Generating Creativity Essay
How to generate ideas like a creative genius
Some secrets for being systematically creative
This weekend Anthony Bradley introduced me to a new idea I can’t stop thinking about. He was talking to a group of us at a retreat in the desert (we were in an expensive, air-conditioned building in the southwest but please feel free to imagine us at an encampment under the Saharan sun). The idea he shared is this:
Vulnerability is essential for creativity.
Bradley was talking about shame. What is shame? It’s the feeling, whether explicit or implicit, conscious or subconscious, that I am not good enough. Guilt is the fear that I’ve done something wrong. Shame is the fear that I am what is wrong. It is the fear that I will be rejected if people find out how flawed I am. This feeling is universal, though we have it in different degrees of severity. And the basic way most of us deal with our shame is to hide it.
I have an idealized version of myself that I think people will like and accept. I know the real me isn’t as good as the ideal version and that gap causes me shame. In order to protect my ego, I am tempted to publicly present only the parts of me I think will be attractive to others and I minimize or hide the imperfect parts.
So I show off my handsome face, athletic body, and the amazing dinner I had last night because I know you like it. And then I try to hide the fact that I’m friends with Will Haughey, because I’m not sure how that will reflect on me.
I’m kidding of course. In reality I’m proud of any association I have with an ethical, brilliant, and creative entrepreneur like Will. Plus, Will gives me a small commission every time I mention him favorably on the blog.
But, back to generating ideas. What does vulnerability and shame have to do with it?
When you have an idea, you want to share it. But sharing the idea makes you vulnerable. The person you share it with may think it’s a silly idea, or poorly thought through, or illogical or just unintersting. That kind of feedback stings. It’s embarrassing. It brings out feelings of shame.
No one describes this better than Isaac Asimov:
My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it…The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.
We share ideas at the risk of rejection. That is the reality. If you want to be someone who generates ideas, or if you want to build an organization where creativity is encouraged, you need to deal with this reality. You need to deal with the vulnerability to shame. But how?
Isolation + testing
One option is to do what Asimov suggests — get isolated. Lay the eggs of your ideas in a nest so high and remote that no one can take them and break them. The location of my previous employer, the investment firm Bridgewater Associates, is an interesting example of this. Bridgewater is not on Wall Street. It’s not even in New York City. It is located in the middle of the woods in Connecticut. Investment firms like Bridgewater make money by having accurate contrarian views about where the economy is headed. Being removed from the city meant Bridgewater was removed from the flow of conventional ideas. Contrarian opinions and research could be generated in private.
However, there is a disadvantage to isolation for creative activity. You can end up protecting your ideas for too long without knowing if they are worth protecting. So Bridgewater has a practice within the firm of openly putting every idea through the crucible of criticism, allowing only the best ideas to get through.
Rapid testing of ideas like this is is one of the core tenets of innovation in Silicon Valley. When building a startup, you want to get as much feedback as you can as quickly as you can about the product you are building. Although you might have a hunch about what customers want, you don’t know until you engage with them. This
You need to be like a scientist. You have a hypothesis about a business but set up multiple experiments with potential customers to prove whether or not the hypothesis is true. Better to do that sooner when its cheaper rather than later when you may have invested a lot of time and money into something it turns out that people don’t actually want.
The key is to develop the idea in isolation, but share it quickly and get feedback. Again though, that requires vulnerability. It requires you opening yourself to the possibility that your idea wasn’t a good one, or that it won’t be accepted. How do you do that?
The culture of Silicon Valley has become one that removes the shame from having an unsuccessful idea. Entrpreneurs pracice what Carol Dweck calls a mindset of learning instead of a mindset of performance.
Most entrepreneurs I talk to these days have internalized this mindset when it comes to product development. However, they lose the mindset when it comes to raising money. When they are testing a product they realize they may not have all the answers. They call their product test a “beta”, and are open about the flaws in the product. They are relaxed about it because they weren’t trying to be perfect. They just want to learn from the customer.
But when entrepreneurs are fundraising, they often stop trying to learn and start trying to perform. They put on a mask, tense up, and act more confident than they are because they think the investors expect them to be perfect. They try to minimize their vulnerability and cover their shame because they are afraid the potential investor will tell them no. It’s a terrible temptation. The worst part is that the fear of rejection can become self-fulfilling. Your anxiety can cause you to be less persuasive than you would be if you weren’t so anxious about the outcome.
Three ways to overcome shame on the way to ideating
So again, how can we make ourselves vulnerable enough to effectively generate and share ideas? How do we deal with our shame in such a way that we can be creative? I have three suggestions.
First, you can find someone who knows how to encourage ideas in their infancy. In improv, the first rule is that you never say “no” when improvising a scene with another actor. Saying no closes off possibilities. It limits what you can build together. Instead, the best practice is to always initially accept what your partner offers. You always build on what they suggest. You always say “Yes, and…”
Then you might tweak the idea or turn it or pivot it, but you’re editing while you’re moving forward. It is progress. And it’s fun. My partner Evan does this for me. Like few people I’ve ever met, he nurtures and encourages every idea in its infancy because he knows that while many may prove to be stinkers, every once in a while one will grow into something beautiful.
Second, you can create an environment of joy. That’s a funny phrase I admit. Certainly there have been many creative artists, particularly poets and musicians, whose creativity arose from suffering. However to intentionally be creative, you’re better off in an environment of joy. Here again, I’ll turn to Isaac Asimov who gave this recommendation for designing a group that needs to work together to innovate:
For best purposes, there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence — not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness. For this purpose I think a meeting in someone’s home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room.
Stiff environments aren’t very creative ones. I don’t think it’s an accident that so many good ideas come out of places where people are allowed to wear jeans and sandals to work.
My friend Brian, with whom I was hanging out this weekend, is an unbelievable example of someone who knows how to create an environment of joy. Literally, from the minute you meet him he is joking with you, being sarcastic, giving you a hug, calling you a nickname. He alternates between making fun of you and telling you how much he appreciates you, often in the same stream of thought. He ends up saying things that might annoy or offend you if someone else said them, but because it’s him, it just disarms you and reminds you to take yourself less seriously.
