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Creativity

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

Part A: The necessary attributes of creativity

Introduction
Personally, I've had a long dislike of the notion of "creativity". My values are truth (for pure research), and utility (for applied fields); but creativity is defined in terms of novelty. Novelty has nothing to do with whether something is a good idea or an effective technique; neither does who should get the credit for it. However various things have combined to make me jot down a few basic ideas a) to orient myself in this topic; and b) to explore some connections of creativity with education e.g. how to teach it (e.g. to engineers), and how to assess it if you do teach it.

That personal dislike may be due to my discipline. It is important to recognise that some disciplines require their students to exhibit creativity, originality (even if in fact they don't really have any): to be different from the student next to them. Others require their students to conceal it, even if in fact they are creative; and to make it look as if their suggestions proceed from evidence or authority, not from themselves. There is no a priori reason to assume there will be or can be any agreement about creativity; not even about whether it is a good thing. The phrase "creative accounting" in fact illustrates that creativity can be criminal, and is certainly NOT a core disciplinary value in some areas e.g. those which stress reliablity, safety, accuracy.

Definitions of creativity: (N.B. should we be defining novelty, originality, or creativity?)

  • "Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible" [from the VIA strengths questionnaire, assessing whether creativity is a personal strength]
  • "Creativity is the ability to come up with ideas or artefacts that are new, surprising, and valuable." [from Boden]
  • "A set of skills and attitudes needed in generating ideas and products that are relatively novel, high in quality and appropriate to task in hand." [Amabile]
  • "Creating" is the new top level of Bloom's taxonomy as redefined by [Anderson & Krathwohl et al.] See this page especially table 1 and also:
  • Table 8, which relates it to the spectrum of learning transfer. [me]

    My summary (much like Boden's) would be that creativity must have:

  • Human agency (as its cause)
  • Utility (i.e. of value to people)
  • Novelty (as a matter of history)
  • Surprise (contrary to expectations)
    Novelty without value is not wanted (e.g. the splash a dropped meal makes on the floor). Even being novel and useful but pedestrian is what we require from employees following rules, and is not enough for "creativity", so surprise is also required. (N.B. surprise entails novelty, but not vice versa.) Also required is agency (normally human): we don't normally say a sunset is creative, however surprising, novel, and pleasurable it may be (after a volcanic eruption, say). Note that surprise is a psychological perception, but the first three conditions could (sometimes with difficulty) be defined/measured objectively.

    Boden's view, and mine too, is that creativity consists of generating a new combination of old elements.

    Note too that creativity generally refers to the idea or design, rather than to the material object created or manufactured to embody it. (A foundry worker may produce a bronze statue, but we attribute creativity to the sculptor, even though the word "create / creativity" seems to imply physical bringing into existence.)

    The 0th dimension: Human agency as the origin of the product or idea
    Creativity vs. discovery: if a surprising and valued thing has not been created by humans, then we say it is discovered. In current English usage, even those who speak (religiously) of a creator, do not seem to say that God is creative. (It would be odd to say that an omniscient, omnipotent being surprised herself.) We use "creative" to discuss human production, not natural or supernatural creation. Similarly, if something is plagiarised, it might be novel to its readers but not to the plagiariser. All this suggests that "creativity" is about how minds surprise themselves and each other.

    The 1st dimension: Utility (or goal, or value)
    It is presupposed, required, that anything that is called creative is somehow useful practically or "interesting" i.e. of value intellectually (or aesthetically). However it is hard to define this simply because discussions of creativity are frequently about things whose value is only recognised, at least by most people, later. Faraday is famously said to have replied to the question of what good electricity was by "Madam, what good is a baby?". It illustrates that at that time ordinary people couldn't see any application for electricity: but he had faith in it. Conversely, many artifacts are invented and sold, only for their users to develop new uses (new value) undreamt of by the "inventor".

    However value is not only tricky to perceive for the future, it is often different for the individual and for the group. That is, there are things that are useful and interesting to me, but not to others (my family history, my "piling system" -- my arrangement of work in superficially disorganised piles). Conversely, things of quite low quality are often very important as a whole just because so many people want them a bit that economics makes them cheap and plentiful e.g. air travel, soap operas.

