"You've got to enterprise....God bless the blackout when it comes."
-- From the song "Enterprise" from the musical Runaways by Elizabeth Swados
Constructs such as creativity and emotional intelligence are often considered part of Positive Psychology. They are seen, usually, as desirable and good traits. Yet there are many ways that people may use these abilities selfishly, or even, perhaps, evilly. The epigram I chose is from the musical Runaways (which, incidentally, desperately needs a revival - if you're in Southern California and know of a production shoot me an e-mail). The show takes place in New York City in the 1970's, and this song is a salute to being creative to scam money off of people (i.e., pretending to be collecting money for charity and then keeping the money).
The ultimate opportunity presented itself with the New York City Blackout of 1977. In the midst of the Summer of Sam (i.e., serial killer David Berkowitz was terrorizing the populace) and excessive heat and mounting debts, the blackout resulted in widespread looting and rioting. Some individuals used this opportunity to steal stereo and electronic equipment. The resulting influx of such materials in lower income communities is credited by such early pioneers as Grandmaster Caz as helping to spread the influence of hip hop. Certainly, using the blackout as an opportunity to get desired musical equipment is clever, and the ability to then use these materials to create such influential musical stylings is quite creative.
Consider, too, the spam e-mails that you get from foreign countries in which someone writes of a "desire of going into a business relationship with you." His father died and left him a fortune, or she is the manager of a small bank trying to perform a large financial transaction. There are hundreds of millions of dollars up for grabs and they need your help to provide an account for the money and put up a few thousand bucks in up-front costs. It's nothing, really, compared to the money you will be making. As you have (hopefully) guessed, it's a scam. The plans get postponed, more officials need to be bribed, and so on, until they have bled you dry. But here's the creative part: The other day I got an e-mail from the Antifraud Commission of Nigeria. They are busy prosecuting the nasty spammers and fraudsters and are suing them to compensate the victims. Indeed, I stand to gain nearly five hundred thousand dollars as a witness and plaintiff, if I can just pass along the court expenses and initial legal fees.... Is this creative? I would say absolutely.
How about emotional intelligence? Most people assume that some is emotionally intelligent if she or he is a good person and makes positive, moral decisions. Yet consider the original description of the four abilities comprising EI (by John Mayer and Peter Salovey): (1) perceiving, appraising, and expressing emotions; (2) accessing and producing feelings in aid of cognition; (3) comprehending information on affect and using emotional knowledge; and (4) regulating emotions for growth and contentment. They have since revised the model, but most of the basic tenets are similar.
Is Hannibal Lecter emotionally intelligent? Well, he has all four of these abilities. He is terrific at understanding other people's feelings (and exploiting this knowledge). He uses his own feelings to help him think (such as his ability to concentrate and listen to music to prepare for killing the two guards). He understands quite a bit about emotion and affect itself (as is clear from his "reading" of Clarice). Finally, he can certainly regulate his emotions toward outcomes that are useful to him (such as escaping from jail). Sure sounds emotionally intelligent to me. How about a used car salesman who is able to sell lemons to all sorts of buyers?
Is Hannibal Lecter creative? Was Adolf Hitler creative? How about Ted Bundy, Voldemort, Charles Manson, Vito Corleone, Jesse James, Lizzie Borden, or that guy who used to pick on you in the sixth grade? If creativity is seen as having an inherent moral component to it, then these people cannot be creative. If to be a creative person is to be a good person, then it's hard to argue that Josef Stalin or John Wilkes Booth were particularly creative. Indeed, Robert Sternberg has written about how both Stalin and Hitler still have followers today, showing that their ideas have "lived on" and borne the test of time - one hallmark for determining if someone is "Big C." It is the lack of morality needed for lasting creativity that has led Sternberg to argue for the equal importance of wisdom.
Along with David Cropley, Arthur Cropley, and Mark Runco, I have edited a book coming out this year or next called The Dark Side of Creativity. It has lots of essays exploring these topics (including the one by Sternberg I just discussed). The idea of the dark side of creativity is still being explored empirically, but the concept is an interesting contrast to most approaches. When discussing mental illness and creativity, the "creativity" part is often assumed to be good - indeed, some of the evolutionary work argues that creativity is the reason why mental illness persists; being imaginative is supposedly enough of an advantage to outweigh the detriments of mental illness. Yet malevolent creativity (and emotional intelligence) can be harmful and evil in their own right.
If you don't believe this, then contact me for my highly classified plans to make a million dollars overnight. I'm only selling them for $50, in cash, sent to me care of this website.