The social psychology of creativity.

Pablo Picasso

The Nature of Creativity. 

What is creativity and who is able to produce it? As noted elsewhere in this site creativity is a form of learning. It is not the learning that comes from our cultural repository of knowledge, but the learning of what has not been known before. It is knowledge born and thus learned inside each and every human so our pooled knowledge can expand. Herman Melville said, "It's better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation." But we should remember the line between imitation and creativity is small. Creation and innovation is always a reworking of what has gone before, and to that extent it always includes imitation in part. Hardly anything is completely new. Despite this creativity is about something new, something not seen before. It is about innovative ideas. Ideas may be solutions to problems, or they may be explorations of unique connections.

The definition of creativity most endorsed by the majority of scientists is still Morris Stein's (1953) definition. His definition states that creativity is "that process which results in a novel work that is accepted as tenable or useful or satisfying by a group at some point in time." This is rather more vague than this site would like, but it does point out that creativity is dependent on the views held by others. It is very difficult to get a good definition of creativity that is acceptable to most people. Here are a few other worthy tries. "The production of novel and appropriate ideas by individuals and small groups" "A kind of capacity to think up something new that people find significant." "Creativity will refer to that tantalizing constellation of personality and intellectual traits shown by people who, when given a measure of free reign, spend significant amounts of time engaged in the creative process." Creativity is a skill, a habit, and a way of life. As such, it needs to be practiced, and people in a passive state cannot be practicing anything. Creativity of any worth requires active participation from an early age.

Creativity means bringing three different new and unique elements into the world. It means materializing new and novel objects. It means initializing new and novel actions. It means assembling new and novel knowledge. Creativity is a special kind of learning that takes place as new and novel actions or knowledge are assembled by its creator.

Only one kind of creativity? 

There was a theory at one time that creativity came in two varieties, the kind attributable to geniuses, and the kind that supposedly almost anybody can produce. Clearly however, most people are not creative and indeed might not be able to become so. However, it is now widely held in scientific circles, that there is no real difference between these so called different types of creativity. They are simply the high end and the low end of the continuum that is creativity, the high end being that which geniuses create and the low end being what more ordinary people create. Regardless of which of these theories is correct, we are now in a position to increase both the creativity of geniuses and the more mundane creativity.

Solving problems and being creative. 

Teresa Amabile in her book "Creativity in Context" talks about certain problems being solved by an algorithm by which she means a formula. In this case the answer to the problem already exists and may be known. It is simply a matter of recalling it or logically reaching it. This not creativity. Creativity is the bringing into existence of something new. This is not to say that the solution to a problem cannot be creative, it obviously can be creative if someone comes up with a new, unique and hitherto un-glimpsed of solution. However, for most problems in schools, the solution is in fact already known and it's generation is an entirely different kettle of fish, to that of generating the new and unique.

The creativity maze. 

Teresa Amabile has given us an analogy for creativity as finding our way through a maze. When people are solving problems they can be motivated by external rewards or by internal rewards, extrinsic or intrinsic. If they are motivated by external extrinsic rewards, they will always tend to favor the known and easiest way to come by a solution. The idea is to see the light of the exit from the maze, get out as quickly as you can and get on to the next maze. This is not the case of the person looking for the high of an intrinsic reward, that will accompany highly creative and original work. They will tend to wander around inside the maze, perhaps run into dead ends, get lost, and basically be interested in the journey through the maze. Such wanderings do not respond well to time constraints, continuity of craft, or to directions as to how creativity is to be accomplished. Here is how Teresa Amabile puts it:

"One person might be motivated to make it through the maze as quickly and safely as possible in order to get a tangible reward, such as money - the same way a mouse would rush for a piece of cheese. This person would look for the simplest, most straight-forward path and then take it... This approach based on extrinsic motivation, will indeed get him out of the maze. But the solution that arises from this process is likely to be unimaginative. Another person might have a different approach to the maze. She might actually find the process of wandering around the different paths - the challenge and exploration itself - fun and intriguing. No doubt, this journey will take longer and include mistakes, because any maze...has many more dead ends than exits. But when the intrinsically motivated person does find a way out of the maze very likely will be more interesting than the rote algorithm. It will be more creative."

Domain skills, passion and motivation. 

Teresa Amabile has proposed that creativity needs three components in order to produce true recognizable creativity. Firstly, the person needs to have learned sufficient skills in the craft of his or her chosen domain. (He or she may have an inborn potential or propensity for this or not but the skill has to be learned and honed.) Secondly, the person needs to have developed a passion for the work. (This may be inborn, learned or both.) Thirdly, the person needs to be intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation although it resides in all people at all times is highly sensitive to environment conditions. The same environmental conditions that facilitate the increase of intrinsic motivation also increase creativity. This is exceptionally fortunate occurrence that enables creativity to grow as craft skills improve. Thus we can provide work conditions that are conductive to both skill improvement and creativity. That is to say, in order to be creative a person needs to work in an environment where he/she is not distracted from the pleasure that is intrinsic in the work. Such an environment would be one of freedom, challenge and autonomy. When these three components exist together creativity is almost inevitable.