    In fact value is not quite independent of agency ...

    [?] I-creativity: Idiosyncratic value. Some things have a utility (e.g. "sentimental value") not really because it depends on the individual's judgement, but because what is useful to one person really is sometimes different from what is useful to someone else (e.g. a prosthetic leg, ...).
    [?] POP-creativity: popular/populist value. Here value is defined by the group, not the individual. Where mass market appeal means large numbers value the product, even if only a little bit. Soap operas, cheap air flights are examples of this, because the mass market makes it economical to satisfy demand for quite low-utility things.

    Thus value is relative to the person or group, but can in principle be objectively measured by a third party.

    The 2nd dimension: Novelty
    Maggie Boden distinguishes:
    [1] P-creativity ("Person")
    [2] H-creativity ("Historical").
    The former is something new to the individual person who creates it; the latter is new to the human race, or at least to their "culture": the group that shares this kind of knowledge. Obviously a person may re-invent something so it is a creative mental act for them, but not a contribution to human culture unless no-one else has done it already. Conversely, as discussed in a moment below, we may be completely unaware of the source of our thought i.e. feel it is an original, creative insight, yet it could be obviously (to others) derived from someone else.

    It is not straightforward to define the group that shares it, since different kinds of knowledge spread in different virtual groups; and none of them are well defined by national state boundaries. Current British English is influenced by African American slang, but not by Indian speakers of English, nor by French speakers. The Vikings reached North America, yet that knowledge did not spread throughout Europe; and a different way of sailing there had to be discovered about 600 years later.

    This dimension, generating the two types above, is important to cognitive models of how a person can generate new ideas. A cognitive model needs to be of P-creativity; and then we can explain H-creativity as caused by the P-creativity of the first person to have that idea. This distinction is also of great importance to education. Constructivism asserts that all significant learning is P-creative: requiring re-construction inside the learner's mind. And to a great extent, in our culture at least, we define learning in terms of "transfer": i.e. the capability of doing something with a new idea that is more than a tape recorder can: of applying it in a new context we haven't previously considered. This has a significant element of creativity: of being able to put the old idea and new context together in a combination (and with consequences) that is new to the learner i.e. is P-creative.

    Thus novelty too is relative to a person or group (society), but can in principle be objectively measured by a third party.

    Social credit. An important mechanism?
    Note however that it is just our current culture (society) that makes much of creative artists, engineers, and scientists. Medieval cathedrals, in contrast, were designed and built by individuals we know almost nothing of: no such social value was then put on celebrating those responsible for "creativity". So H-creativity is not equally interesting in all societies. And note too that our culture doesn't apply it to all things: new words are coined all the time, but credit is not given to the originators. In fact most people don't even know that many of our words were coined by Shakespeare: we credit him with other kinds of creativity.

    Boden's analysis and dimensions are essentially individualistic, and attempt to be objectively factual: something either is new or not (a historical fact), even if it has to apply twice, once to the individual and once to society or some group. Even surprise (below) is treated as a fact about individuals' state of mind: their expectations. However as this page/essay develops, it looks more and more like a big part of our interest in creativity is really essentially a social question of to whom are going to give credit? The words "original" and "creative" seem mostly to be used only to denote this kind of social credit. In other words, we have moved from discussing attributes of an act or action; to attributes (traits, characterisitics) of a human agent. And not even that: it is about who should get the credit. And like money: that is not a factual matter, but one of social convention and practice. And this is no a matter of truth but of deciding how we choose to do it.

    In fact this is also true of attributing causation.

    The 3rd dimension: Surprise
    Surprise ≈ a shift in expectations more than in reality or achievement.

    Boden's two types assume a godlike, hindsight view of whether something is novel (to the person or mankind respectively). However also interesting and important is whether a person perceives something they do as creative. This is often unrelated to the actual case. For instance research in AI and linguistics shows that many, perhaps most, sentences a person utters are new: that person has never uttered them before. However no-one feels that this is creative, perhaps because essentially everyone not only can do it, but does it every day. On the other hand, feeling original ("creative") is often important to people. What it is that determines whether people feel, i.e. judge themselves to be, creative is an additional important topic we need to study. This is analogous to metamemory: people's considerable, though imperfect, ability to know whether they know something before and without actually recalling it. Although intuitively we associate surprise with suddenness, in reality that is irrelevant. What defines surprise is violation of expectancy. An ambush, no matter how suddenly fighting bursts out, is not a surprise if superior reconnaissance has warned the intended victims. Conversely, people may be very slow to adjust their expectations but we would still say an act was creative even if it took years for many to accept it.

