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


10 Required Student Skills at Harvard University

Skill number 9. Ability to create

In a series of articles about 10 Harvard student skills, we already talked about the applied skills that you will need during training, such as the ability to study, critical reading and academic writing, and about the more extensive 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 relates to the must-have skills of a successful person, and to figure it out, you have to dig a little deeper.

So, one of the important skills of the 21st century is the ability to create new solutions that are valuable to society. There are various variations of this skill: creative thinking (creative thinking), innovative thinking (innovative thinking), entrepreneurial thinking (entrepreneurial thinking). You can often hear how many attribute this skill to the field of “talents,” 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.

Despite the fact that the names of these skills are often used interchangeably, the most common definitions of each of these skills and their features can be distinguished. A more general concept refers to the skill “creative thinking”, Which involves the ability to look at a problem or situation from a new perspective. To the concept entrepreneurial thinking often include the ability to recognize problems earlier than others and implement a solution in order to obtain benefits. This concept can refer both directly to the sphere of entrepreneurship and to personal and / or professional development. The concept is also relevant. innovative thinking. It involves the creation of an innovative idea or innovation (work system, 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’m 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.

The skill of creation involves understanding the process of creation and mastering the skills that are necessary for the successful implementation of the goals and objectives of each stage of this process. The first step in this process is the definition of 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 come up with. Indeed, the ability to ask a question when it does not lie on the surface is key in the creation process. Nobody wants to spend their limited time and financial resources just to “create a bike”. How to learn to ask questions?


Howard Gardner, an American neuropsychologist and professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, also known for his theory of multiple intelligence, 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. It will be about the first three, because it is they who explain what is necessary in order to ask questions. Disciplined mind - deep knowledge in one specialized field and wide knowledge in related fields; synthesizing mind - the ability to build relationships between concepts from different areas and convey them to others; creating mind - the ability to find and formulate new ideas, problems and phenomena. The arrangement of skills in this order is no accident.

In order not to reinvent the wheel, but to engage in truly relevant and new tasks, it is important to thoroughly own 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 ability to analyze the relationships between the area of ​​interest to you and trends from other areas will allow you to synthesize a “database” and come to a number of questions that you would like to solve. The question is an important focus in the creation process. And then our brain works. What is happening and how can we help him?

Remember, neuroscience, especially the study of such multilayered cognitive skills as creativity, is at a very early stage of study, so most of the conclusions of even the most reputable studies do not need to be perceived as unambiguous and justified, especially to strengthen causal relationships, but it is important to see associations and trends that 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 work exclusively on the right or left hemisphere of the brain. Most of the human functions are the result of the complex interconnected work of different parts of the brain, especially when it comes to multitasking skills such as creativity. Given 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 the 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 the task and process large amounts of information, which requires attention control and large working memory resources. All these abilities relate 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 development potential of executive functions of a person, they lend themselves to training to one degree or another throughout life. One of the most effective ways to train the executive functions of a person is to study foreign languages, as well as targeted training to improve concentration and working memory.

The second network, which is also involved in the creation process, is the network of the imagination (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 moment of “eureka"? 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 the brain, and called it the “Default Network”. If the active work of the prefrontal cortex is important when 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 arousal. For example, brainstorming, working in society, changing the working environment are examples of the introduction of excitement and stress, which reduce 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 being studied and, perhaps, find new answers among the accumulated database of information.

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

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

Regarding the training of executive function skills, there are a large number of software applications that are aimed at training 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, graduate student at Harvard University
and academic director of Global Ambassador


Read article on skill 8 Read about 10 skill 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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