Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected …
I have often been asked: “How do you come up with these ideas” followed by “I could never do what you do.” My response is that everyone is creative in their own way, and that they just haven’t discovered where their creativity lies.
It turns out, there’s actually some scientific theory that separates creative people from the rest of the class …
Historical Evolution of the Theory of Creativity
In ancient Greece, creativity was viewed as a constructive activity. Plato noted ‘the peculiar behaviors’ of writers and playwrights, and Aristotle saw a link between creativity and depression.
By the medieval period, creativity was associated with the concept of God and creation. St. Augustine saw creativity as the creation of history, with the artist as a participant in that creation which was part of God’s divine plan. Michelangelo believed that he only created art through God’s grace, and that his hands were the mortal representation of a higher purpose.
During the Renaissance, creativity was defined as a form of contemplation, reflecting more of the artists’s personality. The artist created and defined history in their own name rather than in God’s.
By the late 19th century, creativity was equated with the ability to invent things, and linked man’s capacity for imagination with his capacity for reason. This definition moved creativity from the realm of inherent talent, into that of an acquired technical skill.
The early 20th century saw creativity defined as “The successful combination of ideas that results in solving a problem.” The term “creative” began to be applied to sciences and business, and the term creative genius was used to describe non-artists such as Einstein, John Nash and Oppenheimer. Terms like “Creative Thinking” and “Thinking Outside the Box” became catch phrases, and corporate think tanks and brainstorming sessions came into vogue. Formal research into the psychological aspects of creativity began.
According to a California State University study, creativity is defined as:
- an ability to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives and possibilities
- an ability to view things from a different perspective
According to a study out of Stockholm:
- An ability to produce work that is both novel and meaningful
- An act that changes an existing domain into a new one
This definition was not limited to the artistic world, and in fact was applied to innovators in the sciences as well (as previously stated).
Creativity and unconventional behavior
There have been a number of studies on creativity and the potential link to unconventional behaviors, ranging from eccentricity to depression and schizophrenia. Some theorize that creativity and eccentricity may result in the brain’s inability to filter information (which is my personal theory as well). Others have suggested that the dissatisfaction with the present drives them to make changes (1) and that highly creative people have a heightened interest in disorder and contradiction, which they perceive as challenges. This interest is thought to be a trait of people with a broad and flexible awareness of their surroundings, and not so much on their level of intelligence.(2) People who are not constrained by rules and who can ‘suspend disbelief’ are more open to seeing other possibilities.(3) This ‘rule breaking’ is sometimes called ‘thinking outside the box.’ This behavior is sometimes called nonconformist, and in severe cases, madness.
Creative people are viewed as eccentric, not only by ‘normal’ people, but by creative people themselves. We often see ourselves as different, and not ‘fitting in’ with society at large, though I think a small percentage of this outlook is based in personal choice as much as a inherent eccentric behavior. “YBNRML” has been a code word among my circle of friends for decades …
(to be continued)
1. Mark Millard, British Psychological Society, BBC News “Creative Minds Mimic Schizophrenia, May 28, 2010
2. Creative Process Definition, Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2008
3. Gary Fitzgibbon, psychologist
The Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People are Eccentric, Scientific American, April 2011
Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box: Thalamic Dopamine D2 Receptor Densities are Negatively Related to Psychometric Creativity in Healthy Individuals (covering studies in Stockholm and Bethesda MD), Aldo Rustichini, editor, University of Minnesota, 2010