Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Puzzle 1. The Intrinsic Nature of Creativity

What is creativity? ––– This question has been made from time immemorial, scientific approaches to understand creativity started just in the middle of the 20th century. Psychologist studied creativity focusing on personality and cognition at first, and then broadened their horizons to social and cultural aspects (Boden 1994, Sternberg 1999, Sawyer 2006). Moreover, social psychologist and sociologist also have studied creative collaborations done by two or more people, which are realizing everywhere in the world today.

Although considerable effort has been spent on the studies to figure out the nature of creativity, we regret to say that these psychological and sociological approaches have its limitations as well as any approaches. There, in my view, remain following three puzzles related each other: (1) the intrinsic nature of creativity, (2) the contingent nature of creative processes, and (3) the difference of creativity between individual and group.

First of all, here, I would like to look at the first puzzle in more details.

1. The intrinsic nature of creativity

Creativity is often defined by referring to others' evaluations about the novelty of product. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leading psychologist of creativity studies, pointed out the importance of social and cultural dimension as follows: "[...] creativity cannot be recognized except as it operates within a system of cultural rules, and it cannot bring forth any thing new unless it can enlist the support of peers" (Csikszentmihalyi 1999).

I agree that the reference to the difference from the existing ideas, products, or outcomes, is necessary to evaluate the social value of creative output, however, in this standpoint one cannot understand the intrinsic nature of creative process. Let me explain why with some examples.

Imagine a scientist lived in isolated island. He invented a new theory about a certain phenomena, deliberating with series of his experiments. Then he wrote the paper about the theory and travelled to give a presentation in an academic conference. After the presentation, he was getting to know the fact that a quite similar theory was already presented years ago. He actually did not know the fact before his invention, however he was never credited with the theory because it is merely "re-invention". He is, therefore, hardly considered "creative" in terms of the invention of the theory. This consequence is ordinary, and I agree that it is meaningful criteria from social viewpoint. Nevertheless, isn’t there really any creativity at all? Can we say with assurance that the invention itself by the unlucky scientist is not "creative", if the process to invent the theory is improbable in the ordinary way?

Let me tell one more example. A child is playing with blocks in the room, and she is getting to feels bored. She realizes that the reason is there is no sound. Then she thinks out a new way of playing blocks with the empty boxes. Drums! With using two bar blocks, she becomes to make loud sounds by beating the boxes as drums. Needless to say, she is not a first person to do so, therefore it is unable to say that she is "creative". Is it really adequate?

The question above can be summarized as follows: Can’t one really call a process "creative" without the evaluation of novelty by others? My standpoint, that is the standpoint of the creative systems theory, is that one can consider a process as "creative" without reference to others' evaluation of the product. In other word, there is an intrinsically creative process. I will re-define the term "creative" to fit such a usage, shifting the focus from abilities to processes. Furthermore, I offer to distinguish "creative" events in a (creative) process from "creative" evaluation in social context. Consequently, we can consider a certain processes as "creative" even if they are mere re-inventions as a result.

Boden, M. A. (ed.) (1994). "Dimensions of Creativity": MIT Press
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). Implications of a Systems Perspective for the Study of Creativity, Handbook of Creativity, Sternberg, R. J. (ed.), Cambridge University Press.
Iba, T. (2009). An Autopoietic Systems Theory for Creativity, This first conference on Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs).
Sawyer, R.K. (2006). Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, Oxford University Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (ed.) (1999), Handbook of Creativity, Cambridge University Press.

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