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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)


At the start of the year, LinkedIn published a report spotlighting creativity as the soft skill most in-demand by global employers. But, asks ICE’s Academic Director for Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies, Dr Alexander Carter, what does it mean to be – or not be – creative? And can the challenges we’re currently presented with inspire fresh creativity?

Today, we often think of people as creators, constantly coming up with new ideas, but it’s taken us a long time to reach that point. Creation was originally the sole preserve of Gods. By the time of the Enlightenment, geniuses like Newton and Kant were thought to owe their genius to divine inspiration. It wasn’t until the last 100 years, or perhaps since the first usage of the word ‘creativity’ in the 1950s, that the idea of everyone being able to create became accepted.

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist - Picasso

Of course, that doesn’t mean we all view ourselves as capable of creative genius. There’s a notion that ‘truly’ creative people must be anarchic disruptors and rule-breakers, and if we don’t see ourselves in that mould then we believe we can’t participate. But often, the biggest barrier is the complete blankness of the canvas. How do you start ‘being creative’?

Rediscovering play could be one answer. As children, we take play seriously. Yet, at the same time, the play is temporary. A 14th Century child with a toy Knight knows the figure isn’t real because they can snap out of their game. But if they grow up to don the armour and ride into battle, they would say they’re a real Knight. What’s the difference? Well, the child knows that it’s a game.

This is why some creatives play with the rules of their particular game; even if this means deliberately imposing barriers to creativity itself. For example, George Perec’s 300-page fiction about a missing friend, A Void, was, astonishingly, both written in French and translated into English without using the letter E. In this way, Perec turns the blank canvas into a pre-defined space for his ideas.

Creativity-as-problem-solving in challenging times

The present imposition of rules coupled with demand for novel responses to difficult situations may help encourage a purposeful, serious play that fuels creativity-as-problem-solving (which is far from its sole purpose). In this sense, creativity might mean finding treatments and vaccines, or it might mean finding ways to teach and entertain the kids while also getting some work or study done.

We’re seeing people utilise this kind of creativity to overcome all sorts of different barriers right now, such as with Matteo Zallio’s new Handy. Matteo’s a design thinker who’s been considering how the transmission of global diseases is accelerated through human contact with infected objects.

From this inquiry, Matteo has created the Handy, a multipurpose tool that allows us to open and close doors, carry shopping, press buttons on cash machines and so on without touching any shared surfaces. The Handy is open source and can be 3D printed – or even cut out from old cardboard boxes by anyone using the instructions freely available on his website. It’s a beautiful example of how a need has been created by a set of rules during a tough time and driven an inspiring, creative response.

For more details of Matteo Zallio’s Handy, including free models for 3D printing and templates for DIY construction, visit:

Are you interested in studying Creative Theory? ICE is offering an Undergraduate Diploma in Creativity Theory, History and Philosophy, led by Dr Alexander Carter. Learn more at

For our Creative Theory course offering please visit:  

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