Creativity is often mistaken for the craft or skill that a domain such as music or painting requires in order for anything to be done at all. The craft has to be learned for each domain before any work creative or otherwise can begin. For a musician, it means learning to play an instrument with some proficiency, or learning to write musical notation and understanding to the point of hearing in the mind what the notation represents. It is what is passed on in each domain to each successive generation. There are many fine musicians who are technically brilliant and able to perform any piece of music and yet they are not what is understood to be creative. Likewise, there are many painters who can copy the greatest works of art, but are also not what we call creative. Sometimes the creative people change the skills of craft they expand them or improve them. But the craft of the domain itself is static and can only be changed by the creatives.

Passion, action and purpose.

To some extent people are born with some genetic disposition for passion. However passion is also something that for the most part is also learned through life experience. As with craft nothing can be done, creative or not, if we are not passionate about it. Passion is after all simply concentrated interest. All creative people are passionate about what they are doing. Also nothing is accomplished unless something is done. All people have daydreams. All people may have, from time to time, a few creative ideas. One of the most important things that makes the creative person different, is the fact that he turns his ideas and his daydreams into reality. His passion propels him into action which becomes his purpose in life. Passion is the love of  something. Passion is finding meaning in something. Action is turning that love or meaning into actual substance. Purpose is the driving force that propels us forward and gives us the tenacity to persevere when all seems lost. It allows us to rise after every failure and try again. Passion is of course part of motivation and depends for its strength on an environment where effort is understood to improve one's abilities and intelligence and where gradual or incremental improvement of skills, creativity and knowledge is normal. It is an environment where anyone can feel capable of accomplishing anything. Passion gives us staying power.

Intrinsic Motivation. 

Where does the motivation to do anything come from? We do some things because there is a biological need and these things evolution has made intrinsically pleasurable. Along with eating, drinking, breathing, sex etc. there are numerous others like overcoming danger, companionship, being loved, held in high esteem and the very highest needs of doing good, being just, accomplishing, learning and of course being creative. The satisfaction of all these needs are pleasurable. They are all intrinsically pleasurable and therefore intrinsically motivating. We satisfy these needs for their own sake. No further motivation is necessary and indeed other extrinsic motivation, as discussed below, tends to decrease overall motivation. However intrinsic motivation is not limited to just these biological needs. Any action that leads up to or which happens consistently with the satisfaction of biological needs can, through association over time, itself become intrinsically pleasurable. Thus actions which were not experienced initially as intrinsically pleasurable can become over time intrinsically pleasurable. Creative people can learn the craft, they can learn passion, but they must be given an environment of freedom to be motivated intrinsically. How to construct an environment to help promote intrinsic motivation must be foremost in any consideration of how to help people to become creative. This is not an easy matter, but the research of Teresa Amabile, as outlined below, provides us with a basic map of how to proceed.

"There is the happiness which comes from creative effort. The joy of dreaming, creating, building, whether in painting a picture, writing an epic, singing a song, composing a symphony, devising new invention, creating a vast industry." Henry Miller

Ordinary creativity pleasure and happiness. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has studied thousands of people's self reports about how they feel when creating, believes that creativity is the ultimate form in which pleasure and happiness can be experienced by human beings. He proposes that humans have evolved into creatures that need creativity and therefore experience the highest form of pleasure and happiness when doing it. In his book "Creativity" he suggests we conduct a thought experiment to construct an ideal organism that will have the best chance of surviving in a complex unpredictable environment such as that on Earth. After considering various inbuilt functions an organisms might need to survive and function efficiently on earth, he has this to say:

"But the best solution would also include a relay system in a few organisms that would give a positive reinforcement every time they discovered something new or came up with a novel idea or behavior whether or not it was immediately useful. It is especially important to make sure that the organism was not rewarded only for useful discoveries, otherwise it would be severely hampered in meeting the future. For no earthly builder could anticipate the kind of situations the species of new organisms might encounter tomorrow, next year or in the next decade. So the best program is one that makes the organism feel good whenever something new is discovered, regardless of its present usefulness. And this what seems to have happened with our race through evolution."

This not the end of the story. As with everything in evolution this relay would function better in some individuals than others. Societies and cultures that valued and protected these creative individuals would have a clear advantage over other cultures and societies as far as survival goes. In this way the genes that make people more susceptible to being creative would tend become stronger and more widely spread. But the thing is, creativity is in all of us to some degree or other (perhaps because of this evolutionary process) and if we start being creative, the pleasure that accompanies it will make us want to be creative again and again. So it is just a matter of starting. If we can get ourselves to start work on and complete a work of art or make a discovery, the pleasure we obtain from this will ensure we continue with others.

Improving creativity through social and other environmental influences.

In the section on creative genius, it has been suggested that we are all born with a set of facilities or tools that are invaluable in being creative, and that most of us lose most of these facilities. It must also be noted however, that people are still creative, even when none of these thirteen tools are available to them. In fact, it seems likely, that most creativity takes place without the benefit of these tools.

