On definitions of creativity

“What is the biggest obstacle to creativity? Attachment to outcome. As soon as you become attached to a specific outcome, you feel compelled to control and manipulate what you’re doing and in the process you shut yourself off to other possibilities. Creativity is not just about succeeding. It’s about experimenting and discovering.”

Gordon MacKenzie – Orbiting the giant hairball (one of my favorite books on creativity!)

On definitions of creativity:

Thermometers used to be made with liquid mercury. If you dropped one and the glass casement shattered the encapsulated mercury would separate into little balls. It was almost impossible to gather it all up without considerable effort as each attempt at capturing the fractured mess and trying to corral the mercury caused it to divide further.

Defining creativity simply is equally as frustrating as trying to corral liquid mercury. Succinct definitions for creativity appear very subjective to both the one doing the defining and the reader of the definition. Most of us know something is creative when we see, hear, or experience it even if we cannot specifically tell someone why – it just is. It strikes a certain chord; it is something totally different and unique, or offers a new understanding or a completely new perspective; perhaps it evokes a strong emotional or physical response that takes the breath away, or it is something that causes us joy or wonder.

Obviously, creativity means numerous things to different people and can be defined in any number of ways. Creativity can also be defined at many distinct levels — cognitively, intellectually, socially, economically, spiritually, and from the finite perspective of different disciplines — business, science, music, art, dance, theater, etc..

Here are a few common attempts to describe what creativity means:  Creativity is . . .

  • A common definition from Webster’s – Creativity is marked by the ability or power to create — to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new. 
  • Carl Rodgers (psychologist) – The emergence of a novel, relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual.
  • Henry Miller (writer) – The occurrence of a composition which is both new and valuable.
  • John Haefele (CEO and entrepreneur) – The ability to make new combinations of social worth.
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (psychologist, academic, and writer) Creativity – Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and InventionCreativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one… What counts is whether the novelty he or she produces is accepted for inclusion in the domain.
  • Rollo May (author, existential psychologist and philosopher) From his The Courage to Create  – Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being. Creativity requires passion and commitment. It brings to our awareness what was previously hidden and points to new life. The experience is one of heightened consciousness: ecstasy.
  • H. H. Fox (scientist) — Any thinking process in which original patterns are formed and expressed.
  • E. Paul Torrance (educator, academic, creativity investigator) – Fluency, flexibility, originality, and sometimes elaboration.
  • Roger von Oech (author) – Creative thinking involves imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena.  

 Use a Metaphor:

If you could define creativity in a metaphoric way, what might you say and why?

cat My example: Creativity is like a cat chasing its tail.

In the act of creating, or in solving problems in creative ways, we often go round and round in endless circles wanting to pounce on an idea. Sometimes the answer or solution is right before our eyes but we can’t see it. In order to find the solution, find the missing piece, solve the problem, we need to just look at something familiar in a new and different way.                                                                                                                                Leslie

   Your turn – create your own metaphor, definition or analogy – Creativity is (or is like) . . .

Original materials on this site are copyrighted to Leslie Owen Wilson – e-mail