Coaching: Coaching the Uncreative

by John Brooker

Recently a coach asked me, “As someone who facilitates teams to innovate, how would you coach someone who thinks they are not creative, to be more creative?” Here are my thoughts.

Everyone can be creative

Everyone can be creative; we just have different ways of approaching it. Dr. M.J. Kirton, creator of the Kirton Adapter Innovator (KAI)1 style profile says2:

“Those who are adaptive in style are characterised by precision, reliability, efficiency; seen as methodical, prudent, disciplined. Those more innovative in style are seen as thinking tangentially, approaching tasks from unsuspected angles; undisciplined, unpredictable.”

So, it is likely that clients who consider themselves “uncreative” have a more adaptive style. However, as Kirton explains, “One must remember that adaptors and innovators can have equal capacity, insight and creativity.”

Four issues that inhibit creativity

Having reassured them they can be creative, address four issues that may be inhibiting their creative ability. They:

  • View creativity as idea generation, not as a whole process
  • Judge too quickly
  • Create mental boundaries that limit their ability to think creatively
  • Use inappropriate thinking tools.

They view creativity as idea generation not a whole process

Research (e.g. by Parnes Osborne3, Basadur4) shows that creativity is a complete process. While models vary slightly, they all agree that there is a beginning, middle and end, e.g. stages such as Find opportunity, Explore opportunity, Generate ideas, Create a solution, Plan and Implement the solution.

People who think they are uncreative often think this because:

  1. Media focus on the people that generate ideas (overlooking that it often takes a large team to implement the idea) or
  2. They find idea generation difficult, particularly with innovators who love idea generation.

I reassure the “uncreatives” they can use their strengths at other points in the process and explain that there are tools they can use to help them generate ideas.

They judge too quickly

At each stage in the creative process there are steps to diverge and converge thinking. Divergent thinking encourages people to explore. It is important that people do not judge either their own ideas or the ideas of others during this step as it inhibits divergent thinking. Those with an adaptive style often have quick and good judgement; a strength, but not when diverging. Therefore, advise them to defer judgement until the time to converge thinking.

They create mental boundaries

People often create boundaries or “walls” to their thinking, “boxing themselves in”. They:

  • Apply “rules” from previous situations that may not apply now
  • Make assumptions that may be unfounded
  • Bring their prejudices to the situation
  • Allow their egos to cloud their judgement
  • Approach situations with a narrow perspective, their “mind set”.

How can they move these walls, make the box bigger (rather than think outside it!) and encourage divergent thinking? Coach them to:

  • Recognise that their thinking, the walls, might restrict their creativity
  • Involve a wide group of people (including people from outside their normal groups) in creative sessions. A wider group will help to overcome the issues above and outsiders will help reduce conventional thinking.

They use inappropriate tools (or have inappropriate tools used with them)

Creative thinking is a skill you can learn by using the appropriate tools. Some of these tools are intuitive (e.g. finger painting and guided imagery) and some logical. Kirton describes some of the characteristics of adaptive people as “methodical, prudent, and disciplined.” Therefore, when working with adaptive people use more logical tools. This tool is very useful for logical thinkers to create ideas:

How Might

This multi step approach to generate ideas uses what we know about the opportunity as a springboard to create new ideas. It has six parts:

  1. List what you know about the opportunity
  2. Share your lists
  3. Choose a feature to work on
  4. Ask, “How might this be different?” or “How might we build on this?”
  5. Have an open minded discussion
  6. Choose another aspect / feature

You can find full details here: You can find other examples here:

To sum up

To coach people who consider themselves uncreative, encourage them to:

  • Consider the creative process as a whole method
  • Defer judgement when in the divergent phase of creative thinking
  • Challenge factors that bound their thinking
  • Use logical tools for idea generation until they feel comfortable with using more intuitive tools.


John Brooker is a former Senior Vice President of Visa.
He now facilitates organisations and teams to collaborate, innovate and transform. He is the author of “The Creative Gorilla; Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate,” which details his Inn8 Approach to help organisations innovate. For practical innovation tips, you can learn more at



2Source Adaptors & Innovators – Why New Initiatives Get Blocked Dr. MJ Kirton.

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