Originally Published Autumn 2003
I recently completed a research project and, in the
process, discovered some very interesting books and information. Much
of the following article is gleaned from a book by Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi entitled Creativity.
Creative people differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in
one respect they are unanimous: They all love what they do. It is
not the desire to achieve fame or make money that drives them: it is the
opportunity to do the work that they enjoy doing. They love their work
more than they love what it produces. They are dedicated to the work
regardless of its consequences. Many people in many professions all say
that they do what they do because it is fun. There are others in the same
professions that don't enjoy what they do. So, we have to assume that it
is not what they people do that counts but how they do it.
When people are asked to describe how they feel when doing whatever
they enjoy doing most - it is most often said that they "enjoy
designing or discovering something new."
The Creative Personality
Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they
are also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours with great
concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. The
energy of these people is internally generated and is due more to their
focused minds than to the superiority of their genes. Their energy is
under their control - it is not controlled by an external source.
Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same
time. It is obvious that low intelligence interferes with creative
accomplishment, but being brilliant can also be detrimental to creativity.
Some people with high IQs become complacent and secure in their mental
superiority and lose the curiosity that is essential in creating anything
new. Naiveté is the most important attribute of genius. A certain
immaturity, both emotional and mental, may go hand in hand with the
deepest insights. (An example is Mozart.)
A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of
playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. A
playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals - exploring
ideas. This playfulness doesn't go far without its antithesis, a quality
of doggedness, endurance, and perseverance. Much hard work is necessary to
bring a novel idea to completion and to surmount the obstacles a creative
person inevitably encounters.
Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at
one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other. Both are needed
to break away from the present without losing touch with the past. Albert
Einstein once wrote that art and science are two of the greatest forms of
escape from reality that humans have devised. Great art and great science
involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the
present. They both create a new reality.
Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum
between extroversion and introversion. Each of us tends to be one or
the other - either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on
the sidelines and observing the passing show. In current psychological
research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable
personality traits that differentiate people from each other and than can
be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to
express both traits at the same time. This is generally true - one must
generally be alone in order to write, paint, experiment. It requires some
solitary time. Yet, the importance of seeing people, hearing people,
exchanging ideas, and getting to know another person's work and mind are
stressed by creative individuals. "Nobody can be anybody without
somebody being around."
Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the
same time. These individuals are well aware that they stand "on
the shoulders of giants." Their respect for the domain in which they
work makes them aware of the long line of previous contributions to it,
which puts their own into perspective. Second, they are aware of the role
that luck played in their own achievements. Third, they are usually so
focused on future projects and current challenges that their past
accomplishments, no matter how outstanding, are no longer of interest to
them. It is also seen as a contrast between ambition and selflessness - or
competition and cooperation. It is necessary for creative individuals to
be ambitious and aggressive; yet, they are often willing to subordinate
their own personal comfort and advancement to the success of the project
on which they are working.
In all cultures, men are brought up to be "masculine" and
to disregard aspects of their temperament that culture regards as
"feminine"; whereas, women are expected to do the opposite.
Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this type of rigid gender
role. When tests of masculinity/ femininity are given to young people, one
finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tougher than
other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than
their male peers. The psychological concept refers to a person's ability
to be at the same time aggressive and nurturing, sensitive and rigid,
dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. Therefore, this type of
person doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with
the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities.
Generally, creative people are thought to be rebellious and
independent. Yet, in order to be creative, one must first internalize
a domain of culture - a person must believe in the importance of such a
domain in order to learn its rules. So, one must be both traditional and
conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic. Being only
traditional leaves the domain unchanged; constantly taking chances without
regard to what has been valued in the past rarely leads to novelty that is
accepted as an improvement. Being different for difference sake produces
nothing. No creative thought or created thing grows out of a negative
impulse. However, the willingness to take risks, and break with tradition
Most creative people are very passionate about their work - yet they
can be extremely objective about it also. Without the passion, we soon
lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it,
our work is not good and lacks credibility.
Finally, the openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often
exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.
This great sensitivity can cause anxieties that are not usually felt by
the rest of us. He/ she is so responsive to the world around them, so
sensitive, so driven to respond to it that it is almost unbearable.
The Creative Environment
While beautiful surroundings might catalyze the moment of insight, the
other phases of the creative process - such as preparation and evaluation
- seem to benefit from familiar, comfortable surroundings. While a
complex, stimulating environment is useful for providing new insights, a
more placid setting is needed for pursuing the majority of creative
endeavors - the much longer periods of preparations that must precede the
flash of insight, and the equally long periods of evaluation that follow.
It also helps to be in an environment where creativity is encouraged -
where others are also creating and creativity is nurtured.