To Be Creative
Albert Einstein once credited his intelligence to his creative spirit. What exactly do we mean when we say someone is creative? Are they overly imaginative? Do they think “outside the box”? In an online journal, “The Journal of Effective Teaching”, Jose Gomez discussed the various connotations and definitions of the term “creativity”. Designed to assist educators in developing a student’s creativity, Gomez’s abstract brings up some very interesting correlations between intelligence, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, reflective thinking, and the different ways we accept or reject creativity.
It is nearly impossible to find an all-inclusive definition of the word “creativity”. New World Encyclopedia defines it as a process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts, and their substantiation into a product that has novelty and originality. From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both “originality” and “appropriateness.” Wikipedia states it more simply: Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.
We must also include the fact that creativity is considered differently based upon the situation or discipline in which it is found. In education creativity is considered to be innovative while in business it is referred to as entrepreneurship. In mathematics it is simply problem-solving but in music it is either performance or composition. The World Conference on Higher Education proclaimed Creativity as “an innovative education approach” in their statement of Missions and Functions in Higher Education.
In his article Gomez refers to the fact that the literature on creativity is sparse, but it is becoming apparent that there may be several kinds of creativity. Donald N. MacKinnon outlined three different kinds of creativity used as a basis for research at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research Laboratory (IPAR), Berkeley, California. The first is artistic creativity, which reflects the creator’s inner needs, perceptions and motivations. The second type is scientific and technological creativity, which deals with some problem of the environment and results in novel solutions but exhibits little of the inventor’s personality. The third type is hybrid creativity, found in such fields as architecture that exhibits both a novel problem solution and the personality of the creator.
In studying creativity, the IPAR group, along with most other research groups that have investigated this process, have assumed that all kinds of creativity share common characteristics, and these assumptions seem to be true. It appears that most creative persons are relatively uninterested in small details or facts for their own sake; that they are more concerned with meaning and implications. Creative people have considerable cognitive flexibility, communicate easily, are intellectually curious, and tend to let their impulses flow freely.
It was generally assumed that creativity and intelligence were closely related. However, the incidence of highly creative individuals, such as Edison, Churchill and Einstein, who at some time experienced difficulty in school, led to a closer examination of the issue during the 1960s. One of the most widely publicized studies was done by Getzels and Jackson (1992), who produced evidence that creativity and intelligence were largely independent traits. On the other hand, just a few years later Hasan and Butcher(1996) found creativity and intelligence so highly correlated that they were almost indistinguishable. The subject remains controversial today. Perhaps the most prevailing view today is that beyond a minimum level of intelligence necessary for mastery in a given field, additional intelligence offers no guarantee of a corresponding increase in creativity. OF course, since most intelligence tests only test for convergent thinking, we may never really know the relationship between intelligence and creativity. Usually, there is only one correct answer, and correctness is determined on the basis of logic, rules, or laws. However, even the best known creativity tests are somewhat invalid because of the subjective nature of the elements they measure and the lack of any predetermined right answer.
What exactly is convergent thinking? Convergent thinking emphasizes reproduction of existing data and adaptation of old responses to new situations in a more or less logical manner while divergent thinking is characterized by flexibility and originality in the production of new ideas. Convergent thinking is characterized by the reproduction of known concepts and the adoption of known responses to new situations. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, involves fluency, flexibility, and originality, and is essentially concerned with production of large numbers of new ideas.
Perhaps Einstein, Churchill and others had difficulty in school because institutional classrooms seldom allow for flexibility or creative approaches. The teacher gives a test and said test is graded based upon the answer key with only one set of choices for the correct answers. An idea is creative when it brings a new insight to a given situation. The process of creativity includes the ability to change one’s approach to a problem, to produce ideas that are both relevant and unusual, to see beyond the immediate situation, and to redefine the problem or some aspect of it. The standard test does not allow for a creative response. In addition, there is the myth that to the truly creative and talented, their skill comes naturally, and the creative works they produce come with ease. However, the evidence shows that the creative experience only comes after considerable effort and time has been put into the creative work.
Reflective thinking and evaluation of thoughts are, as we mentioned yesterday in the two creative process models discussed, basic to the process of creativity. Ideas are best when evaluated for the purpose of facilitating the problem-solving process at every step. However, continuous evaluation limits the generation of ideas. A suspension of judgment enables one to further examine seemingly wild or impossible ideas. Wrong ideas may be right in the final analysis. Emphasis shifts from the validity of a particular point to its usefulness in producing new arrangements or patterns.
Gomez lists basic attributes of the creative person but I think they could also be considered steps in the creative process. They include originality, persistence, independence, involvement and detachment, deferment and immediacy, incubation, verification, discovery of problems, generation of alternatives, the challenging of basic assumptions, and minimizing labels and/or categories.
Gomez also lists strategies for encouraging creative thinking. They include the most obvious – make a start. He also lists taking notes as not only effective but also necessary for not only observing the world around you but also making note of various ideas as they come. A surprising strategy involves making deadlines. Deadlines are often considered the killer of a creative spirit but Gomez feels the creative soul should use them to do the necessary daily routines we all have more efficiently. That in turn frees up more time for creativity and encourages the self-discipline needed in accomplishing goals. To this end Gomez also advises to “fix a time and place” to lure one’s muse out. While this may sound far-fetched it is very similar to the bedtime routines we employ to tell our brain it is time to turn off and go to sleep. One cannot schedule a masterpiece of thought to happen, perhaps, but we can create an environment that encourages creative thought, relaxation and a safe environment for exploration of said creativity.
Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work sums it up best: “If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.” In their 1999 annual report the Hewlett Packard Company established their basic rules for a culture of creativity and innovation: “Believe you can change the world. Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever. Know when to work alone and when to work together. Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues. No politics. No bureaucracy. The customer defines a job well done. Radical ideas are not bad ideas. Invent different ways of working. Make a contribution every day. Believe that together we can do anything. Invent.”
I firmly believe that when we throw the labels and criticism of the past away, anyone can develop their creative side. Someday science will determine the genes that are creative and we will discover that we all have the ability to be creative if we will just take the time and have the courage to develop it.