Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Creativity

How do we define creativity?

Creativity is the ability of individuals to develop novel and useful products. Novelty, originality, innovation, ingenuity are some of the words often used to define creativity. But originality is just one component of creativity. There is another essential aspect of creativity – the idea should be effective, useful or productive. 

Creativity exists in many domains and is not just limited to the arts, as most people seem to think. Creativity is at work behind most scientific inventions, innovative gadgets, health technologies and economic theories which have changed the world.

Individuals differ in their propensity and capacity to be creative. Many of us are creative in small ways - in ways we find solutions to problems of everyday life. Only a few are highly creative and leave their mark on the world.

What does it take to be creative?

Creative individuals tend to possess some qualities or traits that may contribute to or are associated with their original thinking:
  • Excellence: creative people are usually masters in their particular domains.
  • Interests: they tend to be interested and curious about many things outside their main subject. This probably enables them to combine ideas or techniques from other disciplines in unusual ways to come up with novel, workable solutions to problems.
  • Exploratory: They tend to be open to new experiences, ideas and ways of doing things.
  • Motivation: most creative individuals are passionate about their interests and internally motivated.
Creativity is not about sitting and waiting for a sudden flash of insight or inspiration. This insight usually comes after much time spent in gaining knowledge and working hard at the task on hand. Discipline and perseverance are an essential part of the creative process.

As Edison famously said
Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration
High intelligence does not equate with creativity, however, creative people tend to have an above average IQ.

Can creativity be taught?

The generally accepted view is that creativity is not a set of skills which can be taught or learnt. However, certain habits, tools or strategies can be taught, and an environment that encourages and fosters creativity can be provided in our homes, schools and workplaces.
  • Building basic skills and domain-specific knowledge
  • Stimulating and rewarding curiosity and exploration
  • Encouraging internal motivation, mastery and self-competition
  • Providing opportunities and resources
  • Promoting a willingness to take risks

Creativity and mental health

Those in creative, artistic professions tend to have a higher than average correlation with mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar illness, substance abuse and suicide risk. 

Conversely, creative activities such as music, dance, art, journaling and poetry writing have been known to promote psychological well-being.

Does treatment of mental illness reduce creativity?

Treatment of mental illness could both help or hurt creativity. When treatment reduces fearfulness and avoidance it helps creativity. When it reduces motivation and flexibility it can hurt creativity. In practice there is usually a delicate balance that needs to be monitored. Some treatments are more effective at preserving creativity than others. Treatment that preserves goal-driven motivation helps all people, not only those in the arts field. As with most other aspect of health, physical exercise and adequate sleep help creativity.

Creativity is not all good nor all beneficial to society. A quick survey of the daily newspaper is enough to demonstrate how people resort to extremely creative ways to cheat, defraud or harm others.

References

  1. Flaherty AW. Brain illness and creativity: mechanisms and treatment risks. Can J Psychiatry. 2011;56(3):132–143. doi:10.1177/070674371105600303
  2. MacCabe JH, Sariaslan A, Almqvist C, Lichtenstein P, Larsson H, Kyaga S. Artistic creativity and risk for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and unipolar depression: a Swedish population-based case-control study and sib-pair analysis. Br J Psychiatry. 2018;212(6):370–376. doi:10.1192/bjp.2018.23

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