Brian manages to hit this magic balance because none of the humor is mean-spirited, and for every time he makes fun of someone in the group (and it is constant) it is never done behind their back, and in the next moment he is expressing a sincere appreciation and love for that same person. In so doing he creates an environment of intimacy and fun, where an atmosphere of healthy vulnerability is enabled because you learn you can laugh at yourself and still be loved. In this kind of environment, you can share an idea because you’ve learned to trust that, it’s okay to be imperfect, you’ll be accepted anyway. It’s okay to have a bad idea because you’ll have the benefit of the doubt that your next one will be better. You can laugh it off an move on to the next one.
Third, you can have a faith that erases your shame. Now I know many of you reading this don’t believe in God and so if you want to skip this part, that’s up to you, but I think it’s relevant and worth considering. Anthony Bradley, whom I mentioned at the top of this post, is a theologian. In talking to him this weekend I made a connection I had never before made.
One of the thematic ideas of the Christian faith is that Jesus’s death removes not only our sin but also our shame. If God were to evaluate our lives based on his perfect standard, we would feel shame for the many ways in which we fail to be the people we were made to be. But if God judges us based not on our record but on the substitutionary record of Christ, then we need not fear being rejected. We can live without shame.
This, at least, is the theology. From personal experience, I can tell you it is easy to believe that conceptually and harder to functionally believe it in such a way that my shame really melts away. But I can also say it does happen. And when it does, I feel freer than at any other time. It puts me in a spiritual frame of mind in which I actually become more creative because I’m not ashamed.
I feel more confident in sharing my ideas when I’m in this state, not because my ideas are better, but because even if they are bad I don’t have as much at stake. My self-worth isn’t riding on you thinking I have a good business idea or wrote a good blog post. My self-worth is tied to an unshakeable identification as a man accepted and loved by God himself independent of how successful or clever I am.
Creativity is inhibited by shame. It is unleashed in moments of vulnerability. How can you be more creative? Make it easier to get vulnerable. Find a confidant who encourages nascent ideas. Immerse yourself in an environment of joy. Find a grounding for your own identity, a faith, that is strong enough to hold you when your ideas are dull just as when they are brilliant.
Get vulnerable. Get creative.
Five Great Reads on Creativity
1. How to Get Startup Ideas
by Paul Graham in his blog(33 min)
This essay is required reading for anyone who wants to start a business but doesn’t yet have “the idea.” Paul Graham is such a clear thinker. I’ve shared a few of his articles before (Cities and Ambition and Life is Short and Economic Inequality).
If you want to have startup ideas, Graham’s advice is “Live in the future and build what seems interesting.” The way to have good startup ideas, he says, “is to become the sort of person who has them.” The sort of person who has them is someone at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field (i.e., someone who is living in the future). That sort of person has a mind prepared not to “think up ideas” but to notice what’s missing and what’s possible. I love this essay and am putting this on my shortlist of articles to read multiple times.
2. Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?”
by Isaac Asimov in MIT Technology Review(9 min)
“To match the number of novels, letters, essays and other scribblings Asimov produced in his lifetime, you would have to write a full-length novel every two weeks for 25 years.” That quote is from Charle Hu. I can’t verify it, but there’s no doubt Asimov was prolific. How did he manage to have so many ideas? In this previously unpublished essay, Asimov shares his tips for creativity. Here’s a taste:
“It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.
“A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.”
3. The 100:10:1 Method for Creativity on Demand
by Nick Bentley in his blog(5 min)
I’ll sum up this article in one sentence. Write down a list of 100 ideas, work on 10 of the best one simultaneously, then pick the very best one to take all the way. You could stop there, but you might want to know the rationale behind this process. It’s pretty good.
Nick is a game designer (you need to be creative to write the rules of the game) who loves to think about the process of designing games (he’s someone we can learn from).
4. The Sexy, Scary Play That’s Influencing Google, Facebook, And Disney
by Mark Wilson in Fast Company(14 min)
“Amid murder, dance, Shakespeare, and witch orgies, companies see the future of interactive entertainment.”
Sleep No More has enjoyed a seven-year sold-out run off-Broadway in New York. It’s not your typical show. It takes place in an abandoned warehouse, every audience member wheres a mask, and they don’t sit in seats, instead, they walk and sometimes run to keep up with actors who they track throughout the warehouse in a choose-your-own-adventure immersive experience that has them falling into the play. I’ve done it. It’s wild. And it’s deeply influential on the next generation of virtual reality storytellers.
5. How Jerry Seinfeld Writes a Joke
New York Times Interview
Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all-time. He is darn-near a billionaire. And he attributes his success, not to natural giftedness but to hard work and a process of writing comedy. In this five-minute video, he breaks down the process of writing a joke about pop tarts. It’s a treat.
If you liked this, please follow me and give me a heart below. Thank you!
For other uses, see Creativity (disambiguation).
Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible (such as an idea, a scientific theory, a musical composition, or a joke) or a physical object (such as an invention, a literary work, or a painting).
Scholarly interest in creativity involves many definitions and concepts pertaining to a number of disciplines: engineering, psychology, cognitive science, education, philosophy (particularly philosophy of science), technology, theology, sociology, linguistics, business studies, songwriting, and economics, covering the relations between creativity and general intelligence, mental and neurological processes, personality type and creative ability, creativity and mental health; the potential for fostering creativity through education and training, especially as augmented by technology; the maximization of creativity for national economic benefit, and the application of creative resources to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning.
In a summary of scientific research into creativity, Michael Mumford suggested: "Over the course of the last decade, however, we seem to have reached a general agreement that creativity involves the production of novel, useful products" (Mumford, 2003, p. 110), or, in Robert Sternberg's words, the production of "something original and worthwhile". Authors have diverged dramatically in their precise definitions beyond these general commonalities: Peter Meusburger reckons that over a hundred different analyses can be found in the literature. As an illustration, one definition given by Dr. E. Paul Torrance described it as "a process of becoming sensitive to problems, deficiencies, gaps in knowledge, missing elements, disharmonies, and so on; identifying the difficulty; searching for solutions, making guesses, or formulating hypotheses about the deficiencies: testing and retesting these hypotheses and possibly modifying and retesting them; and finally communicating the results."