    Judging whether something is creative is important to us. So there are two more types of creativity that are subjective.

    [3] SP-creativity: self-perceived creativity. This relates to self-actualisation: when a person feels they are being creative, creating a way of doing something that is new to them. Maslow's notion of self-actualisation, and the use in Positive Psychology of "creativity" as one of 24 strengths a human may have are indicators of how important this is. Thus whether a person feels they are creative seems to be linked to their well-being. As we have seen, this is a perception, and has no clear relationship to available objective measures of creativity.

    [4] GP-creativity: group-perceived creativity. Group acclaim. This is when other people, one's peers, one's society perceive you as having done something creative: i.e. novel to them and useful. While in some respects contemptible ("just fashion"), this valuing is built on the fundamental implicit values of all communication: to only say things that are relevant, and a major necessary condition of relevance is that the Hearers do not already know what you are saying. Thus (perceived) novelty is in fact absolutely necessary to communication (otherwise we would be stalled, repeating the endless number of things the other person already knows).

    Surprise is about a clash between something we encounter and our meta-memory-like sense of what to expect. We run our lives, not by having exhaustive plans for everything, but by having a good estimate of the things we need to prepare for and the things we can expect to deal with as and when they come up. For example, many people expect to go abroad for a holiday once a year, but probably only have plans about one year ahead: they just assume they will be able to plan and achieve further holidays beyond that. You can see in the press how this applies to other things. We tend to feel that an effective flu vaccine is to be expected, and are critical when one is not available; but we don't expect a machine that stops earthquakes to be invented. This dimension of surprise is about not having predicted the existence of a solution to a problem, or about the revelation of unintended consequences (good, bad, or mixed) of some invention.

    The point is that there are often some relatively short duration moments when new implications come into view during the process of developing an idea, rather like the way a dozen steps, out of the thousands it takes to climb a hill, sometimes uncover (or hide) a large vista. In design, this might be a new use (application), or perhaps realising for the first time that there is an application at all. These estimates (surprises) are what make it so hard both to foresee the future and to decide how much to worry about identified problems. Surprise is a sudden shift in our (meta-memory type) estimate of what can be developed, be expected to be doable.

    See also Rob Saunders. He has a computational model of creativity; and it employs a kind of (a simulation of) peer evaluation of proposed ideas that is in effect a judgement procedure for GP-creativity (Blay Whitby says).

    It seems obviously absurd to say "Columbus discovered America", not only because Columbus died still believing he had reached Asia and never knew it was a continent new to him, but because the continent had been there for tens or hundreds of millions of years before humans, and humans had lived there for thousands of years before Columbus stumbled on it, and even among Europeans the Vikings had preceded him. But it does illustrate how important it is for a social group, when it learns something new (cf. H-creativity); and also that the "group" that seems important here is not a political group but in some functional sense a community of knowledge (in this case, Europe rather than Spain, or the profession of navigators, or ...). It also shows how creativity is relative to a wider group: is about the entrance of knowledge to this wider group.

    In fact this case illustrates that the social group concerned must be about sharing knowledge. Vikings seem not to have passed on their knowledge of America effectively, and it had been forgotten. The Chinese had in fact also sailed to America shortly before; and sent back written accounts; but this knowledge had been suppressed in China. Thus surprise is relative to a person or group; but it is doubtful if it can be objectively measured by a third party because it is a subjective feeling or perception, albeit with considerable consensus among people in many cases.

    You can't have surprise without novelty, but surprise adds an additional requirement to novelty. So should I use surprise but drop novelty as a distinct defining condition for creativity? Novelty can in principle be established objectively by historical data, but surprise is defined by expectations: essentially a subjective measure of mental attitudes not of observable behaviour. Thus they bring out different aspects of our concept of creativity.

