Mark Batey Ph.D.

Working Creativity

What Do Creative People Look Like?

What do controllers of "weirdness" look like?

Posted Dec 03, 2009

Step three of the twelve step programme of organizational creativity continues below...

Step 1: Blind monks, elephants and other stories - What is creativity?
Step 2: Reclaiming creativity - Not everything is creative, not every approach is an innovation.
Step 3: Some people are more equal than others - What do creative people look like?
Step 4: Recruiting for creativity - How to assess for creativity.
Step 5: So now what - Are there hints and tips for inducting creative people?
Step 6: Creating teams - A new take on the diversity issue.
Step 7: Cogito ergo sum - Can we help people and teams think more creatively?
Step 8: Creativity is not just about creativity - What else do we need to work on?
Step 9: Pulling teams together - The long march from individual to team creativity.
Step 10: When two tribes go to war - Balancing bureaucracy and brainstorming.
Step 11: Building a culture and climate for creativity - Embedding creativity in the bricks and mortar.
Step 12: Bringing it all together - The leader as orchestra conductor.


Step 3: Some people are more equal than others - What do creative people look like? 

The simple (and honest) answer is that... there is no stereotype. We are all innately creative, we all solve problems, produce ideas and think unusual thoughts.

However, this is clearly not the whole story. Whilst we can all be creative, some people are more prone to create than others, some who think more with what the venerable creativity researcher Frank Barron would have referred to as "controlled weirdness".

So... what do the people who have a greater control of weirdness look like? What are their hallmarks?

To answer this I would like to explore a few key themes and finish off with a cap doffed in the direction of domain differences.



Surely we need to be intelligent to be creative? The good (or bad) news is that the answer is almost universally "no". The studies that have examined the creativity-intelligence interface have predominantly concluded that the relationship is low (no greater than a correlation of .20 in general - for the mathematically inclined). Perhaps a good example of this would be the early Lewis Terman studies; the Genetic Studies of Genius. Terman exhaustively tested 250,000 Californian schoolchildren selecting a sample of those who had IQ's in excess of 140. After decades following this selected group of "Termites" it was found that adult accomplishment and creative endeavour had far more to do with personality and motivational traits than it did with intellect.

Courtesy of SpaceAmeoba @ Flickr

So does that mean that there are no intellectual variables related to creativity? Absobloodylutely not! There are two other cognitive markers we can yet consider. The first is Divergent Thinking (the second is knowledge).


Divergent Thinking?

If a standardized test of Intelligence (and for a stonkingly good review of the area see the recent blog post by Scott Barry Kaufman) is all about producing a single "correct" answer (e.g. "2 + 2 = ?" or "If a train was travelling at 100 miles per hour, how many miles would it cover in 45 minutes?") then the opposite of this kind of test would be the Divergent Thinking (DT) test. Here, instead of seeking a single answer, the aim is to provide a stimulus question that invites the test-taker to produce a cornucopia of responses.

Courtesy of BinaryApe @ Flickr

A typical DT test item would ask people to name as many unusual uses of a household object as they can within a relatively short time period. This type of thinking, is a universal hallmark of the creative person. The creative thinking process involves a great deal of generative or divergent thinking. The mistake that many people make, is in assuming that this is all that is required. Divergent thinking is only one small part of the cognitive processes of creativity. Once we have produced many ideas there needs to be some selective judgment applied. For that, we usually turn to our old friends experience and plain old-fashioned intelligence. However, the issue of Divergent Thinking does lead to the question - "what do we call upon to think divergently?" The answer - our reserves of knowledge.



In my first step of the 12 step programme for organizational creativity, I argued that a key tenet was that, creative thinking predominantly involves combining ideas. I still hold this to be true and would propose that the "stuff" of this ideational combination are our reserves of knowledge. When we think divergently we call upon our knowledge and experiences and combine these cognitive elements in new and useful ways. For example, in designing the iPod it could be argued that the knowledge of the properties of a walkman were combined with the knowledge of the properties of a hard disk drive or other electrical memory storage devices. In a recent paper1, my colleagues and I found that a rich store of general knowledge predicted people's performance on divergent thinking tests. So... can we conclude that the more knowledge someone has the more creative they will be? Again, I'm afraid - it's not that simple. For we also know that the more we have knowledge of a specific area (i.e. how we do our jobs) the greater the chances of our thinking becoming "entrenched" or "fixed". Such that a lot of knowledge can lead to us believing we already know all the answers and the best ways to solve problems (dangerous stuff if we are trying to be innovative).