Theories of creativity (particularly investigation of why some people are more creative than others) have focused on a variety of aspects. The dominant factors are usually identified as "the four Ps" — process, product, person, and place (according to Mel Rhodes). A focus on process is shown in cognitive approaches that try to describe thought mechanisms and techniques for creative thinking. Theories invoking divergent rather than convergent thinking (such as Guilford), or those describing the staging of the creative process (such as Wallas) are primarily theories of creative process. A focus on creative product usually appears in attempts to measure creativity (psychometrics, see below) and in creative ideas framed as successful memes. The psychometric approach to creativity reveals that it also involves the ability to produce more. A focus on the nature of the creative person considers more general intellectual habits, such as openness, levels of ideation, autonomy, expertise, exploratory behavior, and so on. A focus on place considers the circumstances in which creativity flourishes, such as degrees of autonomy, access to resources, and the nature of gatekeepers. Creative lifestyles are characterized by nonconforming attitudes and behaviors as well as flexibility.
The lexeme in the English word creativity comes from the Latin term creō "to create, make": its derivational suffixes also come from Latin. The word "create" appeared in English as early as the 14th century, notably in Chaucer, to indicate divine creation (in The Parson's Tale). However, its modern meaning as an act of human creation did not emerge until after the Enlightenment.
History of the concept
Main article: History of the concept of creativity
Most ancient cultures, including thinkers of Ancient Greece,Ancient China, and Ancient India, lacked the concept of creativity, seeing art as a form of discovery and not creation. The ancient Greeks had no terms corresponding to "to create" or "creator" except for the expression "poiein" ("to make"), which only applied to poiesis (poetry) and to the poietes (poet, or "maker") who made it. Plato did not believe in art as a form of creation. Asked in The Republic, "Will we say, of a painter, that he makes something?", he answers, "Certainly not, he merely imitates."
It is commonly argued that the notion of "creativity" originated in Western culture through Christianity, as a matter of divine inspiration. According to the historian Daniel J. Boorstin, "the early Western conception of creativity was the Biblical story of creation given in the Genesis." However, this is not creativity in the modern sense, which did not arise until the Renaissance. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, creativity was the sole province of God; humans were not considered to have the ability to create something new except as an expression of God's work. A concept similar to that of Christianity existed in Greek culture, for instance, Muses were seen as mediating inspiration from the Gods. Romans and Greeks invoked the concept of an external creative "daemon" (Greek) or "genius" (Latin), linked to the sacred or the divine. However, none of these views are similar to the modern concept of creativity, and the individual was not seen as the cause of creation until the Renaissance. It was during the Renaissance that creativity was first seen, not as a conduit for the divine, but from the abilities of "great men".
The Enlightenment and after
The rejection of creativity in favor of discovery and the belief that individual creation was a conduit of the divine would dominate the West probably until the Renaissance and even later. The development of the modern concept of creativity begins in the Renaissance, when creation began to be perceived as having originated from the abilities of the individual, and not God. This could be attributed to the leading intellectual movement of the time, aptly named humanism, which developed an intensely human-centric outlook on the world, valuing the intellect and achievement of the individual. From this philosophy arose the Renaissance man (or polymath), an individual who embodies the principals of humanism in their ceaseless courtship with knowledge and creation. One of the most well-known and immensely accomplished examples is Leonardo da Vinci.
However, this shift was gradual and would not become immediately apparent until the Enlightenment. By the 18th century and the Age of Enlightenment, mention of creativity (notably in aesthetics), linked with the concept of imagination, became more frequent. In the writing of Thomas Hobbes, imagination became a key element of human cognition;William Duff was one of the first to identify imagination as a quality of genius, typifying the separation being made between talent (productive, but breaking no new ground) and genius.
As a direct and independent topic of study, creativity effectively received no attention until the 19th century. Runco and Albert argue that creativity as the subject of proper study began seriously to emerge in the late 19th century with the increased interest in individual differences inspired by the arrival of Darwinism. In particular, they refer to the work of Francis Galton, who through his eugenicist outlook took a keen interest in the heritability of intelligence, with creativity taken as an aspect of genius.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading mathematicians and scientists such as Hermann von Helmholtz (1896) and Henri Poincaré (1908) began to reflect on and publicly discuss their creative processes.
Twentieth century to the present day
The insights of Poincaré and von Helmholtz were built on in early accounts of the creative process by pioneering theorists such as Graham Wallas and Max Wertheimer. In his work Art of Thought, published in 1926, Wallas presented one of the first models of the creative process. In the Wallas stage model, creative insights and illuminations may be explained by a process consisting of 5 stages:
- (i) preparation (preparatory work on a problem that focuses the individual's mind on the problem and explores the problem's dimensions),
- (ii) incubation (where the problem is internalized into the unconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening),
- (iii) intimation (the creative person gets a "feeling" that a solution is on its way),
- (iv) illumination or insight (where the creative idea bursts forth from its preconscious processing into conscious awareness);
- (v) verification (where the idea is consciously verified, elaborated, and then applied).
Wallas' model is often treated as four stages, with "intimation" seen as a sub-stage.
Wallas considered creativity to be a legacy of the evolutionary process, which allowed humans to quickly adapt to rapidly changing environments. Simonton provides an updated perspective on this view in his book, Origins of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity.
In 1927, Alfred North Whitehead gave the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, later published as Process and Reality. He is credited with having coined the term "creativity" to serve as the ultimate category of his metaphysical scheme: "Whitehead actually coined the term – our term, still the preferred currency of exchange among literature, science, and the arts. . . a term that quickly became so popular, so omnipresent, that its invention within living memory, and by Alfred North Whitehead of all people, quickly became occluded".