    Summary table: types of creativity product

    Types of creativity (product)
    As judged by: ↓ Relative to the: → Individual Group
    Utility Useful / interesting as judged by whom? → I-creativity
    Idiosyncratic needs,
    convenience,
    curiosity
    (learning)
    POP-creativity
    Mass market appeal
    e.g.cheap air travel
    (teaching)
    Novelty Novel to whom? →
    Objective;
    Actual novelty
    P-creativity
    A first for that person
    H-creativity
    A first for humanity
    Originality
    Surprise Surprising to whom? →
    Subjective;
    perceived novelty
    SP-creativity
    Self-actualisation
    GP-creativity
    Group acclaim, relevance

    Part B: Agency, and types of process for creativity

    (See also Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink.)

    Of the four defining properties of creativity, three were seen as describing the product and dealt with above. This section addresses the remaining property of creativity: the "zero-th" dimension of human agency. This has two aspects: the human (who or where do the ideas come from; and what are the relevant connections between creativity and being human), and agency (is it a purposeful process or not; or can it be accidental). This leads to broadening the discussion at times beyond creativity (just as not everything surprising is creative, so not everything with human agency counts as creative). However what defines the theme of this section is process as opposed to the product (the result of a creative act) which was the focus of the previous section. This section develops a set of dimensions or attributes of processes. The aim is that all creative processes can be compared and contrasted by these attributes, although other processes, especially those leading to products called "discoveries" rather than "creative", can also be compared here.

    By the end of the whole section, we can return to summarise what we have uncovered about the relationship of agency or purposefulness to the process of creativity, and the connection of humans to it (as opposed, say, to a machine for creativity).

    It is clear from everyday usage of the term "creativity" that it is only applied to human actions, but this is so entirely taken for granted that it is not mentioned in the definitions of creativity that I've come across. However it seems clear, if implicit, from Aristotle's classification of types of cause that we can find a way to see almost anything both as caused by a person, and as caused by non-human factors. Blame games (and praise games) focus on human agents as the cause and are derided for wishing to ignore non-human causes that may be more sensible. Similarly modern psychology documents "attribution biasses": tendencies to attribute causes that, because of their assymmetries, cannot be rational e.g. people tend to explain their own actions as due to external pressures, but others' actions as due to their inherent traits. Thus there is generally a huge middle ground in which, without being grossly irrational, we may either choose a perspective that explains events as due to human intentional action, or alternatively another perspective that explains them as due to non-human, material causes. Even though the simple analysis of everyday uses of "creativity" shows that it is generally a label emphasising human intention as the central driving cause, any attempt to deal with creativity from a third party perspective (e.g. assessing students for creativity) probably needs to recognise that a product that could count as creative could often alternatively be seen as a non-creative consequence of other factors.

    These are issues of the process of creativity, rather than the product. They raise issues of who or what the driving force for the process is, what they already had and what they seek out, ....

    Why should we need humans' (rather than a machine's) creativity?
    Why should we need purposefulness (agency) for creativity?

    Gradualism vs. catastrophism
    While a favourite type of story is of Eureka moments, where an original insight appears in a flash, this "catastrophism" is distorting as an account of creativity since slow, incremental, trial and error improvements are far more common; whether of a design for a toaster, a new jet aircraft, or a piece of writing. "Step by tedious step, we stumble away from abject failure. And that's on a good day." [Barth Netterfield] Slow incremental evolution ("gradualism") is a process where P-creativity, and SP-creativity, are much less than H-creativity: the former diminishes to a tiny value as the inventor gets sick of endless little changes, while the H-creativity slowly goes up as the value which the product will have when the public finally gets to see it increases. Another argument against catastrophism as the usual mechanism of creativity are the many cases where artifacts are used for purposes the inventor did not envisage: and so could not possibly have "been creative" about. I.e. this is H-creativity without P-creativity; and where the users discover uses for the invention which the "inventor" did not know or value. It may be that the construction of solutions is gradual, yet the experience of surprise sudden. And/ or that creativity seems or is gradual for the individual inventor, but sudden for society.

