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Taking creativity seriously to create strong learning environments

The reason to engage with creative ecosystems is to unleash creativity that has long been constrained by linear, traditional and individualistic views

Felipe Zamana

Felipe Zamana is a creativity professor, a researcher and an international speaker. Felipe is dedicated to exploring creativity applied to educational, cultural, social and organizational development.

"The real reason to develop and engage with creative ecosystems is to unleash creativity that has long been constrained by a linear, traditional and individualistic view", says Felipe Zamana. "We need to understand that creativity is in our ecosystem. We need to understand what the team, the whole group, needs to develop. Creative ecosystems offer greater access to multiple brains pooled together than traditional approaches because of their flexibility and spontaneity. We need to understand that all people have ideas to share. The challenge is to invite more people to join our platforms and contribute with their ideas because a healthy ecosystem needs diversity."

What follows are the highlights of a speech Felipe Zamana did on 27 October 2022 at the L&D Talks of Stimulearning, a Belgian member organisation of L&D professionals (NL).

Creativity is an important skill to improve learning and development

Felipe Zamana: We are shifting from an industrial mindset - that is linear, repetitive, segmented and predictable – to a digital mindset that is non-linear, connected, multidisciplinary and unpredictable. By 2030 1 billion people need to be retrained and reskilled. The skills they really need to evolve to the digital mindset are the so-called power skills: curiosity, teamwork, flexibility, kindness, learning, humility, ethics and creativity. Creativity is not an individual aspect of a person. It is right in the middle of these social skills. Creativity without the social aspect cannot happen. Imagine a highly creative person in a bad team. Then creativity is gone. But put a medium creative person in a good cooperative team, then there is much more creativity available.

A shift in learning from education to work

We see a shift in learning from education to work because schools are not training young people - the future of the workforce - enough in these power skills. When they arrive in the workforce, still with an industrial mindset, they get frustrated and depressed. And also the people already in the workforce must be re-trained for this new setting. Curiosity is the currency of the future. The most curious people will be the most valued ones because curiosity leads to questions, questions lead to learning, and with  learning comes  creativity. It will be increasingly fundamental for every company to teach their own people, in corporate universities for example. We can't just count on schools to do this job.

Corporate university Grow with Google

A good example of a corporate university is Grow with Google. Google offers training to their own employees, but also to anyone who is willing to take the training. They have a lot of free training in their own services and products like Google Analytics, but also training in e.g. programming, IT and other areas of technology. They are not just a big tech company, they are also a school when offering these opportunities to society. They also have partnerships with other companies and with governments; so in fact it's a huge learning ecosystem.

The difference between a creative ecosystem and other learning ecosystems

As the name says it, creative ecosystems have creativity at its core. Everything starts with curiosity to arrive at creativity. So we want creativity in these ecosystems, and learning is part of it. We cannot solve world problems with simple approaches. We need a systemic approach. And a creative ecosystem framework is the systemic approach to tackle the post digital world challenges.

Industrial mindset - digital mindset - post digital mindset

The pace of technology is fast. There is AI, bio-engineering etcetera. Although our brains are still transitioning to the digital mindset, we already arrived beyond the digital change. This causes challenges that are way beyond our actual mindset. This is good because within a creative ecosystem we can try to understand what is happening, we can embrace change and unpredictability and we can deal with it before it becomes a problem. The creative ecosystem can be used to manage and develop any learning community in any scale or setting, be it an educational, organizational or social one. It can be used in universities and schools but also in smaller learning communities. It can be used in corporate universities but also in a specific department, a whole company, in cities, neighborhoods and online or offline communities.

The elements of a creative ecosystem

A creative ecosystem is the whole system from which creative activity arises. With  3 basic elements (person, network and platform) we can understand how the creative ecosystem works. But also the relationship that connects these elements is very important. Let’s take a dance class as an example of a learning environment. Say there are two different dance classes but in the first the environment is not good. The teacher is not nice and it’s far from home. The second one is a nice place with good schedules, a nice teacher and the other dancers are friendly. So you can easily adapt to this learning ecosystem, i.e. the dance class. So we see that the adaptability of a person within the ecosystem is crucial. If you can’t adapt to the system, no dance moves will be learned. But also the network’s ability to open and connect favors the sharing of information and the flow of ideas between individuals. In the first class the teacher speaks too fast and the other dancers are shy or don’t feel like much interaction. Then there is a problem with the network and you won’t be learning a lot. In the other class, the teacher and the other dancers are friendly, there is a lot of interaction and they help you with your moves. In this environment you will learn quickly. A third very important condition to stimulate learning is a platform that favors sharing and connection between people and ideas. So imagine in the first class again: the classroom is dark, the music is too loud. Obviously this classroom (platform) doesn’t stimulate learning. But in the second classroom the light is perfect and the music is stopped from time to time so you can practice the steps first. This kind of classroom is much better to learn.