The formal psychometric measurement of creativity, from the standpoint of orthodox psychological literature, is usually considered to have begun with J. P. Guilford's 1950 address to the American Psychological Association, which helped popularize the topic and focus attention on a scientific approach to conceptualizing creativity. (It should be noted that the London School of Psychology had instigated psychometric studies of creativity as early as 1927 with the work of H. L. Hargreaves into the Faculty of Imagination, but it did not have the same impact.) Statistical analysis led to the recognition of creativity (as measured) as a separate aspect of human cognition to IQ-type intelligence, into which it had previously been subsumed. Guilford's work suggested that above a threshold level of IQ, the relationship between creativity and classically measured intelligence broke down.
"Four C" model
James C. Kaufman and Beghetto introduced a "four C" model of creativity; mini-c ("transformative learning" involving "personally meaningful interpretations of experiences, actions, and insights"), little-c (everyday problem solving and creative expression), Pro-C (exhibited by people who are professionally or vocationally creative though not necessarily eminent) and Big-C (creativity considered great in the given field). This model was intended to help accommodate models and theories of creativity that stressed competence as an essential component and the historical transformation of a creative domain as the highest mark of creativity. It also, the authors argued, made a useful framework for analyzing creative processes in individuals.
The contrast of terms "Big C" and "Little c" has been widely used. Kozbelt, Beghetto and Runco use a little-c/Big-C model to review major theories of creativity.Margaret Boden distinguishes between h-creativity (historical) and p-creativity (personal).
Robinson and Anna Craft have focused on creativity in a general population, particularly with respect to education. Craft makes a similar distinction between "high" and "little c" creativity. and cites Ken Robinson as referring to "high" and "democratic" creativity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has defined creativity in terms of those individuals judged to have made significant creative, perhaps domain-changing contributions. Simonton has analysed the career trajectories of eminent creative people in order to map patterns and predictors of creative productivity.
Theories of creative processes
There has been much empirical study in psychology and cognitive science of the processes through which creativity occurs. Interpretation of the results of these studies has led to several possible explanations of the sources and methods of creativity.
Incubation is a temporary break from creative problem solving that can result in insight. There has been some empirical research looking at whether, as the concept of "incubation" in Wallas' model implies, a period of interruption or rest from a problem may aid creative problem-solving. Ward lists various hypotheses that have been advanced to explain why incubation may aid creative problem-solving, and notes how some empirical evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that incubation aids creative problem-solving in that it enables "forgetting" of misleading clues. Absence of incubation may lead the problem solver to become fixated on inappropriate strategies of solving the problem. This work disputes the earlier hypothesis that creative solutions to problems arise mysteriously from the unconscious mind while the conscious mind is occupied on other tasks. This earlier hypothesis is discussed in Csikszentmihalyi's five phase model of the creative process which describes incubation as a time that your unconscious takes over. This allows for unique connections to be made without your consciousness trying to make logical order out of the problem.
Convergent and divergent thinking
J. P. Guilford drew a distinction between convergent and divergent production (commonly renamed convergent and divergent thinking). Convergent thinking involves aiming for a single, correct solution to a problem, whereas divergent thinking involves creative generation of multiple answers to a set problem. Divergent thinking is sometimes used as a synonym for creativity in psychology literature. Other researchers have occasionally used the terms flexible thinking or fluid intelligence, which are roughly similar to (but not synonymous with) creativity.
Creative cognition approach
In 1992, Finke et al. proposed the "Geneplore" model, in which creativity takes place in two phases: a generative phase, where an individual constructs mental representations called preinventive structures, and an exploratory phase where those structures are used to come up with creative ideas. Some evidence shows that when people use their imagination to develop new ideas, those ideas are heavily structured in predictable ways by the properties of existing categories and concepts. Weisberg argued, by contrast, that creativity only involves ordinary cognitive processes yielding extraordinary results.
The Explicit–Implicit Interaction (EII) theory
Helie and Sun recently proposed a unified framework for understanding creativity in problem solving, namely the Explicit–Implicit Interaction (EII) theory of creativity. This new theory constitutes an attempt at providing a more unified explanation of relevant phenomena (in part by reinterpreting/integrating various fragmentary existing theories of incubation and insight).
The EII theory relies mainly on five basic principles, namely:
- The co-existence of and the difference between explicit and implicit knowledge;
- The simultaneous involvement of implicit and explicit processes in most tasks;
- The redundant representation of explicit and implicit knowledge;
- The integration of the results of explicit and implicit processing;
- The iterative (and possibly bidirectional) processing.
A computational implementation of the theory was developed based on the CLARION cognitive architecture and used to simulate relevant human data. This work represents an initial step in the development of process-based theories of creativity encompassing incubation, insight, and various other related phenomena.
Main article: Conceptual blending
In The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler introduced the concept of bisociation — that creativity arises as a result of the intersection of two quite different frames of reference. This idea was later developed into conceptual blending. In the 1990s, various approaches in cognitive science that dealt with metaphor, analogy, and structure mapping have been converging, and a new integrative approach to the study of creativity in science, art and humor has emerged under the label conceptual blending.
Honing theory, developed principally by psychologist Liane Gabora, posits that creativity arises due to the self-organizing, self-mending nature of a worldview. The creative process is a way in which the individual hones (and re-hones) an integrated worldview. Honing theory places emphasis not only on the externally visible creative outcome but also the internal cognitive restructuring and repair of the worldview brought about by the creative process. When faced with a creatively demanding task, there is an interaction between the conception of the task and the worldview. The conception of the task changes through interaction with the worldview, and the worldview changes through interaction with the task. This interaction is reiterated until the task is complete, at which point not only is the task conceived of differently, but the worldview is subtly or drastically transformed as it follows the natural tendency of a worldview to attempt to resolve dissonance and seek internal consistency amongst its components, whether they be ideas, attitudes, or bits of knowledge.
