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Sandeep Gautam
Sandeep Gautam

Creativity: Products, Processes, and People

Little c, big C and now the middle c.

Sam et Krakote

Sam et Krakote (Photo credit: Lionoche)

The study of creativity is sometimes classified as focusing on small c, everyday creativity; or as aiming to entangle the enigma of genius or big C creativity. In my response to Sam, I jokingly suggested that perhaps it’s time now for a middle c to provide a middle ground where we can agree. Today I want to develop that thesis further.

To me the relevant questions to ask about creativity are: what is (a) creative (product); how is creativity achieved (the process) and who is creative/ what makes someone creative (the person). All questions are important and related, but also slightly distinct, and will shed light on a different aspect of creativity.

To me, the small c, everyday, creativity research, has most focused and helped in identifying the creative aspects of a finished product- the typical small c responses (either to divergent problems or to completed drawings/ captions/ sentences are scored on some basis to assess the creativity of the product that has been produced. That is then taken as a proxy for the creativity of the person who produced such a product in an artificial, experimental condition.

That research, and the scoring methods thereof, has shed light on what is (a) creative (product/idea etc) - it should be surprising, original, beautiful and useful. That research also informs why copies are not perceived as valuable as ‘originals’.

The middle C creativity, or the study of normal creatives (or pseudo-creative types, as Sam mentions them) and how they create on a daily basis, shed light on the creative process. Sam, keeps quoting from Mihaly, but forgets that Mihaly studied rock-climbers too to arrive of at his conclusions - which by no stretch of imagination, are big C creators.

Keith Sawyer, for e.g., by his study of Jazz musicians, was able to come up with the processes of improvisation, collaboration and communication that underlay their creativity. On a different level, Margaret Boden has come up with process like recombination, re-conceptualization/ transformations of conceptual spaces etc as processes involved in creativity.

My own list of processes involved goes like this:

  1. Improve: Imitate and master existing forms/do incremental improvements/ change; this is related to recombination.
  2. Innovate: Take time to incubate and based on chance and a prepared mind, notice/ create something original; this is related to transformations.
  3. Insight: Look at things from new perspectives and point of views; overcome for e.g. functional fixedness; this is related to re-conceptualization.
  4. Imagination: use your rich and fertile imagination to ask ‘why not’ questions; this is related to expanding one’s conceptual spaces.

Now, given a criterion for assessing creative output and given some understanding of processes involved, it might even be possible to program computers to create art (something I’m sure Sam finds distasteful given his focus on people and big C creativity). Aaron is one such example.

Coming to big C creativity, here the focus is squarely on people and what makes some people eminent or genius or more creative than the rest of us: it is in this domain that Sam wants more creativity research to happen.

While small c, creative products approach, is amenable to psychometrics: precise measurements and testing; middle c , process approach, relies mostly on theorisation and experimentations to confirm/ reject hypothesis about mechanisms involved; big C creativity , people approach, ahs to by necessity rely on case study approach. Now, there are many fanatics out there who would not want to go a mile near anyone who is employing case study designs- I’m not one of them; I have equal respect for all approaches.

After all, Fordyce, with his studies of happy people , advanced the positive psychology field, by not only identifying the traits of highly happy people, he also provided rich material , by which we can test the correlations and see the direction of causality- for e.g. does happiness cause success or success happiness.

I strongly agree with Sam, that we need some good research on this- without any prejudiced opinions that suffering creates art or happiness is conducive to it. We need a list of factors that relative people have in common and then look at the direction of causality- does being creative lead to the liberty to be a**hole or being a**hole is necessary for creativity.

I have my own ideas on what factors are necessary for Genius:

  1. Ability
  2. Self-control , hard work
  3. Grit, drive to succeed/ create
  4. Right (growth/ creativity) mindset

This parallels the research by Dr Mark Batey and also my ABCD model.

Research by Dr Mark Batey of the Psychometrics at Work Research Group at Manchester Business School has suggested that the creative profile can be explained by four primary creativity traits with narrow facets within each

(i) "Idea Generation" (Fluency, Originality, Incubation and Illumination)

(ii) "Personality" (Curiosity and Tolerance for Ambiguity)

(iii) "Motivation" (Intrinsic, Extrinsic and Achievement)

(iv) "Confidence" (Producing, Sharing and Implementing)

This model was developed in a sample of 1000 working adults using the statistical techniques of Exploratory Factor Analysis followed by Confirmatory Factor Analysis by Structural Equation Modelling.

In the end, let me address some specific points raised by Sam. Is research on effects of alcohol on creativity trivial? Consider this n=1 experimental research being done by this artist – he is taking all drugs possible and creating self-portraits under their influence. A comparative rating of all his self-portraits on creativity dimension will enable us to know which drugs influence creativity factors and in what way. Suppose it is found that alcohol makes you most creative- then we can look at other known effects of alcohol- that it decreases inhibition- to make a theory and then do experiments to see if lack of inhibition – induced by other means, does lead to creativity. So in my opinion these studies are far from trivial.

Secondly, I would request Sam to quote me correctly; I never say that a focus on small c detracts from big c focus. Also, my position on small c leading to big c is related to understanding the underlying process and factors affecting creative performance- no way do I imply that small innovations pave the way for quantum leaps.

Lastly, in most debates, the focus is on scoring trivial points(like the two above) over each other; I would request Sam to take this debate as an opportunity to refine our and everyone else’s intuitions about the issues rather than in leg-pulling : -) (which is fun, but not that productive)

link to Sam's response that triggered this post.

About the Author
Sandeep Gautam

Sandeep Gautam is a software developer and science writer at The Mouse Trap.

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