Inside Coursera

I think of the platform Coursera as an example where the three elements come together. Coursera is a platform, nothing else. But inside Coursera, you have a whole network of companies, organisations and universities. The network offers training programs for the platform. And of course there are the persons: the people taking the course and the teachers/trainers. So here we see the three elements of the creative ecosystem come together.

the elements of a creative ecosystem

The platform is the foundational structure. Without the platform, there is no creative ecosystem. The platform can be a physical one or a digital one. All the people inside the creative ecosystem have a common goal. The network also needs openness. The whole group of people work together to understand what are the best solutions, the best decisions to make. So the network helps the ecosystem to make decisions. Inside the network a culture is created. And finally, the relationship between these three elements are the shared values, but also learning. So you are connected with an ecosystem to learn, to grow, to develop.

If you compare the creative ecosystem with, for example a house, the elements (platform, network, person) are the foundation of the house to build upon. The relationships and even the circumstantial roles give shape and structure to the house. And finally, the learning development - not just the professional, but also the L&D that happens in the ecosystem - gives color to the house, makes it comfortable for people to join.

Circumstantial roles in a creative ecosystem

Inside creative ecosystems there are four roles. The first one is the key player. This is the person who brings an action or an idea inside the ecosystem. Usually this role is played by someone with leadership capacity. The second one is community. The community will discuss the key player’s idea and talk about whether it is possible or whether it can be improved, whether they have the budget, etcetera. The third role is the curator who filters information for people in the audience. And they take the fourth role: the external network. The curator is connecting people outside to the creative ecosystem. If for example you have an Instagram account or LinkedIn profile, then you are a curator because you are filtering professional information to share it with your network. All the roles in the ecosystem are circumstantial, meaning they could change depending from the situation, the project or even the time of the month. The different roles are based on a hierarchy of influence or learning. The most suitable person to lead a project will be selected naturally, or be recognized by the group. This also happens in companies. Maybe there is a manager or a boss, but there is also a colleague on whom people count because he/she/x is the most capable or knowledgeable in that situation.

ecosystem map

A good example of how these circumstantial roles work is the World Creativity and Innovation Week. It's a global event organized by a global community  of ambassadors responsible of hosting the event during this week in their countries.  A lot of countries are involved, and the ambassadors  invite their network to actively participate in this event as speakers, offering the experiences during the week. So it's a huge creative ecosystem.

How can this model be used in a daily L&D practice?

There are two main ways the creative ecosystem can be used in L&D. The first is understanding the elements. If you understand the elements, you can discover where to focus  development (person, platform or network). Imagine that the platform is not working very well, or there is a need for more partners to join the network because there is knowledge or experience missing. The reaction can then be to change or improve the platform and invite new partners. Also by understanding the circumstantial roles you can discover where to focus learning, based on the skills that need to be stimulated and/or developed in the company or in a team. Imagine there are employees who are not really engaging in anything. Then you can go and ask what is happening and what can be done to become more engaged, for example what they would like to learn. Or maybe an employee is taking the lead and makes all the decisions. Then you can ask yourself how this person can be stimulated and provided with the necessary learning opportunities. Or say you would like to create a corporate university. Then you have to look at the people first and align their learning opportunities with the company’s initiatives. After you understand what the people need, the next thing is to create outside partnerships to support the organizational goals if needed. E.g. you can ask Google to teach a few classes or make a few training programs for some of the teams. Then there is also the question of the platform and how to use technology strategically in order to support or reinforce learning. For example, once a month a face-to-face training could be organized, while microlearning happens at the e-learning platform.


3 challenges for L&D-professionals

  1. Less focus on the outcome and more focus on the process.

Too much focus on the outcome can lead people to burnout or quiet quitting. But if you build a strong process and respect the differences of all people, the outcome will always be great. The role of the L&D department is to help people during their learning process, to facilitate and to address their (learning) challenges.

  1. Less focus on the individual, more focus on the collective.

Creativity has no individual characteristics. We need to see the social aspect. In learning this is the same. We must ask ourselves: how can people teach each other? How can they improve each other? How can they motivate each other? Everyone has something to learn, but also to teach. How can we create a common space where everyone feels comfortable to share ideas without being judged or criticized?

  1. Less focus on the now (short term) and more focus on the future (long term).

Short term goals should have a bigger picture in mind i.e. arriving in a better imagined future. We won't create these futures in a week or a month. Creative potential, if properly stimulated and given time, can help us bring imagined futures into reality.


This article first appeared in


Also have a look at Felipe Zamana’s book Taking creativity seriously.

book cover


Felipe Zamana’s TEDx talk ‘What is creativity?’


Adapted from:

Zamana, F. (2022). The Future of Education as a Creative Ecosystem: A Sociocultural Framework for the Development of Creativity. Journal of Intelligence, 10(4), 99. MDPI AG.


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