Surely creativity is not just about intellect? Don't our personalities have something to do it with it too? The answer being... "definitely"!

If we start with the most commonly agreed upon model of personality (the Big Five) as a framework we can explore the typical personality traits of creative people.

Creative people tend to be...

Open to new experiences and ways of working; curious; imaginative and questioning of how the world works.
• Not particularly Conscientious, insofar as they tend to avoid being highly ordered, structured and organized.
• With regards to Extraversion/Introversion the results are mixed... something we will pick up on when we consider different domains of endeavour (e.g. art v science).
• When we consider Agreeableness we find that creative people are generally disagreeable. That is, they are comfortable with disagreement and going against the consensus.
• The results for Neuroticism are also mixed... again we will pick this up when we come to domain differences.

Ok... so we have covered intellectual and personality markers. Is there anything else? Yup - motivation...


There are two major strands to thinking about motivation and creativity. The first concerns general motivation. Creative people tend to be highly driven, hard working, persistent and possessive of a "never say die" attitude. Coming up with new ideas that challenge existing paradigms is never an easy task. Armed with indefatigability - the creator ploughs a lonely, but steady furrow.

Courtesy of NormalityRelief @ Flickr

The second strand involves motivational orientation. In simple terms, we find that creative people have a tendency towards intrinsic motivation. That is, they are driven from within - by a sense of challenge, curiosity, desire to explore and to meet internal expectations. However, the picture is not so clear cut... Extrinsic motives (external facing motives like - respect, reward, remuneration, etc.,) can also be high priorities for creative people. The challenge lies in balancing the desire to listen to internal drives whilst maintaining enough external focus to see how the creative idea, process or product will be welcomed (or not!) by the outside world.

So there we have it... Creativity is not a singular entity arising from simple human foundations. It is not intellect, personality or motivation. Creativity arises in the individual as part of a complex web or interplay between these factors. Further, we have not even begun to examine the rich reaction between the individual and the world they inhabit, the jobs they do or the opportunities available.

In future posts we will take these notions about the creative individual to examine how they can be identified and recruited, managed, built into creative teams and rewarded.

See you soon


Mark Batey MSc PhD CPsychol.

is a Creativity Specialist at Manchester Business School, UK

The Psychology of Creativity LinkedIn Group

P.S. See below for some thoughts on domain differences.


Domain Differences?

Psychologists interested in creativity have got (rightly!) hot under the collar about whether there are traits of creative people that are the same across all types of activities (domain-generality) or whether there are specific traits that are needed for specialized fields (domain-specificity).

The answer would appear to be... yes... and no... The traits listed above are a pretty good stab at the hallmarks shown by most creative people. There are, however two personality traits that seem to be particularly important for predicting creativity in specific domains... Introversion/Extraversion and Emotional Stability/Neuroticism.

Introversion - appears to be most important for occupations and endeavours that require isolated work and thoughtful consideration. Typically, creative scientists and artists are introverted. Studies show, however, that commercial creatives (advertising, marketing, etc.,) tend to be extraverted. How can we explain these differences? The work of an artist or scientist will often involve long hours working independently (in the studio or the lab), such that a predisposition to favour solitude holds the creator in good stead. On the other hand, the commercial creative is more likely to be involved in a complex web of social interactions and organizational politics. Further, the "creative products" of the marketer, for example, will need to be embedded within the wider organizational systems of procurement, manufacturing and design on the one hand and sales, promotions and advertising on the other. In this circumstance, the proclivity to be active, energetic and sociable will assist the creator in communicating their idea amongst the different stakeholder groups.

Neuroticism- appears to be particularly elevated in "artistic" domains. Such that poets, artists and designers are often more emotionally sensitive. Why?

The answer may be tracked back to the notion of what we consider art and artistic products to be "for". If we run with the idea that art "exists" in order to generate emotions in the viewer or recipient. Then... if artists are more emotionally sensitive, they are in a better position to understand emotion and convey it through their artistic products to evoke emotional responses in the beholder.

1 - Batey, M., Chamorro-Premuzic, T. & Furnham, A. (2009). Intelligence and personality as predictors of divergent thinking: The role of general, fluid and crystallised intelligence. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 4, p.60-69.



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