Creativity in Context. 

In the last twenty five years there has been a great deal of research done as to how creativity can be maintained and improved. There has been a considerable amount of research conducted on the optimum social contexts in which creativity most naturally occurs, and the social conditions which are most hostile to creativity. The bulk of this research, was conducted by Teresa Amabile and her colleagues at the University of Harvard. The results of their findings, and a review of the studies by others in this field were collected together in Teresa Amabile's book "Creativity in Context". The studies were performed in both real world observation and as experimental studies. The findings from these studies are presented here as follows:


  1. The potential for evaluation in group work can adversely effect creativity.
  2. Expected evaluation reduces creative performance.
  3. Actual evaluation (positive or negative) that is perceived as informational increases creativity. Creativity tends to be supported by evaluation that is work focused and constructive. In other words, if evaluation is perceived as providing information about performance improvement, or it conveys positive recognition of competence and valued work it increases creativity.
  4. Actual evaluation (positive or negative) that is perceived as controlling reduces creativity. (Most evaluation falls into this category.)
  5. Low skilled subjects perform creatively better after positive evaluation.
  6. High skilled subjects perform creatively worse after positive evaluation.


  1. Expected reward reduces creative performance.
  2. Unexpected reward if presented in a non-controlling manner will be seen as giving information about the worth of the creation or the creator and so increase creativity.
  3. Actual reward that is perceived as informational increases creativity. In other words, reward that is presented in such a way that shows the creator to be highly competent, or is held in high esteem all increase creativity. Also if it is perceived that an actual reward allows the creator additional freedom in what can be done and how it can be done, this increases creativity. (At the moment very few rewards are presented this way in western culture.)
  4. Actual reward that is perceived as controlling (conditional) reduces creativity. (Most rewards are seen as controlling.)
  5. Actual reward increases creativity if there was previously a lack of interest or a lack of intrinsic motivation.
  6. Actual reward decreases creativity if there is interest or intrinsic motivation already present.
  7. Actual reward that prepares the way for greater fredom over the creation (choice) and how it can be engaged in (options) increases creativity.
  8. Low skilled subjects perform creatively better after reward.
  9. High skilled subjects perform creatively worse after reward.


  1. Expected surveillance reduces creative performance.
  2. The mere presence of others does not count as surveillance if the others present are fully occupied concentrating on their own tasks.
  3. The mere presence of others does count as surveillance if people are attentive and thus it reduces creative performance.
  4. Actual surveillance that is perceived as controlling or indicates possible evaluation reduces creativity.
  5. Actual surveillance that is perceived as not controlling and does not indicate possible evaluation does not effect creativity.


  1. Expected failure reduces creative performance.
  2. Actual failure that is perceived as informational, increases creativity. Creativity tends to be supported by failure that is work focused and constructive. If failure is perceived as providing information about performance improvement or that conveys positive recognition of competence and valued work, it increases creativity.
  3. Actual failure that is perceived as controlling or that indicates incompetence reduces creativity.
  4. Low skilled subjects perform creatively worse after failure.
  5. High skilled subjects perform creatively better after failure.
  6. Partial success (in failure) of intrinsically motivated individuals increases creativity.


  1. Expected competition is perceived as controlling and reduces creativity.
  2. Local actual competition is perceived as controlling and reduces creativity.
  3. Remote actual competition may not be perceived as controlling and may increase creativity.
  4. Actual competition is perceived as more controlling by girls and less controlling by boys so competition tends to have a greater negative affect on the creativity of girls than on the creativity of boys.


  1. The important creative work being performed today is all collaborative. This may be because the shear amount and complexity of work done today may be prohibitive for one single person to accomplish.
  2. Working with others has been consistently shown however to reduce to creativity. This is probably because of the increased possibility of evaluation that is controlling when in a group. Brainstorming by individuals has been shown to be more effective that brainstorming in groups.


  1. Modeling creative skills significantly increases creativity, if the modeling is performed by highly creative, highly original, highly fluent people.
  2. Modeling creative skills significantly reduces creativity, if the modeling is performed by non creative, non original non fluent people.
  3. The presence of creative role models usually increases creativity. The more creative models available during an individual's development, the more likely the individual is to produce creative work early. If an individual produces creative work early he will usually produce important creative work later on.
  4. The presence of creative role models decrease creativity if an individual is unable to produce creative work early. (Perhaps creative role models can be intimidating or too controlling.)
  5. The presence of uncreative models reduce creativity.


  1. Discovered problems are more likely to be solved than presented problems, because they are perceived as less controlling.
  2. Without interest (intrinsic motivation) we fall prey to the first solution that comes along.
  3. Intrinsic motivation is conductive to creativity. The saliency of intrinsic motivation determines the extent of increase in creativity.
  4. Extrinsic motivation is destructive to creativity. The saliency of extrinsic motivation determines the extent of decrease in creativity.
  5. Informational feedback is essential to creativity. The saliency of the informational content in feedback determines the extent increase in creativity.
  6. The perception of feedback as being controlling, is destructive to creativity. The saliency of the controlling content in feedback determines the extent of decrease in creativity.
  7. Personal choice is essential to creativity.
  8. Choices made by others are seen as controlling and are detrimental to creativity.

