PART 1: What is Creativity?
In the late 1960s, the psychologist J.P. Guilford drew a distinction between two forms of thinking: convergent and divergent. With its frequent use of standardized tests, education today tends to lean heavily toward convergent thinking, which emphasizes the importance of arriving at a single correct answer. Divergent thinking, however, requires coming up with alternative theories and ideas, sometimes many of them, to produce a useful solution.
Guilford claims that divergent thinking is required during all stages of the creative process. However, some degree of convergent thinking (which leads to a single solution) is also required, particularly during the elaboration phase of the creative process, when it is essential to discriminate and choose between alternatives (convergent) while at the same time generating new ideas (divergent).
Essentially, Guilford is equating thinking creatively with thinking "outside the box," a concept with which we are all familiar. Rosa Aurora Chavez-Eakle of the Maryland State Department of Education Council for the Gifted and Talented goes into more detail in this passage from a 2010 paper published by the Johns Hopkins School of Education:
"During the past decade, I developed the association integration-elaboration-communication phenomenological model of creativity (Chávez, 1999, Chávez, 2004). This model was developed from phenomenological observations and deep phenomenological interviews with poets, scientists, writers, music composers, social researchers, and plastic artists. The first stage of the creative process, the association-integration stage involves the association of previously unrelated elements of inner and outer experiences, forming new associations among what is perceived through the senses, thoughts, memories, ideas, and emotions.
"The second stage, the elaboration, involves all the subsequent conscious and voluntary work that is required to transform the associations developed in the previous stage into tangible works. The final stage, communication, involves sharing the work with others, a process that can be challenging and requires special courage. Sharing the creative outcome with others often unleashes new creative processes in other individuals, making creativity 'contagious.'"
Note that Chavez says she interviewed not only artists but "scientists" and "social researchers," still identifying a singular definition of the creative process. This finding is in keeping with the current notion that creativity should not only be associated with fine artists and performers, but with doctors, engineers, historians, technicians, and anyone else whose job requires—or even allows— them to think outside the box.
But wouldn't you call doctors and engineers innovative, not creative? What is the difference?
True, creativity and innovation are often conflated, and rightfully so--each contains elements of the other. The consensus appears to be that, while creativity may never manifest itself in a measurable way, innovation always leads to a quantifiable end product or result.
In April, Business Insider released a piece entitled, "There's a Critical Difference Between Creativity and Innovation." The author writes, "The main difference between creativity and innovation is the focus.
Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas.
Those concepts could manifest themselves in any number of ways, but most often, they become something we can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste. However, creative ideas can also be thought experiments within one person's mind.
Creativity is subjective, making it hard to measure, as our creative friends assert.
Innovation, on the other hand, is completely measurable. Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems. It's also concerned with the work required to make an idea viable. By identifying an unrecognized and unmet need, an organization can use innovation to apply its creative resources to design an appropriate solution and reap a return on its investment.
Organizations often chase creativity, but what they really need to pursue is innovation. Theodore Levitt puts it best: "What is often lacking is not creativity in the idea-creating sense but innovation in the action-producing sense, i.e. putting ideas to work."
By this definition, we can gather that innovation requires creativity to be effective, and creativity requires innovation to be effected.
Some may argue that it doesn't matter which term you use; creativity and innovation are part and parcel of the same idea: originality.
But is this even true?
Kenneth Goldsmith, the first-ever poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, thinks not. For the past several years, Goldsmith has been teaching a class at UPenn called Uncreative Writing, which inverts the paradigm of traditional "creative writing" courses. His students are penalized for any semblance of originality and "creativity," and rewarded for plagiarism, repurposing, sampling, and outright stealing. But as counterproductive and blasphemous as this may sound, it turns out to be a gateway to something unusual yet inevitable, that certain slot machine quality of creativity:
"The secret: the suppression of self-expression is impossible. Even when we do something as seemingly 'uncreative' as retyping a few pages, we express ourselves in a variety of ways. The act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves as our story about our mother's cancer operation. It's just that we've never been taught to value such choices. After a semester of forcibly suppressing a student's 'creativity' by making them plagiarize and transcribe, she will approach me with a sad face at the end of the semester, telling me how disappointed she was because, in fact, what we had accomplished was not uncreative at all; by not being 'creative,' she produced the most creative body of writing in her life. By taking an opposite approach to creativity — the most trite, overused, and ill-defined concept in a writer's training — she had emerged renewed and rejuvenated, on fire and in love again with writing."
This concept may be too difficult for younger students to grasp, but it is an extremely useful redefinition of creativity in today's information-saturated world, and an idea that Thomas Friedman was getting at in his New York Times piece, "The Professor's Big Stage": Due to the sheer volume of text on the Internet, and the ease with which we are granted access to information, it no longer matters what we know but what we can do with what we know.
According to Goldsmith, the definition of creativity is shifting, so that it no longer aligns with notions of "original genius" and inventiveness. A vast amount of material is here before us; why waste our creative energy adding to it when we can use that energy to manipulate what we already have?
Still, one could argue that this idea is, itself, original.
Regardless of how you choose to define creativity, experts tend to agree that it's attainable for everyone. Researchers say that no one is born with a special capacity for creativity; it's an innate form of potential found in all human beings. That isn't to say that everyone grows up in an environment that values or nurtures creativity—because it will remain in the form of untapped potential if no one bothers to tap it— but it will flow freely if permitted.