Characteristics of highly creative people

Identifying the Characteristics of the Highly Creative People:

Some men see things as they are and say “why?” I dream of things that never were and say “why not.”                                                                                                George Bernard Shaw

Different authors writing about creative individuals sometimes seem to list different characteristics for the creatively gifted. The variances in perspectives are not so much about the definitive listings of traits as they are about the mixed order of the lists or the way authors tend to describe each characteristic. For instance, one author may describe highly creative people as “rebellious,” while another indicates they tend to be “independent thinkers,”  and still another may label them as having “unusual or unique viewpoints.” In essence, all of these descriptors simply indicate that highly creative persons tend to think for themselves, they are not easily influenced or swayed by others, and they can easily think outside the “proverbial box.”

As you read the following lists of creative traits, please remember that what distinguishes the “highly creative” from the rest of us is the intensity of their gifts and the fact that creative traits in these individuals are often heavily clustered. Highly creative people will have a number of characteristics listed below, not just one or two, and the traits they exhibit are usually easily recognizable. What also differentiates the highly creative from those folks who are simply creative is the attribute of persistence.  A lot of us have unusual or novel ideas, but the highly creative act on and follow through with theirs.

A reflective exercise:

Look at the following lists of characteristics and think about yourself, or other people who you perceive as very creative. As you read each description, see if you can calculate a rating for each from the array of choices – most of the time; sometimes; or infrequently. This exercise may help you decide if you, or those you know, fall into a group that is considered highly creative. Obviously, the more times you rate “most of the time,” the more likelihood that person can be classified as highly creative. If you are doing this as a self-reflective analysis, be honest and not overly humble or boastful. Try to look at yourself objectively and from a comparative perspective.

Leslie’s note: It is also important to note that many of the characteristics that may indicate high creativity, in the extreme or overly amplified may also have the potential for becoming a negative personality trait. When this happens a highly creative person can become difficult to live or work with.  For example, in the extreme persistence can easily be morphed  into stubbornness, while independent thinking in the extreme may appear as belligerence.

There are also variable levels of personal creativity. When you have finished here you might be interested in viewing Levels of Creativity, and the David Perkins’ Snowflake Model of Creativity.

Highly creative individuals may:create1

1. Display a great deal of curiosity about many things; are constantly asking questions about anything and everything; may have broad interests in many unrelated areas. May devise collections based on unusual things and interests.

2. Generate a large number of ideas or solutions to problems and questions; often offer unusual (“way out”), unique, clever responses.

3. Are often uninhibited in expressions of opinion; are sometimes radical and spirited in disagreement; are unusually tenacious or persistent — fixating on an idea or project.

4. Are willing to take risks, are often people who are described as a “high risk taker, or adventurous, or speculative.”

5. Exhibit a good deal of intellectual playfulness; may frequently be caught fantasizing, daydreaming or imagining. Often wonder out loud and might be heard saying, “I wonder what would happen if. . .”; or “What if we change . . ..” Can manipulate ideas by easily changing, elaborating, adapting, improving, or modifying the original idea or the ideas of others.” Are often
concerned with improving the conceptual frameworks of institutions, objects, and systems.

6. Have keen senses of humor and see comicality in situations that may not appear to be humorous to others. Sometimes what they find funny, comic, or amusing may appear bizarre, inappropriate, or irreverent to others.

7. Are unusually aware of his or her impulses and are often more open to the irrational within him or herself. May freely display opposite gender characteristics  — may be androgynous (freer expression of feminine interests in boys, or as males they are considered ultra sensitive, or greater than usual amount of independence, assertiveness, or aggressiveness for females).

8. Exhibit heightened emotional sensitivity. May be very sensitive to beauty, and visibly moved by aesthetic experiences.

9. Are frequently perceived as nonconforming; can often accept the disorder of chaotic environments or situations; are frequently not interested in details, are described as individualistic; or do not fear being classified as “different.”

10. Criticize constructively, and are unwilling to accept authoritarian pronouncements without overly critical self-examination.

Adopted and adapted from the scale for Rating Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students by Renzulli and Hartman

General Characteristics of Creative Individuals: 
  1. Genuinely values intellectual and cognitive matters.
  2. Values own independence and autonomy.
  3. Is verbally fluent; can express ideas well.
  4. Enjoys aesthetic impressions; is aesthetically reactive.
  5. Is productive; gets things done.
  6. Is concerned with philosophical problems, for example, religion, values, the meaning of life.
  7. Has high aspiration level for self.
  8. Has wide range of interests.
  9. Thinks and associates ideas in unusual ways; has unconventional thought processes; can make unusual connections to unrelated ideas or things.
  10. Is an interesting, arresting person.
  11. Appears straightforward, forthright and candid in dealings with others.
  12. Behaves in an ethically consistent manner; has consistent personal standards.
Other Lists  – Traits and States of the Highly Creative:create1
Characteristics of the Creatively Gifted Possible negative traits of creative students or Non-Conforming Behaviors
  1. Independent, anti‑authoritarian
  2. Divergent thinker
  3. Generally considered intelligent
  4. Open to new ideas
  5. Little tolerance for boredom
  6. Willing to undertake stimulating challenges, curious and inquisitive
  7. Self‑actualizer
  8. Aesthetically-inclined
  9. Above average use of brain functions located in the right hemisphere
  10. Strong imagery ability
  11. Abilities of synthesis; tasting color, seeing sound, hearing smells
  12. Generally unaffected by peer pressure
  13. Versatile and adaptable
  14. Score high on Torrance Tests of Creative Ability in the following areas:
  • fluency‑‑produce numerous ideas
  • flexibility‑‑produce variety of ideas and approaches
  • originality‑‑novel ideas
  • elaboration‑‑fill in details
  • redefinition‑‑define or perceive in way different from the average
  1. Stubborn
  2. Challenges Authority
  3. Unconventional
  4. Uncooperative
  5. Assertive
  6. Cynical
  7. Sloppy or Careless
  8. Questions or Challenges Rules
  9. Temperamental
  10. Withdrawn



If you are reading this and have creative kids, teach creative kids, or know folks with creative kids, here are some must read selections!


Want to know more about creative people, or how to think or work creatively? Try these resources:

Jamison, K. R. (1996) Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. Free Press. This is an older book, obviously, but it dares to approach the subject of the sometimes relationship between manic depression and creative genius.  

Kelley, T. and Kelley, D. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. The Kelley brothers are leaning experts in design, innovation, and creativity. Here they show all of us that we are creative by identifying how creativity comes into play in the way we approach and solve problems.

Lehrer, J. (2012) Imagine: How Creativity Works. Lehrer stresses that creativity is not a single gift inherent in only a few fortunate souls, but he contends it is rather a variety of different and distinct types of thinking that we all can learn to use.

Piitro, J. (2006) Talented Children and Adults: Their Development and Education 3rd Edition. Piitro has spent a lifetime researching and writing about talented and creative people. While expensive this book is a classic and includes information about how to identifying talented students. As well Piitro includes in this work discussions on developing appropriate programs and curricula for students with special talents.

Tharp, T. (2006) The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. Twyla Tharp is a highly creative choreographer/dancer, and visionary. Here she talks about how one can make creativity a life habit and she shares her story but also 32 practical exercises from her 35 year career!

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Next — Levels of Creativity

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