Immunization (ways of preventing the loss of intrinsic motivation and thus creativity).

  1. Focus on the properties (the expected joy, or pleasure) of intrinsic motivation. Increase the saliency of intrinsic rewards.
  2. Use creative stimulation, novelty stimulation or humorous stimulation just prior to a creative activity.
  3. Reduce the number of constraints and the salience of constraints on creative activities (reduce controls on the creativity).
  4. Increase the amount and usefulness of information in feedback.
  5. Increase the number of choices available to the creator.

Conclusions from the studies on creativity, (information and control). 

Clearly the most important factors in creating creative environments is to be found increasing the amount of information conveyed to the creator and the reduction of the amount of control placed on the creativity.

Deadlines and control. 

When external controlling pressures are put on us to be creative the outcome is likely to be procrastination or resistance. Even though creative people can procrastinate, (as Calvin is probably doing below) it is hardly wrong of them to object to deadlines and bewail the lack of craft or creativity it causes.


As presented in "Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior" it was found in Deci and Ryan's experiments that deadlines, if self imposed, or part of a communal crisis, could be used to produce quicker work without any reduction of intrinsic motivation. But any indication that the deadlines were imposed to manipulate, would cause intrinsic motivation to fall dramatically. As intrinsic motivation is very much tied to creativity the likelihood of being creative when an external deadline is applied is very minimal. In fact, this often leads to work getting done in a last minute panic that ensures it will be done both badly, and with a lack of creativity.

Creativity under the gun. 

Teresa Amabile more recently investigated the effect of time pressure on creativity and reported on it in her paper "Creativity Under the Gun". What she found supported Deci and Ryan's findings on motivation but also showed that the quality of creativity was also reduced by certain types of time pressure. Her findings were as follows:

Situational effects that ensure high creativity under extreme time pressure. 

This is where innovators show creative thinking that is equally oriented toward identifying problems and generating or exploring ideas.

  1. Where innovators feel they are on a mission. This is a situation where all other concerns can be relegated to being unimportant.

  2. Where innovators believe they are doing important work and feel positively challenged by and involved in the work.

  3. Where innovators are able to focus on a single activity for a significant part of the time because they are undisturbed or protected.

Situational effects that ensure high creativity under low time pressure. 

This is where innovators show creative thinking that is more oriented toward generating or exploring ideas.

  1. Where innovators feel they are on an expedition. They feel they have all the time in the world to investigate all the implications to explore all the terrain and generate many solutions or ideas.

  2. Where innovators are able to collaborate with one other person rather than a group. Where they can bounce ideas around in quick interchanges.

Situational effects that ensure low creativity under extreme time pressure. 

This is where innovators show least creativity of any sort and where such creativity as is produced is of poor quality.

  1. Where innovators feel they are on a treadmill. This is a situation where they feel that for every gain they make, they lose something, and thus seem to be making no progress. They feel distracted.

  2. Where innovators work time is highly fragmented involving many different activities.

  3. Where innovators don't get the sense that their work is important and needed.

  4. Where innovators are involved in meetings with groups of others and don't get much chance of one on one encounters.

  5. Where innovators are in fact distracted by other work requirements and are not protected from disturbance.

  6. Where innovators are constantly plagued by last minute changes in plans and schedules.

Situational effects that ensure low creativity under low time pressure. 

This is where innovators show little creativity of any sort and where such creativity as is produced is of poor quality.

  1. Where innovators feel they are on autopilot. This is a situation where innovators feel little pressure to do anything other than for their own interest.

  2. Where innovators receive little encouragement to be creative.

  3. Where innovators tend to have more meetings with groups rather than with individuals and engage in less collaborative work overall.

Managing time pressure. 

Teresa Amabile makes the following suggestions for anyone wishing to manage creative people where deadlines are involved. 

  1. Resist the illusion that pressure spurs creativity.

  2. During low pressure times encourage innovators to play with ideas and develop something new.

  3. Articulate realistic goals.

  4. Protect time pressured innovators from distractions and unrelated demands.

  5. Explain why tight deadlines are necessary.

  6. Encourage one to one collaborations.

  7. Minimize abrupt changes in plans and schedule.

Management, leadership and creativity.

"I think the problem of the management of creative personnel is both fantastically difficult and important. I don't quite know what we are going to do with this problem because, in essence, what I am talking about is the lone wolf. The kind of creative people that I've worked with are people who are apt to get ground up in an organization, apt to be afraid of it, and apt generally to work off in a corner or an attic by themselves. The problem of the place of the 'lone wolf' in a big organization, I'm afraid, is your problem not mine." Abraham Maslow

Managing creative people. 