    Gradualism vs. catastrophism have been important rival schools of explanation in Geology in the past; and later (today) in Evolution theory. In both fields, the eventual view seems to be that there are cases of both, and this is probably true of creativity. However we should note the metaphor sketched earlier, of how most steps up a mountain make only gradual changes to the vista, but a few steps are associated with rapid, even dramatic, shifts in what is in view. Since surprise is an essential aspect of creativity, we should perhaps expect that creativity often feels as if it is a sudden (catastrophic) process, yet is actually an outcome of generally much slower processes.

    This time scale dimension, or choice of perspective, is independent of the other issues of agency.

    The gradual vs. sudden timescale of the process of creativity seems related to the surprise dimension of the product. However the argument above about the surprise dimension is that that is essentially about a readjustment of expectations, rather than the shortness of the period in which this is done. For example, the Sydney opera house took over 14 years to construct, yet everyone regards it as creative and in large part because it was so markedly different from what, up till then, you might expect of an opera house.

    The source: Where does the information used in creativity come from?
    Help from whom or what?
    As soon as you realise that creativity might not be instantaneous but iterative, stepwise, then the question arises as to whether the inventor gets help (information) during the creative process. They might not: some things are just worked out in the head yet take a long time. But they might: they might get information from experiments and observations on inanimate things. Or from a human authority; or a collaborator; or from feedback from user testing. In which case, should the search-director get the credit or the source of the information? Do you own your own genes, or do they belong to the biologist who sequences them?

    This is the first aspect of the issue of whether an innovation "comes from" a person: the inventor. In some cases and senses it does. But it seems clear that in others, the director / inventor may also obtain vital information from other people. The types of source of information that may be important to feed creative outputs are:

    Thus even if we require a human agent for creativity, the process more often than not involves seeking out information from other things or other people, and doesn't just emerge from inside the inventor's mind.

    If the search depends on other people or things, why attribute its value to the director?

    Search, and Purposefulness (Agency)
    Was there any intentional, directed human effort behind a new idea, or piece of it, at all? The main alternatives may be:

    Thus items may be discovered accidentally. We should however note that even then it may only be noticed, observed, and reported by a trained observer, and not by other people. When Fleming discovered penicillin, a non-biologist would have been unlikely to recognise that the absence of bacteria was an active sign of death, the sign of the presence of an invisible antibiotic substance.

    Considering the gradual nature of some creative processes, extended over time, and how information sources other than the inventor's own mind are frequently central, both demonstrate the role of purposefulness or agency. The agent manages a search for answers, and may use the answers obtained in ways different from any of the people who may have provided the answer. This is not like a Eureka moment, but it is like an artist endlessly "oversketching" (drawing many versions of the same line in a sketch to see which looks best or right), a poet repeatedly changing this or that word, an engineer trying different materials or shapes for their new device.

    The process of searching for answers has several contrasting types, depending on the question. One type of search is to answer a specific closed question e.g. looking up someone's email address. The other extreme is an open-ended question such as "What is over the next hill?", what happens when you mix these two substances? etc.

    And furthermore, even when there is no active search, it still takes an important mental property to recognise something important when you come across it by accident (like Fleming). The unprepared mind tends not to notice and does not act on it; the prepared one does. On the whole, though you may discover something by accident, you don't say something was created by accident.

    Purposeful (2)? Was there any purpose at all behind the invention?
    We tend to use the term "discovery" in science and geography, and to use it for the parts separately. Also, discovery may be purposeful (searching for an answer), intentional, and human. Yet we don't say "creative" about such things. That may be because there is no surprise: if the question is precise and formulated, then the existence of an answer is not surprising. (Meta-memory again.) Climbing Everest for the first time was not surprising for the spectators, though enough for the news.

    Invention, creativity is more about putting the two parts together; and also thereby solving a problem. Creativity is about something human: a problem that is solved; not a dispassionate description of the world.

    There are two (at least) opposing accounts of innovation: one is the Eureka one, attributing it to creativity: to mental creation by an individual with no antecedants we are aware of. The other is of correcting the bad practices of the past in order to do it right: which is not being creative but seeing how to do it the Lord's way / the scientific way i.e. learning from an external source whether authority or observation. Different disciplines have different preferences for these two accounts. If the external source is observation, then we might call it "external context"; if it is other people ....

