So much of innovation involves creativity, so it’s no surprise that this podcast series takes a deep dive into creativity. Over the years, I’ve studied the topic with deep interest. One of my top two or three authors on the topic has written a couple of books I highly recommend if you want to dive deeper into the topic. The first book is titled Flow and the second, which is the basis of this podcast, is titled Creativity, Flow in the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. I would give you the author’s name but I am hard-pressed to pronounce it, especially since last name has 16 letters in it. Just search on Amazon for either of these two titles and you will get the author’s name.
In this podcast I will share some of the authors key points plus any additional comments I feel are appropriate to innovation. Part one addresses some general characteristics about creativity and part two addresses the 10 personal characteristics that tend to be associated with creative people.
In chapter 1, the author states, “creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives.” Even those of you listening to this podcast that may not consider yourselves creative, can understand this if you connect with the broader meaning of creativity. Creativity at its simplest is coming up with new ways of doing or thinking about the world as it exists now. It’s the ability to see new possibilities and see things clearer and/or differently.
Creativity is not only a source of meaning but it’s also a special life experience. The author states, “creativity is so fascinating in that when we are involved in it, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” Wow, did this quote strike home for me. Creative moments, even fairly small ones, are highs, exhilaration, excitement, and a very positive experiences.
Sometimes we think of creativity as isolated to a personal experience and do not understand the broader context in which it happens. The author very helpfully states, “creativity results from the interaction of a system composed of three elements: a culture that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the symbolic domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation. All three are necessary for a creative idea, product, or discovery to take place.”
Put another way, creativity does not happen in a vacuum. It happens in a culture that can be as broad as the world culture ranging down to the culture in an enterprise or a team within the enterprise. As you know from previous podcasts, culture embodies the values and beliefs that form behavior. I have referred to culture as similar to the hidden code in software that defines what the software will do and how it does it. Creativity also happens in a field of expertise. It is very difficult to be creative in an area that you know nothing about. To be clear, it’s not impossible, but deeper and more practical forms of creativity are most likely to happen when the individual and/or individuals have some level of expertise in the area where they focus their creativity.
To illustrate this point, the author states, “Edison’s or Einstein’s discoveries would be inconceivable without the prior knowledge, without the intellectual and social network that stimulated their thinking, and without the social mechanisms that recognized and spread the inovations. To say that the theory of relativity was created by Einstein is like saying that it is the spark that is responsible for the fire. The spark is necessary, but without air and tinder there would be no flame.”
The author adds, “a musician must learn the musical tradition, the notation system, the way instruments are played before she can think of writing a new song; before an inventor can improve on airplane design he has to learn physics, aerodynamics, and why birds don’t fall out of the sky.”
In describing a creative person, the author states, “creative people are neither single-minded, specialized, nor selfish. Indeed, they seem to be the opposite: they love to make connections with adjacent areas of knowledge. They tend to be – in principle – caring and sensitive. Yet the demands of their role inevitably push them toward specialization and selfishness. Of the many paradoxes of creativity, this is perhaps the most difficult to avoid.”
The author makes some important points that I want to relate to some of the previous podcasts.
Creative people love to make connections especially to adjacent areas of knowledge, as the author stated. In the quantum idea generating process, you know that we bring into a creative session extensive expert diversity. One of the critical elements in selecting the right expertise is to make sure that the expertise is relevant but does not duplicate the expertise of others in the session. We are specifically looking for people who have similar expertise so they can understand the context of their fellow experts. Because they have an understanding of each other, when the creative process starts, they have the ability to make connections. Sometimes these connections appear as something as simple as “we could put these two things together.” Other times, the connections become more complex, but no less fascinating. You have heard me say in the past a phrase that I believe strongly in a part of the creative process I call “playing with possibilities.” It is this process where people experiment with a variety of connections in an attempt to creatively solve the task at hand.
The author also states the paradox of creative people who can be unselfish one moment and selfish the next moment. You may recall from the podcast called “curse of the expert” that I talked about experts who feel a strong need to be right in order to protect their position and image as an expert. This is one of the manifestations of selfishness – wanting to be the person developing an idea and taking credit for an idea. In a creative session, I want people to be engaged; I want them to take ownership of the process and the outcome. There is a sometimes delicate balance of collaboration and ownership. When done right, both can exist at the same time.
The author makes the point that creativity is an exceptionally broad term that can benefit from some creative sub elements. He points to three different types of creativity.
The first he refers to as, “widespread in ordinary conversation, refers to persons who express unusual thoughts, who are interesting and stimulating – in short, two people who appear to be unusually bright. A brilliant conversationalist, a person with varied interests and a quick mind, may be called creative in this sense.”
The second form he refers to as, “people who experience the world in novel and original ways. These are individuals whose perceptions are fresh, whose judgments are insightful, who may make important discoveries that only they know about. I refer to such people as personally creative.”
The third type of creativity he refers to as, “individuals who, like Leonardo, Edison, Picasso, or Einstein who have changed our culture in some important respect. They are the creative ones without qualifications. Because their achievements are by definition public, it is easier to write about them.”
As remarkable as the people in the third group are, there is a bit of a paradox as you look at their broader lives. The author states, “the accomplishments of a Michelangelo, a Beethoven, a Picasso, or an Einstein are awesome in their respective fields – but their private lives, their everyday ideas and actions, would seldom warrant another thought were it not that there specialized accomplishments that made everything they said or did of interest.”
The author nicely reminds me that creativity does not happen in the vacuum of a specific moment or situation. There’s a complex context in which creativity happens. If we understand this, we can use it to our advantage when we purposefully engage in the creative process.
While there are not specific step-by-step processes revealed in this podcast about creativity, I am attempting to create a deeper and broader understanding of creativity. By demystifying creativity to an extent, we better understand that it’s not just a random happening. I’ve only touched on a few of the points that can be understood relative to creativity. I strongly recommend the two books mentioned at the beginning of this podcast if you want to dive deeper into creativity. Also, the next podcast takes a look at the 10 personal characteristics most commonly associated with very creative people.