A central feature of honing theory is the notion of a potentiality state. Honing theory posits that creative thought proceeds not by searching through and randomly ‘mutating’ predefined possibilities, but by drawing upon associations that exist due to overlap in the distributed neural cell assemblies that participate in the encoding of experiences in memory. Midway through the creative process one may have made associations between the current task and previous experiences, but not yet disambiguated which aspects of those previous experiences are relevant to the current task. Thus the creative idea may feel ‘half-baked’. It is at that point that it can be said to be in a potentiality state, because how it will actualize depends on the different internally or externally generated contexts it interacts with.
Honing theory is held to explain certain phenomena not dealt with by other theories of creativity, for example, how different works by the same creator are observed in studies to exhibit a recognizable style or 'voice' even through in different creative outlets. This is not predicted by theories of creativity that emphasize chance processes or the accumulation of expertise, but it is predicted by honing theory, according to which personal style reflects the creator's uniquely structured worldview. Another example is in the environmental stimulus for creativity. Creativity is commonly considered to be fostered by a supportive, nurturing, trustworthy environment conducive to self-actualization. However, research shows that creativity is also associated with childhood adversity, which would stimulate honing.
Everyday imaginative thought
In everyday thought, people often spontaneously imagine alternatives to reality when they think "if only...". Their counterfactual thinking is viewed as an example of everyday creative processes. It has been proposed that the creation of counterfactual alternatives to reality depends on similar cognitive processes to rational thought.
Assessing individual creative ability
Several attempts have been made to develop a creativity quotient of an individual similar to the intelligence quotient (IQ); however, these have been unsuccessful.
J. P. Guilford's group, which pioneered the modern psychometric study of creativity, constructed several tests to measure creativity in 1967:
- Plot Titles, where participants are given the plot of a story and asked to write original titles.
- Quick Responses is a word-association test scored for uncommonness.
- Figure Concepts, where participants were given simple drawings of objects and individuals and asked to find qualities or features that are common by two or more drawings; these were scored for uncommonness.
- Unusual Uses is finding unusual uses for common everyday objects such as bricks.
- Remote Associations, where participants are asked to find a word between two given words (e.g. Hand _____ Call)
- Remote Consequences, where participants are asked to generate a list of consequences of unexpected events (e.g. loss of gravity)
Building on Guilford's work, Torrance developed the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking in 1966. They involved simple tests of divergent thinking and other problem-solving skills, which were scored on:
- Fluency – The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
- Originality – The statistical rarity of the responses among the test subjects.
- Elaboration – The amount of detail in the responses.
The Creativity Achievement Questionnaire, a self-report test that measures creative achievement across 10 domains, was described in 2005 and shown to be reliable and valid when compared to other measures of creativity and to independent evaluation of creative output.
Such tests, sometimes called Divergent Thinking (DT) tests have been both supported and criticized.
Considerable progress has been made in automated scoring of divergent thinking tests using semantic approach. When compared to human raters, NLP techniques were shown to be reliable and valid in scoring the originality (when compared to human raters). The reported computer programs were able to achieve a correlation of 0.60 and 0.72 respectively to human graders.
Semantic networks were also used to devise originality scores that yielded significant correlations with socio-personal measures. Most recently, an NSF-funded team of researchers led by James C. Kaufman and Mark A. Runco combined expertise in creativity research, natural language processing, computational linguistics, and statistical data analysis to devise a scalable system for computerized automated testing (SparcIt Creativity Index Testing system). This system enabled automated scoring of DT tests that is reliable, objective, and scalable, thus addressing most of the issues of DT tests that had been found and reported. The resultant computer system was able to achieve a correlation of 0.73 to human graders.
Some researchers have taken a social-personality approach to the measurement of creativity. In these studies, personality traits such as independence of judgement, self-confidence, attraction to complexity, aesthetic orientation, and risk-taking are used as measures of the creativity of individuals. A meta-analysis by Gregory Feist showed that creative people tend to be "more open to new experiences, less conventional and less conscientious, more self-confident, self-accepting, driven, ambitious, dominant, hostile, and impulsive." Openness, conscientiousness, self-acceptance, hostility, and impulsivity had the strongest effects of the traits listed. Within the framework of the Big Five model of personality, some consistent traits have emerged.Openness to experience has been shown to be consistently related to a whole host of different assessments of creativity. Among the other Big Five traits, research has demonstrated subtle differences between different domains of creativity. Compared to non-artists, artists tend to have higher levels of openness to experience and lower levels of conscientiousness, while scientists are more open to experience, conscientious, and higher in the confidence-dominance facets of extraversion compared to non-scientists.
Creativity and intelligence
The potential relationship between creativity and intelligence has been of interest since the late 1900s, when a multitude of influential studies – from Getzels & Jackson, Barron, Wallach & Kogan, and Guilford – focused not only on creativity, but also on intelligence. This joint focus highlights both the theoretical and practical importance of the relationship: researchers are interested not only if the constructs are related, but also how and why.
There are multiple theories accounting for their relationship, with the 3 main theories as follows:
- Threshold Theory – Intelligence is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for creativity. There is a moderate positive relationship between creativity and intelligence until IQ ~120.
- Certification Theory – Creativity is not intrinsically related to intelligence. Instead, individuals are required to meet the requisite level intelligence in order to gain a certain level of education/work, which then in turn offers the opportunity to be creative. Displays of creativity are moderated by intelligence.
- Interference Theory – Extremely high intelligence might interfere with creative ability.
Sternberg and O’Hara proposed a framework of 5 possible relationships between creativity and intelligence:
- Creativity is a subset of intelligence
- Intelligence is a subset of creativity
- Creativity and intelligence are overlapping constructs
- Creativity and intelligence are part of the same construct (coincident sets)
- Creativity and intelligence are distinct constructs (disjoint sets)
Creativity as a subset of intelligence
A number of researchers include creativity, either explicitly or implicitly, as a key component of intelligence.
Examples of theories that include creativity as a subset of intelligence
- Gardner’s Theory of multiple intelligences (MIT) – implicitly includes creativity as a subset of MIT. To demonstrate this, Gardner cited examples of different famous creators, each of whom differed in their types of intelligences e.g. Picasso (spatial intelligence); Freud (intrapersonal); Einstein (logical-mathematical); and Gandhi (interpersonal).