Gordon Torr in his book "Managing Creative People" has asked some very important questions about how creative people should be managed, and has made some eminently practical suggestions about how this should be done. Presumably, he has also put these management ideas into practice in his current situation where he runs a consultancy called "The Unfactory". The Unfactory specializes in the organization and management of creative sector companies. Basically he has put his money where his mouth is. He does not claim to have a new magic wand to suddenly make people creative when they are not. Indeed, he has put the whole idea of making creative people out of non creative people in the too hard basket, which in truth, it probably is for businesses. His central ideas are based on making creative people more creative. To do this his ideas derive squarely from the current social-psychological research into creativity conducted by Teresa Amabile and her colleagues at Harvard University.

Torr's basic idea in managing creativity is to completely ignore the process by which something new comes into existence. Instead he concerns himself with constructing optimal environments in which new and great ideas are most likely to occur and flourish. Put in plain language, he suggests that people and companies requiring creative output, hire the most creative people they can find and let them get on with it. This while seeming simple and of commonsense straight forwardness, is in fact, quite difficult to put into practice. The problem is that people in general, and companies in particular, like things to be predictable, and the generation of creative ideas is anything but predictable. Creativity is the "new", which if it could be predicted, would not be new at all.

Other people are always requiring ideas from creative people, and people being what they are, think they know what they want, and so try to control, manipulate, and watch over the creative people. They try to bully creative people into producing ideas on demand, on time, and in a prescribed manner. All this unfortunately is really bad for creativity, which requires the freedom of creative autonomy, the acceptability of discontinuity and the possibility of being satisfying and rewarding in itself.

Facilitating and Managing creative people. 

Based on Amabile's research Gordon Torr tells us that the important thing in managing creativity is to provide as much freedom and autonomy to the creative people as possible, and protect them from the intrusion of a world that would control them, and turn them into uniform predictable creating machines. He suggests the following as constructive and practical in the managing and facilitation of creativity:

  1. Pick the most creative people you can. The first thing to do in managing creative people is to find them. Amabile advises us to root out people who can see things in different ways, who can live with complexity, and who can hold two or more alternatives in their minds and live with the uncertainty. She advises us to choose those people who can keep their response options open as long as possible and who can suspend their judgment until the last possible moment.

    Why not change the people you have into being creative? There is an old saying that, "It is very difficult to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." Not everybody may be capable of being creative, either because of their genetic make up, or because of life experience so far. So taking people who you like to work with and trying and make them creative may be an expensive and unproductive way to go. This is not to say such a thing is impossible. It may well be possible with the right environment to make anybody creative. But such creativity may be of poor quality or be too costly to induce. Choosing to work with those who have proven themselves is simply good business of pragmatically reducing the risk in creative endeavor. It is simply more likely you will get better creativity, if you pick people who's work already shows indications of great creativity. Better yet find people who have a proven track record for producing highly creative work.

    For businesses this means finding and employing the most creative people you can afford. You cannot be worried about how much you like the creatives, or how they will fit into the work ethic of your business. Truly creative people often have little in the way of social skills, are difficult to talk to and will never be able to produce ideas when you want them to. But if you pick the best you can and let them get on with it, this will give your company the best chance of being creative and innovative.

  2. Resources. For creativity to flourish the creative people need access to new ideas, novelty and stimulation. They need amenities and resources. They need places to work, places to rest, places to experiment and places to find information. A library of books about the creative domain and various other connected and unconnected subjects is always essential for any creative person. Creative people need to be kept up to date about what their colleagues and competition are producing. Magazines and access to the internet is absolutely crucial in this day and age for creatives. Gordon Torr puts it like this:

    "Einstein... had a library stocked with thousands of patent applications and a well thumbed copy of Principia Mathematica. His playground had a life size train set, complete with platforms and passengers and a large machine for generating beams of light that he could ride on any time he liked."

    "The two main resources that affect creativity are time and money. Managers need to allot these resources carefully."

    "Scientists need stuff to experiment with. People working in the creative sectors need stuff to play with. For a software developer it might be an expensive new mainframe. For a theatrical director it might be a bigger ensemble. For a creative team working in an advertising agency it might be a trip to Morocco."

  3.   The creative company. Any company that would like to foster a culture of creativity in all their employees would be well advised to follow the example of the of the 3M company. The 3M company is without doubt the most creative company in the world that deals with commodities. The essential ingredient that continues to enable the company to keep that creative edge is what they call the 15 percent rule. This is where employees of 3M are allowed to spend 15% of their paid work time working on projects of interest to themselves. They are allowed to involve others in helping them, so that whole groups may be working on ideas not in any way commissioned by the 3M company. Although not many companies have so far instituted a similar rule one of the fastest growing most creative companies of the modern world has. The Google company also has a policy that 20% of their employees' time should be spent on their own projects. The result of this rule has produced companies unrivalled for their consistent stream of creative ideas and products. Gordon Torr has this to say:

    "The brilliance of the 3m approach to innovation is that it explicitly acknowledges the role of intrinsic motivation. Workers can not only choose to pursue any ideas they fancy, they can also develop them on their own or with colleagues of their choice. By a stoke of sheer unadulterated genius the 15% rule neatly side-steps the three of the most serious obstacles to creative expression during the critical conceptual phase - the curse of the brainstorm, the curse of process, and the curse of having to work with a designated team."

