What Makes People Creative?

Creative sculpture of trolleys


When you start to explore the literature around the definition of creativity, or what it means to be creative, the lists and references go on and on. In this post I wanted to share a few key characteristics of what we might deam a creative approach or disposition. In my last post I shared the idea of developing a creative council in the classroom to learn about key role models and why they were/are so influential in their fields. With a better sense of the characteristics of creative people we can form better perspectives on our own work and speak more confidently about what makes up ‘being creative”.

What makes people creative?

  • Tenacity – grit, determination, resilience, call it what you like but some people don’t allow bumps in the road get in the way of the journey.
  • Courage – it is not just bumps in the road but sometimes the traffic is against you. Creative people are often risk takers and go against the common paradigm.
  • Inventiveness – to be able to explore new connections and combinations, to continually push what is possible.
  • Leadership – some people are moths others are flames.
  • Impact – some individuals either through their established position or their authority have had greater impact in their fields than others.
  • Vision – not just being able to project what is ahead in a field of study or development or art, but to bring that horizon closer much quicker than others.
  • Passion – an unquenchable fuel.

I am not saying that this is an exhaustive list in fact I would welcome your additions and amendments. The complexity of defining these characteristics means that many individuals would display some of these dispositions more strongly than others. Some were natural leaders whereas others showed greater courage as they worked alone. We each show these tendencies in different measure, making up the unique definitions of creative people and what creativity is.

Thomas Edison’s Creative Approach

I really enjoyed this piece by Wouter Boon who outlines the characteristics of Thomas Edison that contributed to his creative success:

Persistence / Conviction / Associations / Productivity / Trial and Error / Combinations / Imagination / Relaxation / Diligence / Collaboration / Knowledge and Skill / Value / Luck / Entrepreneurship / Curiosity

And this from the Centre of Excellence in teaching in Learning at Iowa University expands on some of these ideas when they suggest the following characteristics that researchers look at when measuring creative aptitude:

  • Fluency (number of ideas generated)
  • Originality and imagination (unusual, unique, novel ideas)
  • Elaboration (ability to explain ideas in detail)
  • Flexibility, curiosity, resistance to closure (ability to generate multiple solutions)
  • Complexity (detail and implications of ideas; recognition of patterns, similarities and differences)
  • Risk taking (willingness to be wrong and to admit it)

Creative Flow

One of my favourite concepts in the study of creativity and the creative process is that of Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In Creativity – Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention he suggests the following characteristics of the creative personality:

  • Creative individuals have a great deal of energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.
  • Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time.
  • Creative individuals have a combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.
  • Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy ant one end, and rooted sense of reality at the other.
  • Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.
  • Creative individuals are also remarkable humble and proud at the same time.
  • Creative individuals to a certain extent escape rigid gender role stereotyping and have a tendency toward androgyny.
  • Generally, creative people are thought to be rebellious and independent.
  • Most creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.
  • The openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.

Take your pick from all of those. One thing that you quickly realise is that even defining characteristic of creative people becomes divergent. However simply beginning conversations around the common themes or elements would be a great discussion with your colleagues or class. Take another look at my creative shortlist at the top and let me know what you think.


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