One of the chief avowed objectives of modern education is the encouragement of creativity, originality, inventiveness, ingenuity, innovation, new ideas, novel solutions, and fresh approaches to all problems, all directed toward â€œsocially usefulâ€ ends.
John Stanley, The Riddle of Creativity, 1956
Csikszentmihalyi (1996) describes three meanings of â€œcreativity.â€ The first of these, â€œbrilliance,â€ is the capacity to be an engaging and interesting person. The second of these, â€œpersonality creativity,â€ refers to the ability to think and respond in novel ways. The third of these, â€œcreativity without qualification,â€ relies on the social context of the field and a domain. Unfortunately, all forms of creativity described by Csikzentmihalyi contain problems that make them difficult for understanding how creativity varies in the population These forms of creativity has since been joined by what may be called recognized creativity, a form of creativity that may exist in all learners and varies in the population. Such a definition of recognized creativity allows for an consistent method for measuring creativity and presents a way of building creativity in all learners.
Csikszentmihalyi describes the first use of the term creativity to reference persons who express unusual thoughts, who are interesting and stimulating â€“ in short, people who appear to be unusually brightâ€ (p. 25). Thus, an individual whose conversational ability attracts a measurable crowd at a cocktail party might be creative in this use of the term. However, Csikszentmihalyi writes that â€œUnless they also contribute something of permanent significance, I refer to people of this sort as brilliant rather than creative..â€ Likewise, in this use, a professor’s brilliance may vary in terms of the number of students taking her seminar, but this is not a reflection of a professor’s creativity.
The second use of creativity described by Csikzentmihalyi references persons â€œwho experience the world in novel and original waysâ€ (p. 25). Using the term â€œpersonally creative,â€ Csikzentmihalyi associates this use with divergent thinking.â€ Personal creativity is under an individual’s control, and may be improved through changing one’s habits. His suggestions for becoming more personally creative â€œProduce as many ideas as possibleâ€ (p. 368), â€œHave as many different ideas as possibleâ€ (p. 369), and â€œTry to produce unlikely ideasâ€ (p. 369) evoke the Torrance nearly half-century work on creativity (Torrance, 2001).
Csikszentmihalyi’s third use, and the one he dedicates most of his book to, â€œdesignates individuals who, like Leonardo, Edison, Picasso, or Einstein, have changed our culture in some important aspectâ€ (p. 26-27). Csikszentmihalyi refers to these individuals are â€œthe creative ones without qualificationâ€ (p. 26), and also to this form of creativity as â€œcreativity with a capital Câ€ (p. 27). This unqualified creativity occurs in the interrelation of three parts: the domain or â€œthe set of symbols and proceduresâ€ (p. 27), the field or â€œall individuals who act as gatekeeprs to the domainâ€ (p. 28) and the individual. Unqualified individuals belongs to a few individuals, so those who do not change our culture in some important aspect are by definition not unqualifiedly creative.
All of the uses of the term â€œcreativityâ€ identified by Csikszentmihalyi possess advantages as well as flaws. The concept of unqualified creativity is powerful because it emphasizes the role of the domain, the field, and the person all determining an individual’s creativity. However, most people do not possess unqualified creativity, and thus it cannot be steadily improved among most people as can other subjects studied by educational psychologists. Likewise, divergent thinking is easily measurably and may help contribute to unqualified creativity. However, the measure is a predictor, not a measure, of an individual’s success with the field of a domain, so does not have the external validity of unqualified creativity. Finally, individual brilliance likewise may involve neither changing our culture in some important aspect, nor experiencing the world in novel ways, but still meet with success against a field of a domain: say, a tenure committee that uses students in a seminar as a measure of an assistant professor’s ability to contribute to the their domain as an educator.
Fortunately, another method of describing creativity solves these problems. The works in this new way of studying creativity often do not distinguish this style of creativity than others, but I will refer to it as â€œrecognized creativity.â€ This concept has been defined by Pucker and colleagues (in press) as â€œthe interplay between ability and process by which an individual or group produces an outcome or product that is both novel and useful and defined within some social contextâ€ (as cited by Plucker & Beghetto, ), the generation of novel and useful outcomes in a domain (Tierney & Farmer, 2002), and â€œthe generation of novel or original ideas that are useful for relevant,â€ (Choi, 2004, p.188). This definition encompasses what is met by all three forms of creativity identified by Csikszentmihalyi. Brilliant people are those that are able to produce conversation that is novel and useful for a party, while the â€œbig-C creativeâ€ are able to do so on a scale that changes our culture. Individual creativity remains a predictor of recognized creativity, an important factor in person’s contribution to the domain-field-person interaction that decides whether someone is creative or not.
An advantage of defining recognized creativity as the contribution of useful products to the field of a domain is that it allows for a consistent way of measuring recognized creativity. Once a researcher has defined a domain, a field, then all that is left is operationalizing a measurement of a field’s acceptance of an individual. Consider recognized creativity among researchers, for example. In that case, one defines the domain as a academic specialty, such as psychology, the field as the researcher’s peers, and then operationalize the field of the domain’s acceptance of a researcher by the number of journal articles accepted, or the number of citations these articles have received. For the domain of blogging, likewise, one may define the field as other bloggers, and the measure creativity as the product of the number of links an individual’s blog receives and the average recognized creativity of those blogs.
Perhaps the first reference to a â€œgeneral factor of creativityâ€ appeared half a century ago (Stanley, 1956, p. 79). Torrance’s research career on divergent thinking, and Csikszentmihalyi’s concern for improving the ability to generate new ideas, are part of this tradition. A general factor of creativity is no doubt an important predictor of creative success in life, just as the general factor of intelligence is no doubt an important predictor of general success in life. However, as educational psychologists, it is our to make the education of learners of all abilities successful. Thus, with respect to education and memory, we study general ability, but focus on changing domain knowledge and motivation. Likewise, with respect to creativity, personal creativity is important in so far as it predicts the generation of new and useful outcomes for some social context. Increased recognized creativity, no less than increased domain knowledge or motivation, is a worthwhile outcome for educational psychologists to study. I hope they do so soon.
Choi, J.N. (2004). Individual and contextual predictors of creative performance: The mediating role of psychological processes. Creativity Research Journal, 16(2 & 3), 187-199.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Plucker, J.A., & Beghetto, R.A. (2004). Why creativity is domain general, why it looks domain specific, and why the distinction does not matter. In R. J. Sternberg, E. L. Grigorenko, Eds., Creativity: From potential to realization. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.
Plucker, J.A., Beghetto, R.A., & Dow, G.T. (2006) Why isn’t creativity more important to educational psychologists? Potential, pitfalls, and future directions in creativity research. Educational Psychologist, 39(2), 83-96.
Stanley, J.C. (1956). The riddle of creativity. Peabody Journal of Education, 34(2), 79-81.
Tierney, P. & Farmer, S.M.. (2002). Creative self-efficacy: Its potential antecedents and relationship to creative performance. Academy of Management Journal, 45(6), 1137-1148.â€
Torrance, E.P. (2001). Manifesto: A guide for developing a creative career. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.