    It also sidesteps the constraints of deadlines and surveillance. Gordon Torr goes on to suggest that perhaps it would be well for every company in the world to follow the example of 3M. He also goes on to suggest the most likely reason that they don't is:

    "...for the technocrats who run most corporate enterprises, 15% of the workforce's time devoted to the unregulated search for ideas equates to a 15% loss in productivity."  

  4. The idea hotel. Creative people need a place away from the people who are not creative, and where people who would control creativity are not allowed to set foot. They need a sanctuary where they can work uninterrupted and unguided, where they have complete autonomy over the ideas they come up with, from the initial brief, to the final full inception and birth of the creation.

    Such a sanctuary could allow for the mixing of the chaos of radically differing perspectives and knowledge, by inviting a steady stream of visitors of radically different backgrounds and cultures. Situated in one of the most vibrant cities in the world, Gordon Torr's Idea hotel for instance, encouraged visits of creative teams from differing parts of the world for two or three weeks at a time. This ensured a constant flow of different cultural influences and points of view. In his book "Managing Creative People" Torr says of his idea hotel:

    "The idea hotel is managed on the principle of maximum autonomy. There is no surveillance, no counting of hours, and no monitoring. The projects are selected from the full spectrum of clients, and from the entire region, on the basis of their significance to the company, their degree of challenge and the opportunity they represent for creative expression. Deadlines are negotiated by the mutual arrangement of the creative staff, the client and the 'concierge'. This last role is crucial. It combines the original traffic role with art buying and resource management. Budgets for experimentation are generous. Other resources, such as freelance assistance from suppliers with special craft skills are shaped around creative outcomes. The structure is fluid and creative centric. The concierge manages all practical considerations, shielding the creative people from all administrative and management concerns. [The work] judged by the best creative people in the world at the most famous awards festivals in the world. All other criteria for evaluation, including those of the client, are secondary.

    "These teams bring their own projects to work on, and they are encouraged to develop their ideas under the aegis of resident creatives. Each of the exotic projects brings a different challenge and different cultural considerations. The constant traffic of visitors means that both the resident and alien creatives are exposed to a significant diversity of style and stimulation.

    The concierge has another important role... At least once a week, he or she must invite an interesting or eminent person from a different creative field to visit the hotel to share lunch or dinner with resident creatives It could be a poet, an architect, or a stand-up-comic, an acrobat, a striptease dancer or a professor of entomology. The point isn't to teach or lecture, but simply to expose the creatives to different kinds of skills, different obsessions and different perspectives."

  5. Patrons (the facilitators). Creative people are often socially inept and completely unable to get their revolutionary ideas accepted. In this day and age creativity still needs somebody who will protect the creator and his creation, a person who can recognize true creative brilliance and who is willing to, if necessary, sacrifice himself and his resources in facilitating that creativity. Good patrons form a sort of symbiotic bond with the creator. The creator benefits from the protection of the patron. The patron benefits from the fact that the creator produces a stream of significant work, which the patron either gets to own or profits from in some way. Such people, these days are usually called sponsors, and that is sad because the word sponsor is mostly associated with the most blatant commercialism.

    The people who facilitate the acceptance of new creations are anything but commercial. They are not paid for what they do. They are largely unknown living in the shadow of greatness that they can never attain themselves. They spend their money, their time, their energy, their health and happiness all to emotionally and physically support creators, who often do not appreciate them. The old word patron is a better fit for such selfless people, but the word patron also has unpleasant connotations. The patron of the past was seen not as the midwife of new ideas, but rather one who hoards creativity and holds creators forever indebted to the patron's magnanimity.

    Patrons or sponsors are the ones who act as an interface with the external world and who thus protect the creators from the buyers, the ones who set the problems or the brief. They are a shield against any who would try to interfere with constraints of time, or any who try to control what is to be created and how the creators are to go about it. They also serve as a defense against managers and clients that change their minds.

    People who seem to be patrons however are not always for the creator's benefit. Let us make no bones about it, there have always been, and certainly are still today, people who pretend to be patrons, but who have no relationship with the creators. These people pretend to help the creator, but in the end steal his ideas and run with them to make themselves wealthy. Such exploiters have always existed, but in this day an age, can use such exploitation to become unbelievably wealthy, unbelievably fast. These days the entities that are acting to seem like patrons are the big corporations. However, the function of corporations is unfortunately, to make money, and not to be benefactors to artists.

What makes a person creative? 

While being self determined and intrinsically motivated clearly helps in maintaining and increasing creativity, it seems likely that creativity often may need two other factors to take hold. One factor is for an individual to grow up in an environment where creativity is normal or usual. In such an environment people would look for and encourage creativity. It would possibly mean growing up in a home environment where parents relatives and their friends would all be creative. Or it could mean growing up in a community where most of the people are creative. The other factor is being exposed to highly skilled and creative role models. These two factors of course usually go together. It seems likely that we become creative because we wish to become creative like those around us. It then feels normal for us to be creative and we are encouraged to be creative. Once we have become creative, the intrinsic pleasure provided by creating normally enables us to continue. There is also the possibility that people are influenced to become creative through social contagion. When the people around us are giving off signals that they are obtaining intrinsic pleasure from being creative it is highly likely that we will wish to attempt to be creative ourselves. The happier and more ecstatic people seem to be as a result of being creative, the more attractive being creative becomes. 