    The two parts of a creative idea. (If there is a purposeful search) What is sought? Creativity as project management and purposefulness
    An important point to recognise here is that all inventions or creative ideas are in fact the mating of two parts: a) the value, purpose, function, utility: what it is for, what problem it solves; with b) the solution, method, device, painting that illustrates and embodies it. This is obvious in product design, but applies equally to a poem or painting: what distinguishes them from random noise is that some people see them as valuable, novel, and unexpected (even though articulating that value in descriptive language is not required and usually not done.)

    Given that there are two parts, then an inventor is someone who puts them together but may not have invented both or either part in themselves. Frequently they begin with one and search for something that can play the part of the other. All find a way to fill the role of the other part. That means the essential creative act may be one of directing, managing the search, rather than supplying the parts.

    We can then subcategorise creative acts depending on which parts were there from the start, which found later; which were accidentally "found", which searched for. For example professional inventors may decide on the need for a new mousetrap or a videophone, and seek for a solution. Others however have stumbled on (discovered) a surprising feature and searched for a goal, for what it could be useful for. Post-it notes were invented when a glue firm accidentally invented one of the weakest glues ever seen, and wondered how that could possibly have a use. Similarly, SMS mobile phone texting was a function engineers realised was "there" anyway in the system they had built for voice, and could be offered to customers with little investment or running expense: but it was a great surprise when it was seen as so useful by customers.

    Put another way, two things are needed for a creation: a purpose or goal or identified value; and a solution or method for satisfying it. The 4 possibilities for a purposeful agent then are:

    If it is sought, then is it only discovered?

    So perhaps the inventor, the creative person, is the one who directs the search, rather than who generates the idea from nothing alone. This is also about whether the innovation "comes from" a person; and specifically about the project director role, distinct from who discovers the ideas about the parts.

    The above implies that there are not one but two things, bits of information, ideas to acquire in any invention, plus the idea of combining them. But it also implies that there is an essential role for a director in putting them together, distinct from being the source of the parts. This is a definition of a creator: the person who manages the process, and brings about the putting together of the two parts.

    Perhaps, if we maintain that human agency must be behind anything creative, there are 2 roles for the creative: a) putting the two parts (value and method) together; b) actively searching for one or both of the parts. You can discover facts / things; but creativity requires a problem, goal, need.

    In essence, discovery is a one part process, while creativity is defined by combining two parts.

    Discovery vs. creativity
    In some cases it is hard to identify why we would call a case discovery rather than creativity. In many cases however it is easy.

  • Discovery may or or may not be intended, and the result of human agency; i.e. have a manager / director. (Creativity must be.)
  • Discovery may be surprising, or not. (Creativity must be.)
  • A discovery may have utility, or not. (Creativity must have.)
  • Discovery may be only about value or method. (Creativity must have both; i.e. must have both of the two parts.)

  • Discovery, like creativity, may be either gradual or sudden.
  • Discovery, like creativity, must be novel.
  • Discovery, like creativity, may have as its information source the discoverer (e.g. discovering a new maths proof) or may depend on other sources.

    However for cases which qualify for creativity as well as discovery on all the above issues, there may remain a different kind of ambiguity about which it is. "Discovery" implies it is about external facts, not human wishes. However, as illustrated by Aristotle's ideas of causes, and by the psychological theory of attribution error, there is in many cases an ambiguity in how you interpret any one case.

    There is latitude in whether we attribute a discovery to creativity or not. The element Radium was isolated by Curie after much effort: it does occur in nature, but no-one knew it was there and it isn't easy to get hold of. Plutonium owes the possibility of its existence and its nature and properties to the same laws of physics as Radium, but in contrast does not occur in nature but is physically created (manufactured) in nuclear reactors. BUT the idea is not manufactured, so it's not creative.

    Yet no doubt many things get reinvented: perhaps this is P-creativity.

