Saturday, July 25, 2009

What is Creativity?

The root of the words "create" and "creativity" come from the Latin creatus and creare, meaning "to make or produce," or literally, "to grow." - Jane Piirto

Creativity does not simply apply to art or writing, as early schooling tends to lead us to believe. Creativity is applicable to business, to physics, politics, pretty much every imaginable aspect of living. It is just a matter of making something new, something novel. (Of course, ideas don't grow in vacuum chambers, so interpretation of creativity does depend on zeitgeist.)

"To say that Thomas Edison invented electricity or that Albert Einstein discovered relativity is a convenient simplification.... But Edison's or Einstein's discoveries would be inconceivable without the prior knowledge, without the intellectual and social network that stimulated their thinking, and without the social mechanisms that recognized and spread their innovations. To say that the theory of relativity was created by Einstein is like saying that it is the spark that is responsible for the fire. The spark is necessary, but without air and tinder there would be no flame."
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Csikszentmihalyi defines "Big C" and "little c" as the two types of creativity, differing in magnitude. "Big C" Creativity is what leads to changing domains, changing entire ways of life, by someone who is (or becomes) well known by others in the relevant field. Einstein's theory of relativity, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and Twain's literary works fall under Big C. "little c" creativity, on the other hand, concerns the individual's day-to-day life, and activities such as finding the fastest way to a destination using side streets, or figuring out how to keep rabbits out of the vegetable garden.

Everyone is born with a propensity towards creativity. Many debates have occurred over the years on whether the "amount" of creativity can be measured, or if it is correlated with other factors, such as intelligence, giftedness, talent, socioeconomic standing, and so on. Perhaps there are some facets of creativity that are only innate, or some factors that facilitate creativity (verbal acuity, an eye for detail, a particular physique) that are innate, but there are other aspects that can be actively developed.

Being creative is necessary for a fulfilling life, and it is something that should be developed and cultivated throughout one's lifetime. Unfortunately, creativity can be suppressed by the process of being educated or growing up, in favor of practicality or pragmatism. The good news is that at any time, creativity can be picked up again, re-nurtured, and re-embraced, and that it does not have to exist entirely separate from practicality.

Next time: Teaching Creativity with Too Much Freedom, and Being a Creative Individual

Further Reading

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Understanding Creativity (Jane Piirto)

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