- Sternberg’s Theory of Successful intelligence (see Triarchic theory of intelligence) includes creativity as a main component, and comprises 3 sub-theories: Componential (Analytic), Contextual (Practical), and Experiential (Creative). Experiential sub-theory – the ability to use pre-existing knowledge and skills to solve new and novel problems – is directly related to creativity.
- The Cattell–Horn–Carroll theory includes creativity as a subset of intelligence. Specifically, it is associated with the broad group factor of long-term storage and retrieval (Glr). Glr narrow abilities relating to creativity include: ideational fluency, associational fluency, and originality/creativity. Silvia et al. conducted a study to look at the relationship between divergent thinking and verbal fluency tests, and reported that both fluency and originality in divergent thinking were significantly affected by the broad level Glr factor. Martindale extended the CHC-theory in the sense that it was proposed that those individuals who are creative are also selective in their processing speed Martindale argues that in the creative process, larger amounts of information are processed more slowly in the early stages, and as the individual begins to understand the problem, the processing speed is increased.
- The Dual Process Theory of Intelligence posits a two-factor/type model of intelligence. Type 1 is a conscious process, and concerns goal directed thoughts, which are explained by g. Type 2 is an unconscious process, and concerns spontaneous cognition, which encompasses daydreaming and implicit learning ability. Kaufman argues that creativity occurs as a result of Type 1 and Type 2 processes working together in combination. The use of each type in the creative process can be used to varying degrees.
Intelligence as a subset of creativity
In this relationship model, intelligence is a key component in the development of creativity.
Theories of creativity that include intelligence as a subset of creativity
- Sternberg & Lubart’s Investment Theory. Using the metaphor of a stock market, they demonstrate that creative thinkers are like good investors – they buy low and sell high (in their ideas). Like under/low-valued stock, creative individuals generate unique ideas that are initially rejected by other people. The creative individual has to persevere, and convince the others of the ideas value. After convincing the others, and thus increasing the ideas value, the creative individual ‘sells high’ by leaving the idea with the other people, and moves onto generating another idea. According to this theory, six distinct, but related elements contribute to successful creativity: intelligence, knowledge, thinking styles, personality, motivation, and environment. Intelligence is just one of the six factors that can either solely, or in conjunction with the other five factors, generate creative thoughts.
- Amabile’s Componential Model of Creativity. In this model, there are 3 within-individual components needed for creativity – domain-relevant skills, creativity-relevant processes, and task motivation – and 1 component external to the individual: their surrounding social environment. Creativity requires a confluence of all components. High creativity will result when an individual is: intrinsically motivated, possesses both a high level of domain-relevant skills and has high skills in creative thinking, and is working in a highly creative environment.
- Amusement Park Theoretical Model. In this 4-step theory, both domain-specific and generalist views are integrated into a model of creativity. The researchers make use of the metaphor of the amusement park to demonstrate that within each of these creative levels, intelligence plays a key role:
- To get into the amusement park, there are initial requirements (e.g., time/transport to go to the park). Initial requirements (like intelligence) are necessary, but not sufficient for creativity. They are more like prerequisites for creativity, and if an individual does not possess the basic level of the initial requirement (intelligence), then they will not be able to generate creative thoughts/behaviour.
- Secondly are the subcomponents – general thematic areas – that increase in specificity. Like choosing which type of amusement park to visit (e.g. a zoo or a water park), these areas relate to the areas in which someone could be creative (e.g. poetry).
- Thirdly, there are specific domains. After choosing the type of park to visit e.g. waterpark, you then have to choose which specific park to go to. Within the poetry domain, there are many different types (e.g. free verse, riddles, sonnet, etc.) that have to be selected from.
- Lastly, there are micro-domains. These are the specific tasks that reside within each domain e.g. individual lines in a free verse poem / individual rides at the waterpark.
Creativity and intelligence as overlapping yet distinct constructs
This possible relationship concerns creativity and intelligence as distinct, but intersecting constructs.
Theories that include Creativity and Intelligence as Overlapping Yet Distinct Constructs
- Renzulli’s Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness. In this conceptualisation, giftedness occurs as a result from the overlap of above average intellectual ability, creativity, and task commitment. Under this view, creativity and intelligence are distinct constructs, but they do overlap under the correct conditions.
- PASS theory of intelligence. In this theory, the planning component – relating to the ability to solve problems, make decisions and take action – strongly overlaps with the concept of creativity.
- Threshold Theory (TT). A number of previous research findings have suggested that a threshold exists in the relationship between creativity and intelligence – both constructs are moderately positively correlated up to an IQ of ~120. Above this threshold of an IQ of 120, if there is a relationship at all, it is small and weak. TT posits that a moderate level of intelligence is necessary for creativity.
In support of the TT, Barron reported finding a non-significant correlation between creativity and intelligence in a gifted sample; and a significant correlation in a non-gifted sample. Yamamoto in a sample of secondary school children, reported a significant correlation between creativity and intelligence of r = .3, and reported no significant correlation when the sample consisted of gifted children. Fuchs-Beauchamp et al. in a sample of preschoolers found that creativity and intelligence correlated from r = .19 to r = .49 in the group of children who had an IQ below the threshold; and in the group above the threshold, the correlations were r = <.12. Cho et al. reported a correlation of .40 between creativity and intelligence in the average IQ group of a sample of adolescents and adults; and a correlation of close to r = .0 for the high IQ group. Jauk et al. found support for the TT, but only for measures of creative potential; not creative performance.
Much modern day research reports findings against TT. Wai et al. in a study using data from the longitudinal Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth – a cohort of elite students from early adolescence into adulthood – found that differences in SAT scores at age 13 were predictive of creative real-life outcomes 20 years later. Kim’s meta-analysis of 21 studies did not find any supporting evidence for TT, and instead negligible correlations were reported between intelligence, creativity, and divergent thinking both below and above IQ's of 120. Preckel et al., investigating fluid intelligence and creativity, reported small correlations of r = .3 to r = .4 across all levels of cognitive ability.
