situations. It is often difficult to know how, where, or when to look for alternatives, especially if a solution to a problem at hand is proposed by a team leader, manager, or the “boss.” The designer must look for alternative solutions which do not conform to standard, conventional, or “easy” solutions; constantly being aware of the potential pressures to conform and resisting such constraints will promote the circumstances that stimulate creativity. If you feel pressure to conform when you don’t think it is appropriate or timely, you must recognize it for what it is and oppose it, especially by trying to remain free and flexible (Amabile, 1989). Opposition can occur simply by considering and suggesting alternative views of the situation. In this way, you will be: (1) contributing to the development of a work environment that promotes creative thinking and action; (2) containing or limiting the potential for resentment and hostility; and (3) helping others to find their own sense of creative flexibility and productivity.


The most insidious of all the roadblocks to creativity is fear. Fear distracts us from the task at hand and directs our focus away from the problem(s) to be solved. Fear consumes the energy which would fuel our creativity. Fear manifests itself in many ways, both from within an individual unrelated to the environment and as a direct result of environmental factors, including the people with whom we live and work. Fear, which prohibits a person from functioning creatively, may be experienced in any or all of the following ways:

Fear is often simply a reluctance to deal with the unexpected. It might be experienced as anxiety related to the unknown, or it might be the result of a lack of preparation to deal with what is expected. But fear impedes creativity by misdirecting our energy. Highly creative people demonstrate remarkable resilience and persistence despite threats to creative functioning, such as these fears. One way to combat the limitations related to fear would be to maintain a focus on being creative and not to worry about what is perceived as right or correct by others. This positive point of view can help one to overcome fear as a roadblock to creativity (Koberg & Bagnell, 1981).

Developing Individual Creativity

How can I be more creative in my job as an instructional designer/developer? When Amabile (1989) talks about heuristics in her definition of creativity, she means it in much the same way that Gagne and Briggs (1979) discuss the systematic approach to instructional design. The design model is meant to be a heuristic. Unfortunately, many people who use the design model use it algorithmically, that is, inflexibly and unthinkingly, or without adaptation and modification for the tasks or problems at hand. Regardless of the instructional approach, whether it be a constructivist-interpretist model (Willis, 1995) or a behavioral approach [as suggested by a “rigid interpretation” of the Gagne & Briggs (1979) or Dick & Carey (1990) models], we believe that instruction and learning can be enhanced and improved by increased awareness of the conditions that support individual and environmental creativity.

In addition to the suggestions offered above regarding changes in the workplace intended to support creativity, the following suggestions, drawn from Torrance (1979), are being offered in an effort to encourage and guide individuals in their pursuit of increased creativity. In order to practice and apply these behaviors, the highest levels of learning are required. They are not the result of rote memory or experiences involving repetitive practice without opportunities for complex thinking and problem solving.

Although many of these suggestions may seem esoteric, one must remain open to possibility. Remember to resist making a judgment and drawing conclusions prematurely. Start by simply practicing one or a few of the skills for several weeks or until you feel comfortable with the skill. Let it sit and try another, or let it spring naturally into one or more of the other skills to which it seems linked. Eventually, these experiences will seem normal or natural and become a part of your work-skills repertoire. As you become more skilled and confident in your creative skills, encourage those around you, whether at home or in the workplace, to share in these experiences with you. Share your thoughts and feelings with whomever is interested in creativity or prepared to experience the exhilaration of thinking and working creatively.

Simply being aware of the need for creativity and trying to become creative on a conscious level will help you to become more creative. You have already taken the first step, that is, recognizing the need to become more creative. As you increase your creative potential and demonstrate the power and usefulness of creative thinking and behavior in your design and development efforts, your colleagues will see the difference and join you in the effort to promote and develop both individual creativity and a creative workplace.


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Caropreso, E. J., & Andres, B. E. (1996). The representation of thinking skills in educational psychology texts: What future teachers are taught. Manuscript submitted for publication.

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Couch, R. A., & Miller, H. B. (1991). Implications of creativity research for the managers of instructional design. In Beauchamp, D.G., Baca, J.C., and Braden, R.A. (Eds.) Perceptions of Visual Literacy (pp. 201-216). International Visual Literacy Association, Scottsdale, AZ.

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Dick, W. (1995b). Response to Gordon Rowland on “Instructional design and creativity.” Educational Technology, 35(5), 23-24.

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Edward J. Caropreso and Richard A. Couch are with the Department of Education at Clarion University, Clarion, Pennsylvania.


  1. Many businesses find a large portion of their profit is spent on training. Part of our job as trainers is to encourage long-term learning and the desire to learn. It is much more cost-effective to train employees once and to have trainees who willingly participate in inservice types of activities. We assume that a more creative approach to instructional development and training will encourage employees to pursue further training.
  2. Creativity has been explored for a long time. Some of the methods of developing creative products have been developed through the years and are recognized as being effective, e.g., brainstorming, synectics, analogical thinking. But individual creativity is much more than simply being able to use a problem solving strategy. It is, first, the recognition of a need to be creative, and second, the total immersion of the self; the expressing of an inner vision or even a passion for life. This is a vision which comes out of an individual's innate curiosity, sense of adventure, and willingness to experiment and take risks. Everyone has these traits in varying degrees. Different personalities demonstrate these traits more than others, but everyone has the essence of creativity within. Many factors destroy or subvert creative thinking--schooling is one of the most insidious destroyers (many of the roadblocks to creativity are present in schools). But no matter where you start on the road to creativity, if you want to become more creative, there are some steps which can lead to a more creative self. The first step is to learn more about creativity and how it is determined. But learning about something does not mean that your personality will change. You have to commit to change. The second step Is to recognize the roadblocks to creativity. And, finally, you must start applying simple techniques to your own life and your instructional design/development methods.
  3. What needs will business have in the near future and beyond? Many futurists think that the skills we are teaching in schools are not those which will be needed in the future. As fast as knowledge is changing and increasing, how can we teach all the facts necessary to survive in the world? The Education Commission of the States (1982, cited in Costa, 1991, p. 3) indicated that the "basics of tomorrow" are the following:
    • Evaluation and analysis skills
    • Critical thinking
    • Problem-solving strategies (including mathematical problem-solving)
    • Organization and reference skills
    • Synthesis
    • Application
    • Creativity
    • Decision-making given incomplete information
    • Communication skills through a variety of modes.
    Do you have these "basic" skills? The need for more designers, as well as students, managers and clients, who have these "basic skills" seems evident. However, where will these design/developers get the training to be able to perform the essential skills? It is unlikely they will get them in traditional graduate schools; it is more likely they will have to train themselves in these skills.
  4. Originality or novelty has typically been defined empirically in statistical terms as the relative frequency of a particular response given a set of responses to a stimulus, prompt, situation, etc. For example, any response occurring at a rate of less than 1% of responses would be considered "original" for the given set of responses.
  5. Awareness seems to be an important factor. Individuals must be open to the possibility of and the need for creativity. Creative thinking won't occur if one does not perceive the need for it.
  6. Research on creative people has consistently identified their ability to be persistent, to go on in spite of overwhelming obstacles regardless of whether these obstacles are real or perceived. This persistence requires a passion or love for the process, activity or intended product. It also requires a sustained focus on the goals or outcomes of interest. Passion or vision doesn't have to be limited to work experiences; a passion for living can mean taking different routes to work or changing daily routines which become confining rituals.

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