The ability to create as a skill of a successful student and professional of the 21st century
The ability to create as a skill of a successful student and professional of the 21st century



10 Must-Have Skills for a Harvard University Student


Skill number 9. Ability to create

In the 10 Habits of a Harvard Student series, we have already talked about the applied skills you will need during your studies, such as the ability to study, critical reading and academic writing, and the broader skills that are needed to become a successful person and a sought-after specialist. : goal setting, time management, communication, leadership and teamwork. The next skill also belongs to the must-have skills of a successful person, and in order to understand it, you have to dig deeper.

So, one of the important skills of the 21st century is the ability to create new solutions that are of value to society. There are various variations of this skill: creative thinking (creative thinking), innovative thinking (innovative thinking), entrepreneurial mindset (entrepreneurial thinking). You can often hear how many classify such a skill as a “talent”, and therefore it is either given or not. I want to please you that, like any skill, creative thinking can be developed, but for this you will have to work hard and get to know your brain a little better.

Although the names of these skills are often interchanged, it is possible to identify the most common definitions of each of these skills and their features. A more general concept is the skill “creative thinking”, which involves the ability to look at a problem or situation from a new point of view. To the concept entrepreneurial mindset often referred to as the ability to recognize problems before others and implement a solution for a benefit. This concept can refer both directly to the field of entrepreneurship, and to personal and / or professional development. Also relevant is the concept innovative thinking. It involves the creation of an innovative idea or innovation (system of work, product, technology, etc.), which can be translated into reality in terms of available resources and economic feasibility and will be in demand by the market. Despite some nuances, the basis of all these concepts is the ability to create!

I am sure that the value of the ability to create something new and at the same time in demand in the “age of abundance” does not need additional argumentation, so let’s move on to what this complex cognitive skill is and how to learn how to use it.

Creation skill involves understanding the creation process and mastering the skills that are necessary to successfully complete the goals and objectives of each stage of this process. The first step in this process is to define a goal. Creating a business, an innovative solution, a new product/project requires the ability to see and formulate problems; in science, for example, new discoveries also begin with a question and a hypothesis. Given the speed of development of science and technology, which resulted in an abundance of products and services for every taste and color, it sometimes seems to us that everything we could have already been invented. Indeed, the ability to ask a question when it is not on the surface is key in the creation process. No one wants to spend their limited time and financial resources just to “build a bike”. How can you learn to ask questions?


Howard Gardner, an American neuropsychologist and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, also known for his theory of multiple intelligences, gives a good clue. In his book The Five Minds for the Future Gardner identifies 5 key skills necessary for successful professional development, taking into account global trends. I'll focus on the first three because they're the ones that explain what it takes to ask questions. Disciplined mind - deep knowledge in one specialized area and broad knowledge in related areas; synthesizing mind - the ability to build relationships between concepts from different areas and convey them to others; creating mind (creating mind) - the ability to find and formulate new ideas, problems and phenomena. The arrangement of skills in this order is not accidental.

In order not to reinvent the wheel, but to deal with really relevant and new tasks, it is important to have a thorough knowledge of your field of knowledge in order to understand what problems / issues concern specialists from this field, what needs exist. Also, the development of a broad outlook and the skill of analyzing the relationships between the area of ​​interest to you and trends from other areas will allow you to synthesize a “database” and come up with a number of questions that you would like to solve. Asking a question is an important focus in the creation process. And then our brain works. What is going on and how can we help him?

Remember, neuroscience, especially the study of such multi-layered cognitive skills as creativity, is at a very early stage of study, so most of the conclusions of even the most reputable studies should not be taken as unambiguous and justified, all the more so to fix causal relationships, but it is important to see associations and trends. , which we could use for testing and increasing personal effectiveness.


First of all, it is important to agree that human actions are not the result of the work of the right or left hemisphere of the brain only. Most of the human functions are the result of complex interconnected work of different parts of the brain, especially when it comes to such multi-tasking skills as creativity. Taking into account the different tasks that the brain solves as part of the creative process, scientists distinguish three networks.

First network (Executive Attention Control) is responsible for the ability to concentrate on solving a given problem with a constant flow of information and on analyzing this information through the prism of the problem being solved. This process requires the ability to concentrate on a task and process large amounts of information, which requires attention control and large working memory resources. All these abilities are related to the executive functions of the human brain and involve the active work of the prefrontal cortex. Despite the importance of genetic influence in determining the developmental potential of an individual's executive functions, they are amenable to training to varying degrees throughout life. One of the most effective ways to train a person's executive functions is to study foreign languages, as well as targeted training to improve concentration and working memory.

The second network that is also involved in the creation process is the imagination network (Imagination Network), which contributes to the generation of new ideas and thoughts. How does our brain begin to see new relationships, or is there a “eureka” moment? Back in 2013, researchers from the University of New Mexico proposed a theory that describes the process of creating new ideas from the point of view of how the brain works, and called it the "Default Network". If the active work of the prefrontal cortex is important in monitoring attention, then in order to generate new ideas, the prefrontal cortex must in some sense be deactivated due to the more active work of the emotional center. Activation of the emotional center is achieved by creating moderate stressful situations and excitement. For example, brainstorming, social work, and changing work environments are examples of the introduction of arousal and stress, which reduces the intensity of the prefrontal cortex by activating the emotional network. The use of such tools will allow you to take a fresh look at the problem under study and, perhaps, find new answers among the accumulated information base.

And finally, the third network involved in the creation process is called the “significance network” (The Salience Network), which provides a critical analysis of the generated ideas. This function also applies to the executive functions of a person, when the brain retains the flexibility to accept new ideas and analyze them critically in terms of applicability to the solution of the question posed.

Thus, the ability to create new ideas directly depends on your knowledge base in the area of ​​interest to you, the ability to understand your area in the knowledge system, as well as on the level of development of your executive functions of the brain and the ability to use them depending on the current task. And all these skills are trainable!

In terms of executive function skills training, there are a large number of software applications that aim to train working memory, attention control, and cognitive flexibility. Therefore, if you want to learn how to create, become an expert in your field, study what is happening around, develop the executive functions of your brain and, of course, learn a foreign language!


Author: Evgenia Efremova, Master's student at Harvard University 
and academic director Global Ambassador


 ← Read the article about 8 Habits Read about 10 skills next week→ 


The following sources were used to write the article: 

Gardner, H. (2008). The five minds for the future. Schools, 5(1/2), 17-24.

Jung, RE, Mead, BS, Carrasco, J., & Flores, RA (2013). The structure of creative cognition in the human brain. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7.

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