Creativity and intelligence as coincident sets
Under this view, researchers posit that there are no differences in the mechanisms underlying creativity in those used in normal problem solving; and in normal problem solving, there is no need for creativity. Thus, creativity and Intelligence (problem solving) are the same thing. Perkins referred to this as the ‘nothing-special’ view.
Weisberg & Alba examined problem solving by having participants complete the 9-dot problem (see Thinking outside the box#Nine dots puzzle) – where the participants are asked to connect all 9 dots in the 3 rows of 3 dots using 4 straight lines or less, without lifting their pen or tracing the same line twice. The problem can only be solved if the lines go outside the boundaries of the square of dots. Results demonstrated that even when participants were given this insight, they still found it difficult to solve the problem, thus showing that to successfully complete the task it is not just insight (or creativity) that is required.
Creativity and intelligence as disjoint sets
In this view, creativity and intelligence are completely different, unrelated constructs.
Getzels and Jackson administered 5 creativity measures to a group of 449 children from grades 6-12, and compared these test findings to results from previously administered (by the school) IQ tests. They found that the correlation between the creativity measures and IQ was r = .26. The high creativity group scored in the top 20% of the overall creativity measures, but were not included in the top 20% of IQ scorers. The high intelligence group scored the opposite: they scored in the top 20% for IQ, but were outside the top 20% scorers for creativity, thus showing that creativity and intelligence are distinct and unrelated.
However, this work has been heavily criticised. Wallach and Kogan highlighted that the creativity measures were not only weakly related to one another (to the extent that they were no more related to one another than they were with IQ), but they seemed to also draw upon non-creative skills. McNemar noted that there were major measurement issues, in that the IQ scores were a mixture from 3 different IQ tests.
Wallach and Kogan administered 5 measures of creativity, each of which resulted in a score for originality and fluency; and 10 measures of general intelligence to 151 5th grade children. These tests were untimed, and given in a game-like manner (aiming to facilitate creativity). Inter-correlations between creativity tests were on average r = .41. Inter-correlations between intelligence measures were on average r = .51 with each other. Creativity tests and intelligence measures correlated r = .09.
The neuroscience of creativity looks at the operation of the brain during creative behaviour. It has been addressed in the article "Creative Innovation: Possible Brain Mechanisms." The authors write that "creative innovation might require coactivation and communication between regions of the brain that ordinarily are not strongly connected." Highly creative people who excel at creative innovation tend to differ from others in three ways:
Thus, the frontal lobe appears to be the part of the cortex that is most important for creativity.
This article also explored the links between creativity and sleep, mood and addiction disorders, and depression.
In 2005, Alice Flaherty presented a three-factor model of the creative drive. Drawing from evidence in brain imaging, drug studies and lesion analysis, she described the creative drive as resulting from an interaction of the frontal lobes, the temporal lobes, and dopamine from the limbic system. The frontal lobes can be seen as responsible for idea generation, and the temporal lobes for idea editing and evaluation. Abnormalities in the frontal lobe (such as depression or anxiety) generally decrease creativity, while abnormalities in the temporal lobe often increase creativity. High activity in the temporal lobe typically inhibits activity in the frontal lobe, and vice versa. High dopamine levels increase general arousal and goal directed behaviors and reduce latent inhibition, and all three effects increase the drive to generate ideas. A 2015 study on creativity found that it involves the interaction of multiple neural networks, including those that support associative thinking, along with other default mode network functions.
Working memory and the cerebellum
Vandervert described how the brain's frontal lobes and the cognitive functions of the cerebellum collaborate to produce creativity and innovation. Vandervert's explanation rests on considerable evidence that all processes of working memory (responsible for processing all thought) are adaptively modeled for increased efficiency by the cerebellum. The cerebellum (consisting of 100 billion neurons, which is more than the entirety of the rest of the brain) is also widely known to adaptively model all bodily movement for efficiency. The cerebellum's adaptive models of working memory processing are then fed back to especially frontal lobe working memory control processes where creative and innovative thoughts arise. (Apparently, creative insight or the "aha" experience is then triggered in the temporal lobe.)
According to Vandervert, the details of creative adaptation begin in "forward" cerebellar models which are anticipatory/exploratory controls for movement and thought. These cerebellar processing and control architectures have been termed Hierarchical Modular Selection and Identification for Control (HMOSAIC). New, hierarchically arranged levels of the cerebellar control architecture (HMOSAIC) develop as mental mulling in working memory is extended over time. These new levels of the control architecture are fed forward to the frontal lobes. Since the cerebellum adaptively models all movement and all levels of thought and emotion, Vandervert's approach helps explain creativity and innovation in sports, art, music, the design of video games, technology, mathematics, the child prodigy, and thought in general.
Essentially, Vandervert has argued that when a person is confronted with a challenging new situation, visual-spatial working memory and speech-related working memory are decomposed and re-composed (fractionated) by the cerebellum and then blended in the cerebral cortex in an attempt to deal with the new situation. With repeated attempts to deal with challenging situations, the cerebro-cerebellar blending process continues to optimize the efficiency of how working memory deals with the situation or problem. Most recently, he has argued that this is the same process (only involving visual-spatial working memory and pre-language vocalization) that led to the evolution of language in humans. Vandervert and Vandervert-Weathers have pointed out that this blending process, because it continuously optimizes efficiencies, constantly improves prototyping attempts toward the invention or innovation of new ideas, music, art, or technology. Prototyping, they argue, not only produces new products, it trains the cerebro-cerebellar pathways involved to become more efficient at prototyping itself. Further, Vandervert and Vandervert-Weathers believe that this repetitive "mental prototyping" or mental rehearsal involving the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex explains the success of the self-driven, individualized patterning of repetitions initiated by the teaching methods of the Khan Academy. The model proposed by Vandervert has, however, received incisive critique from several authors.