Help increasing creativity. 

It is somewhat debatable whether we all may have the potential to be creative. Also, as previously stated, if the facilities described in the section on creative genius are are allowed to wither in childhood, it is difficult to redevelop them in later life. There are however, other social structures that can be encouraged in societies that expand those society's concentration of creativity and creative people. More about this is covered in the section on how to make societies more creative. There still is a question, however, as to whether there are other tools or means that can be used to provide a quicker way to induce creativity, albeit on a more modest scale in people who show no particular potential for creativity? In Gordon Torr's book "Managing Creative People" he makes a very good case for the idea, that the really creative ideas can only come from the unconscious mind and that any efforts to make the process conscious will have a negative effect. This would mean that tools such as Brainstorming and the ideas of De Bono (conscious processes) would necessarily be ineffective as they increase the activity of the conscious mind.

The following is reported in Torr's book:

"Psychologists distinguish between two different kinds of thinking - 'primary process thought', which is the kind we experience in dreams and daydreams, and 'secondary process thought', which we use to deal with everyday reality. The latter is logical and abstract..."

"In 1952 a researcher by the name of Kris postulated that creative people find it easier to switch between the primary process and the secondary process than uncreative people do."

"Other lines of enquiry that creative people have something called 'defocused attention', an ability to mull over several things at the same time. Less creative people have a narrower focus of attention, tending to concentrate on only one or two things at the same time, an eminently useful faculty for heart surgeons and people who have to add up long lists of numbers." 

"Defocused attention is a feature of primary process thought."

"When you're excited, tense, alert or anxious your brain patterns get excited too, and your cortical arousal is said to be high. When you are relaxed, daydreaming or feeling sleepy your brain also calms down and your cortical arousal is said to be low. Both ends of the spectrum are good for primary process thought, frenzied madness on the one hand and 'inane reverie' on the other.

In between the extremes, at a medium level of arousal, you get 'alert wakefulness', which is the best state to be in for handling complex tasks, for learning efficiently, and for coping with day-to-day reality. Good for secondary process thought, in other words.

Conveniently enough for researchers, arousal can be measured by an electroencephalograph (EEG), so it has been possible to put Kris's theory to the test at a neurological level. The results are fascinating.

When you examine the cortical arousal patterns of highly creative people and uncreative people during conceptual process, they head in opposite directions along the arousal scale. Say, for example, both groups are challenged to think of a very interesting story - not write the story, but simply think one up. The arousal levels of the creative people decrease, the arousal levels of the uncreative people increase.

According to Martindale, this is what's happening: '...when asked to be original...creative people exhibit defocused attention accompanied by low levels of cortical activation. On the other hand, uncreative focus their attention too much, and this prevents them from thinking of original ideas.'

The question you have to ask is whether creative people can control their own levels of arousal. If they can it might just be possible to teach uncreative people the same trick, the results are bad news for de Bono..."

So what was discovered, was that creativity was most evident with low cortical arousal (resting and dream states). Brainstorming, De Bono's methods and all the others who use conscious manipulation produce medium to high cortical arousal. It may well be that these attempts to solve problems in the realm of consciousness may in fact be more useful in solving problems where the answers are known and an algorithmic solution can be found, but in fact may be detrimental to true creativity where originality is essential. More about this in the section on the sociology of creativity. 

The three fears.

The greatest barrier to being creative is fear. There are three main fears that prevent creativity; the fear of looking stupid; the fear of criticism; and the fear of failure. These are the 3 fears that have plagued mankind from the beginning. They stifle knowledge, learning and certainly creation.

Fear of looking stupid. 

Humiliation, ridicule, embarrassment, not fitting in, being different or not normal are at the heart of the fear of appearing silly. One of our deepest needs is to belong, to be part of a group. In terms of Maslow's hierarchy this the level of love, friendship and belonging. What we are afraid of here is a loss of belonging. When we do something silly or stupid we feel embarrassed and humiliated and we are temporally ostracized from the group. We may even fear that our friends and those who love us will turn away. If however, we have fully satisfied this level, and feel fully secure in our friends, those who love us and the groups we belong to, we will be more willing to do things that others may construe as stupid. Even then, looking stupid involves the possible loss of the high esteem in which others hold us. So, to be able to be silly without fear, we need to have regularly satisfied the esteem level of Maslow's hierarchy also.

Most people unfortunately have not satisfied these two important needs properly, and find it extremely difficult to perform actions that might be interpreted by others as being stupid. To be creative however, we need to do exactly that. Why? Because every new idea is initially thought to be stupid and often involves people acting in ways that were previously thought silly. The fear of looking stupid is the only natural fear. It underlies all other fears.

