While searching for information on creativity, I ran across a two-hour lecture by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Exploratorium Video (A). He is the author of the book, Flow (1991). He lectures on creativity, and begins with a point many of us might find difficult to accept. Attention plays a crucial role in creativity. We all have pictures of the “Mad Scientist” or “Crazy Artist” as stereotypes of creative people, but it really starts with paying attention to something. Something catches our eye, and we begin to wonder. That wonder turns to fascination and we are hooked on creating something. As many writers know, it is impossible to be productive if you can’t focus for a long time. Creativity may drive one to start a creation, but actually sustaining that creative process is much more rare. Multitasking is actually very inefficient. (B)
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi claims
“small c” creativity enriches everyday life, and can lead to “big C” creativity or the work of geniuses. Only 5% of the people in any field do the best work. Price’s Law says that the square root of those contributing to a field will produce half of the work of the entire group, but as the percent of people goes up, the number of contributors goes down. (A)
Certain aspects of interaction in a social system determine whether a person’s ideas will be accepted by our cultures:
Domains, “…which make up a culture, are ways of doing things, recipes, laws, belief systems, values that, taken together, create a symbolic environment.” A person must immerse the self in one domain to refine abilities. For example, the great chefs in Chicago first have become focused on cooking and learned everything they could about it. Then they were able to take those skills to create new combinations of food.
Ninety nine percent of people are glad to learn how things are done, and just reproduce it. “There is a small subset of people” who try to do something new that is a transformation of a domain.
The second aspect of the interactions is the field. There is a gatekeeper who insures that the good ideas are transmitted. A firm’s management transmits ideas to the industry culture which is picked up by the individual workers. The selection mechanism is very important. In industry, management hasn’t always been trained in how to select good ideas. If there are too many people doing this, it is easy to become overwhelmed; i.e., one of five hundred new patents get approved.
The domain or field may stagnate because it doesn’t accept new ideas. Csikszentmihalyi used the example of the movie industry and twelve thousand people who worked on films. If half of the creators came from the center of the field and half came from the periphery, the movies were better quality. Those who have a vested interest in avoiding change can inhibit new ideas.
Creative people have the ability to lose themselves in their work, whether they are poets, cell biologists, or professors. Csikszentmihalyi calls this process flow, because creative people have described it to him as being carried along. “Flow is necessary for creativity, but it is not sufficient.”
They also have the ability to switch to convergent thinking easily. They may organize their time differently to accommodate their need to work. The drive to create takes precedence over other commitments.
While the characteristics of creative people were discussed, I found a simpler list on the web page:The Second Principle The work of Leslie Owen Wilson, Ed. D.(C)
- Genuinely values intellectual and cognitive matters.
- Values own independence and autonomy.
- Is verbally fluent; can express ideas well.
- Enjoys aesthetic impressions; is aesthetically reactive.
- Is productive; gets things done.
- Is concerned with philosophical problems, for example, religion, values, the meaning of life.
- Has high aspiration level for self.
- Has wide range of interests.
- Thinks and associates ideas in unusual ways; has unconventional thought processes; can make unusual connections to unrelated ideas or things.
- Is an interesting, arresting person.
- Appears straightforward, forthright and candid in dealings with others.
- Behaves in an ethically consistent manner; has consistent personal standards.
They can also move from one end of characteristics easily to another.
What kind of environment fosters creativity? I found another list on this web site: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, by Steven Aitchison (E)
- Creative environments celebrate risk.
- Creative environments tolerate uncertainty and leave space for the unexpected.
- Creative environments embrace failure and leave plenty of room for mistakes.
- Creative environments are chaotic.
- Creative environments are diverse and interdisciplinary.
- Creative environments are active.
- Creative environments are comprised of weak ties.
- Creative environments have high levels of trust and intimacy.
- Creative environments offer attentive, discerning audiences.
- Creative environments strike a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
If your creativity is being stifled, perhaps it is your environment.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Creative Person and The Creative Context, Lecture of 2008-3-12, Exploratorium Video, https://www.exploratorium.edu/video/dr-mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-lectures-creative-person-creative-context, accessed 2/16/18.
- The average human is able to process 114 bits of info per second. Processing language is 60 bits per second. Half of all we process is taken up by one person talking.
- Wilson, Leslie Owen, Ed.D., Characteristics of Highly Creative People, The Second Principle, https://thesecondprinciple.com/creativity/creativetraits/, accessed 4/11/18
- Aitchison, Steve, Ten Characteristics of Highly Creative Environments, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, https://www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/10-characteristics-highly-creative-environments/, accessed 4/12/18
- Anthony, Whitney, https://www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/10-characteristics-highly-creative-environments/