Creativity involves the forming of associative elements into new combinations that are useful or meet some requirement. Sleep aids this process.REM rather than NREM sleep appears to be responsible. This has been suggested to be due to changes in cholinergic and noradrenergicneuromodulation that occurs during REM sleep. During this period of sleep, high levels of acetylcholine in the hippocampus suppress feedback from the hippocampus to the neocortex, and lower levels of acetylcholine and norepinephrine in the neocortex encourage the spread of associational activity within neocortical areas without control from the hippocampus. This is in contrast to waking consciousness, where higher levels of norepinephrine and acetylcholine inhibit recurrent connections in the neocortex. It is proposed that REM sleep adds creativity by allowing "neocortical structures to reorganize associative hierarchies, in which information from the hippocampus would be reinterpreted in relation to previous semantic representations or nodes."
Some theories suggest that creativity may be particularly susceptible to affective influence. As noted in voting behavior, the term "affect" in this context can refer to liking or disliking key aspects of the subject in question. This work largely follows from findings in psychology regarding the ways in which affective states are involved in human judgment and decision-making.
Positive affect relations
According to Alice Isen, positive affect has three primary effects on cognitive activity:
- Positive affect makes additional cognitive material available for processing, increasing the number of cognitive elements available for association;
- Positive affect leads to defocused attention and a more complex cognitive context, increasing the breadth of those elements that are treated as relevant to the problem;
- Positive affect increases cognitive flexibility, increasing the probability that diverse cognitive elements will in fact become associated. Together, these processes lead positive affect to have a positive influence on creativity.
Barbara Fredrickson in her broaden-and-build model suggests that positive emotions such as joy and love broaden a person's available repertoire of cognitions and actions, thus enhancing creativity.
According to these researchers, positive emotions increase the number of cognitive elements available for association (attention scope) and the number of elements that are relevant to the problem (cognitive scope).
Various meta-analyses, such as Baas et al. (2008) of 66 studies about creativity and affect support the link between creativity and positive affect.
Creativity and artificial intelligence
Jürgen Schmidhuber's formal theory of creativity postulates that creativity, curiosity, and interestingness are by-products of a simple computational principle for measuring and optimizing learning progress. Consider an agent able to manipulate its environment and thus its own sensory inputs. The agent can use a black box optimization method such as reinforcement learning to learn (through informed trial and error) sequences of actions that maximize the expected sum of its future reward signals. There are extrinsic reward signals for achieving externally given goals, such as finding food when hungry. But Schmidhuber's objective function to be maximized also includes an additional, intrinsic term to model "wow-effects." This non-standard term motivates purely creative behavior of the agent even when there are no external goals. A wow-effect is formally defined as follows. As the agent is creating and predicting and encoding the continually growing history of actions and sensory inputs, it keeps improving the predictor or encoder, which can be implemented as an artificial neural network or some other machine learning device that can exploit regularities in the data to improve its performance over time. The improvements can be measured precisely, by computing the difference in computational costs (storage size, number of required synapses, errors, time) needed to encode new observations before and after learning. This difference depends on the encoder's present subjective knowledge, which changes over time, but the theory formally takes this into account. The cost difference measures the strength of the present "wow-effect" due to sudden improvements in data compression or computational speed. It becomes an intrinsic reward signal for the action selector. The objective function thus motivates the action optimizer to create action sequences causing more wow-effects. Irregular, random data (or noise) do not permit any wow-effects or learning progress, and thus are "boring" by nature (providing no reward). Already known and predictable regularities also are boring. Temporarily interesting are only the initially unknown, novel, regular patterns in both actions and observations. This motivates the agent to perform continual, open-ended, active, creative exploration.
According to Schmidhuber, his objective function explains the activities of scientists, artists, and comedians. For example, physicists are motivated to create experiments leading to observations obeying previously unpublished physical laws permitting better data compression. Likewise, composers receive intrinsic reward for creating non-arbitrary melodies with unexpected but regular harmonies that permit wow-effects through data compression improvements. Similarly, a comedian gets intrinsic reward for "inventing a novel joke with an unexpected punch line, related to the beginning of the story in an initially unexpected but quickly learnable way that also allows for better compression of the perceived data." Schmidhuber argues that ongoing computer hardware advances will greatly scale up rudimentary artificial scientists and artists[clarification needed] based on simple implementations of the basic principle since 1990. He used the theory to create low-complexity art and an attractive human face.
Main article: Creativity and mental illness
A study by psychologist J. Philippe Rushton found creativity to correlate with intelligence and psychoticism. Another study found creativity to be greater in schizotypal than in either normal or schizophrenic individuals. While divergent thinking was associated with bilateral activation of the prefrontal cortex, schizotypal individuals were found to have much greater activation of their right prefrontal cortex. This study hypothesizes that such individuals are better at accessing both hemispheres, allowing them to make novel associations at a faster rate. In agreement with this hypothesis, ambidexterity is also associated with schizotypal and schizophrenic individuals. Three recent studies by Mark Batey and Adrian Furnham have demonstrated the relationships between schizotypal and hypomanic personality and several different measures of creativity.
Particularly strong links have been identified between creativity and mood disorders, particularly manic-depressive disorder (a.k.a. bipolar disorder) and depressive disorder (a.k.a. unipolar disorder). In Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Kay Redfield Jamison summarizes studies of mood-disorder rates in writers, poets, and artists. She also explores research that identifies mood disorders in such famous writers and artists as Ernest Hemingway (who shot himself after electroconvulsive treatment), Virginia Woolf (who drowned herself when she felt a depressive episode coming on), composer Robert Schumann (who died in a mental institution), and even the famed visual artistMichelangelo.
A study looking at 300,000 persons with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or unipolar depression, and their relatives, found overrepresentation in creative professions for those with bipolar disorder as well as for undiagnosed siblings of those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. There was no overall overrepresentation, but overrepresentation for artistic occupations, among those diagnosed with schizophrenia. There was no association for those with unipolar depression or their relatives.
Another study involving more than one million people, conducted by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute, reported a number of correlations between creative occupations and mental illnesses. Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, and were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves. Dancers and photographers were also more likely to have bipolar disorder.