The social psychology of
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
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
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.
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:
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
...it very likely will be more interesting than the rote algorithm. It
will be more creative."
Domain skills, passion and
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
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.
action and purpose.
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.
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
pleasure and happiness.
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:
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."
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
creativity through social and other environmental influences.
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
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:
- The potential for evaluation in group work can
adversely effect creativity.
- Expected evaluation reduces creative performance.
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.
evaluation (positive or negative) that is perceived as controlling
reduces creativity. (Most evaluation falls into this category.)
skilled subjects perform creatively better after positive evaluation.
skilled subjects perform creatively worse after positive evaluation.
- Expected reward reduces creative performance.
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
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.)
reward that is perceived as controlling (conditional) reduces
creativity. (Most rewards are seen as controlling.)
reward increases creativity if there was previously a lack
of interest or a lack of intrinsic motivation.
reward decreases creativity if there is interest or intrinsic
motivation already present.
reward that prepares the way for greater fredom over the creation
(choice) and how it can be engaged in (options) increases creativity.
skilled subjects perform creatively better after reward.
skilled subjects perform creatively worse after reward.
- Expected surveillance reduces creative performance.
mere presence of others does not count as surveillance if the others
present are fully occupied concentrating on their own tasks.
mere presence of others does count as surveillance if people are
attentive and thus it reduces creative performance.
surveillance that is perceived as
controlling or indicates possible evaluation reduces creativity.
surveillance that is perceived as not controlling and does not indicate
possible evaluation does not effect creativity.
- Expected failure reduces creative performance.
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.
failure that is perceived as controlling or that indicates incompetence
skilled subjects perform creatively worse after failure.
skilled subjects perform creatively better after failure.
success (in failure) of intrinsically motivated individuals increases
competition is perceived as controlling and reduces creativity.
actual competition is perceived as controlling and reduces creativity.
actual competition may not be perceived as controlling and may increase
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.
- 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
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
creative skills significantly increases creativity, if the modeling is
performed by highly creative, highly original, highly fluent people.
creative skills significantly reduces creativity, if the modeling is
performed by non creative, non original non fluent people.
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.
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.)
presence of uncreative models reduce creativity.
- Discovered problems are more likely to be solved
than presented problems, because they are perceived as less controlling.
interest (intrinsic motivation) we fall prey to the first solution that
motivation is conductive to creativity. The saliency of intrinsic
motivation determines the extent of increase in creativity.
motivation is destructive to creativity. The saliency of extrinsic
motivation determines the extent of decrease in creativity.
feedback is essential to creativity. The saliency of the informational
content in feedback determines the extent increase in creativity.
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.
choice is essential to creativity.
- 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).
on the properties (the expected joy, or pleasure) of intrinsic
motivation. Increase the saliency of intrinsic rewards.
creative stimulation, novelty stimulation or humorous stimulation just
prior to a creative activity.
the number of constraints and the salience of constraints on creative
activities (reduce controls on the creativity).
the amount and usefulness of information in feedback.
the number of choices available to the creator.
the studies on creativity, (information and control).
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.
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.
"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.
under the gun.
Teresa Amabile more recently investigated
the effect of time pressure on creativity and reported on it in her
"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.
is where innovators show
creative thinking that is equally oriented toward identifying problems
and generating or exploring ideas.
innovators feel they are on a mission. This is a situation where
all other concerns can be relegated to being unimportant.
innovators believe they are doing important work and feel
positively challenged by and involved in the work.
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.
is where innovators show
creative thinking that is more oriented toward generating or exploring
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.
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.
is where innovators show
least creativity of any sort and where such creativity as is produced
is of poor quality.
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.
innovators work time is highly fragmented involving many
innovators don't get the sense that their work is important and
Where innovators are involved in meetings with
groups of others and don't get much chance of one on one encounters.
Where innovators are in fact distracted by
other work requirements and are not protected from disturbance.
Where innovators are constantly plagued by
last minute changes in plans and schedules.
Situational effects that ensure low creativity
under low time pressure.
is where innovators show little
creativity of any sort and where such creativity as is produced is of
innovators feel they are on autopilot. This is a situation where
innovators feel little pressure to do anything other than for their own
innovators receive little encouragement to be creative.
innovators tend to have more meetings with groups rather than
with individuals and engage in less collaborative work overall.
Managing time pressure.
Amabile makes the
following suggestions for anyone wishing to manage creative people
where deadlines are involved.
Resist the illusion that pressure spurs
pressure times encourage innovators to play with ideas and develop
Protect time pressured innovators from
distractions and unrelated demands.
Explain why tight deadlines are necessary.
Encourage one to one collaborations.
Minimize abrupt changes in plans and schedule.
leadership and creativity.
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
Managing creative people.
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
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.
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
Facilitating and Managing
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:
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.
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.
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
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."
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."
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:
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."
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
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:
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] ...is 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
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."
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
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.
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
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.
makes a person creative?
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.
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.
following is reported in Torr's book:
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..."
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."
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."
attention is a feature of primary
"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
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..."
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.
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
Fear of looking
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.
ideas have been lost because the people who had them could not stand
being laughed at." source
takes courage to be creative, just as soon as you have a new idea, you
are in the minority of one." E. Paul Torrance
man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds." Mark
Fear of criticism.
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.
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.
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.
essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail." Edwin
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."
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."
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
"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.
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
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.