"Many great ideas have been lost because the people who had them could not stand being laughed at." source unknown

"It takes courage to be creative, just as soon as you have a new idea, you are in the minority of one." E. Paul Torrance

"The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds." Mark Twain

Fear of criticism.

Unlike the fear of looking stupid, fear of criticism is learned. Criticism is actually essential to creation, in that, criticism is how all knowledge is improved and changed. The whole problem with criticism is in the fact that we fear it. We fear it because most of the criticism in our life has been unconstructive criticism, and so we react badly to any criticism, even when it is constructive. It comes to the point that criticism of our idea is viewed as an attack on our identity, an attack on our self image, an attack on our person. To be creative we need others, we need their views, we need their improvements, we need their collusion. Criticism is the life blood of knowledge and no stranger to creation. Somehow we need to overcome the fear of criticism, rise above the fear of criticism, to see criticism as information instead of control, but most of all to learn from criticism.

With creation there is another wrinkle. While criticism is a part of creation it needs to be deferred, put off while an idea is not fully formed or explored. Ideas need to be stretched, played with, added to and changed before any judgment or criticism is brought to bear on it. Premature criticism of ideas can kill them stone dead before they are fully realized.

"A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow." Charlie Brower

Fear of failure.

Failure like Criticism is part of how we learn. Like criticism it is not natural to fear it. That we do learn to fear it, is due to defects in the process of socialization, especially in the process of education. If we are afraid of failure we become afraid to try. If we do not try there is no idea, no creation. Everything stops because there is no change, and we need creation for things to change. Fear of failure is the greatest impediment to creation. This fear should never develop and when it does develop it must be overcome.

"The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail." Edwin H. Land

"Because of their courage, their lack of fear, they (creative people) are willing to make silly mistakes. The truly creative person is one who can think crazy; such a person knows full well that many of his great ideas will prove to be worthless. The creative person is flexible -- he is able to change as the situation changes, to break habits, to face indecision and changes in conditions without undue stress. He is not threatened by the unexpected as rigid, inflexible people are." Frank Goble

"Failure is the mother of all creativity. My advice to anybody who wants to be creative is to get into something that will fail. I've failed at a lot of things in my life and I hope to fail at a lot more. Most people are afraid to fail, but once you've done it you find out it's not that terrible. There's a sense of freedom that you get from taking chances." Jerry Della Femina

Taking risks. 

Perhaps in the end the thing that sets very creative people apart is their willingness to take risks. They are willing to risk not just the three great fears outlined above, but have a willingness to give up comforts, pleasures, and the easy life for their art or creation. The risks of creation are many and varied. It can mean as Denise Shekerjian says in "Uncommon Genius", "...exposing something of your own private persona. Of revealing something not quite ready for public scrutiny. Of having to go beyond the sure footing of experience and expertise. Of having to part paths with friends and mentors. Of jeopardizing resources and making mistakes. Of suffering unintended consequences and even ruin. Society shuns its heretics." Creation can be a long, dark, lonely path for creators, lit by only a few bright lights like themselves along the way. The path is often hard for a creative person, not because he wants to walk a hard path, but because he is willing to pay the price, if need be, in order to be able to create. Denise Shekerjian continues: "Nevertheless, without the courage to step outside accepted wisdom in order to pursue something different or strange or speculative, there is little chance for the survival of a creative idea."

The conducive environment a triggering mechanism. 

The ability to create then, like learning itself, is an ability, a quality, a facility we are nearly all born with that gives us great pleasure, and which in most of us, is never fully actualized. Creativity requires craft skill, passion and intrinsic motivation all of which are facilitated by a special environment of freedom, challenge and choice and a culture of confidence in ones ability to learn anything with the application of sufficient effort. These environmental triggers can be applied to people to activate the creativity switches in their genes at any time in their lives to increase their creativity. However, if this is not done early in the lives of children, a kind of disbelief or uncreative mindset can appear that makes it difficult for the environment to do its work in later life. Not only that, accumulated advantage kicks in for those who start their creativity early. For a start a person who starts creating early in life has a longer period to acquire the knowledge and skills he/she needs to produce creative works. Also a person who appears to be creative early in life can have greater resources placed at their disposal. Of course all this means nothing if a person becomes afraid of not living up to their promise. 

Ideally we should all be encouraged and nurtured from the beginning in such a conducive environment to ensure maximum creativity throughout our lives. However, if we have missed out on such a conducive environment, we should do our best to try and place ourselves in such an environment to promote such creativity as is still possible. For it is far better that we become even a little creative, than we abdicate our claim to it and leave it to others. If you are not creative and you wish to become creative or you wish to become more creative, your best chance is to look at the sort of information presented here.

Needs Interest Method Reality Keys How to Help Creative Genius Future What is Wrong Theories Plus
Genius Prodigies Social Creativity Thin Slicing Observing Imaging Abstracting Recognizing Patterns
Forming Patterns Analogizing Enaction Empathizing Dimensional Modeling Playing Transforming Synthesizing