    The problems with drawing a clear line between discovery and creativity are, or include:

    Thus in part the distinction between discovery and creativity is not a matter of definition but of the perspective adopted by those selecting the term. If your attribution is focussed on what is different about the human involved, then "creativity" is the term. If it focussed on the world, on the non-human factors, then "discovery" feels more appropriate.

    Part C: Pausing to take stock

    Summary 1 (abandoned)

    My overall arg. structure for the summary
    1. Mgt and the 2 part issue: a core defining issue
      Entailment of this:
      • Director-mgt role is essential, not the info source role.
      • Various types depending what came first and from ?. [=see table?]
      • Brings out discovery vs. creativity
    2. Discovery / creativity: relocate as w/w/o value and/or surprise. This is an immediate next section following one on mgt. You can have surprise but w/w/o value.
    3. Summary of possible aspects of agent
      Summary of possible aspects of human
    4. The essential (as opposed to possible) aspects for creativity:
      • Has value: but doesn't need a human creator to measure this
      • Perhaps is deliberately worked on (2 parts put together)
        Could it be a machine agent?
        If software can surprise humans?
        Simulations do.

    Text of the section

    An essential feature of creativity with significant consequences for the process of creativity is that the essential role is not the physical production but intellectual production, and that it is not the production of the intellectual elements, but the fitting together of two parts (the function or value, and the solution or method). Thus it is the role of director or manager that is essential, not the role of information source. It also follows that creative processes could be classified depending on which of the two elements came first and was the starting point for a search for the second. It also leads to a distinction between creativity and discovery, which is the production of one element and without any assumption of purpose.

    Gradualism: makes the need for purposeful mgt more evident.

  • Discovery may be surprising, or not. (Creativity must be.)
  • A discovery may have value, or not. (Creativity must have.)

    There are two distinct needs for purposefulness in creativity:

    1. To manage the overall process, the combining of an idea about a need, and idea for a method.
    2. To carry out a search for a piece of information.

    There are three distinct roles for human involvement:

    1. As an information source for the creator (though non-human sources may also be used).
    2. Humans are particularly important as sources of information about human needs or wants. Market research exemplifies this: asking people about what they might want or buy.
    3. Humans may be agents i.e. act purposefully (though in some senses, software may carry out searches too).

    Creativity must have:

    Summary 2

    There are three main ideas developed above.

    1. The first main idea in this document is that there are four necessary conditions for something to be creative. (Although it is interesting to look at cases that have only some of these.)
      1. Human agency (as its cause)
      2. Utility (i.e. of value to people)
      3. Novelty (as a matter of history)
      4. Surprise (contrary to expectations)

    2. The second idea is Boden's one: that novelty may exist either relative to the person (P-creativity) or to their group or culture (H-creativity). Both these subtypes of creativity are important. The distinction can be applied to some other conditions. Surprise is determined by expectations, and is different between people. Importantly, the expectations of the general public and of those involved in active research and development are frequently different. The same applies to utility (the value an innovation has): something may be valuable to some, not to others; valuable to the inventor, not to enough others to make it financially valuable. It is also an issue of a kind with the requirement for human agency, as will be discussed. Is the creator / inventor the person who personally construct the idea, or the person who persuades and manages others in doing so and without whom it would not have happened?

      Most importantly, each of the necessary condition is relativised to either an individual or the group, and typically the relevant groups are different for each condition even for the same invention.

    3. The third idea is that most, perhaps all, cases of creativity can be thought of as being the combination of two essential parts or aspects:
      • The utility or goal or value achieved by the whole
      • The method of achieving it
      Frequently one of these is known and shared in advance, the other is the new bit; and there are many cases of each kind (and indeed some cases of both parts being novel). I.e. there are new creative solutions to old problems, and new uses for old methods (and machines and objects).

      Insight learning is the term from Köhler to denote essentially "Eureka" ideas: when there is no progressive gradual shaping of behaviour in the Behaviorist way, but nothing apparent and then suddenly the creature puts together several things (actions) in a way entirely novel to them, to successfully solve a puzzle. Humans do it sometimes; Köhler described it in apes; an ex-colleague of mine (Bob Boakes) showed it can happen in pigeons (though you have to wait a really long time and have a lucky pigeon). Its defining feature seems to be suddenness, as opposed to gradual construction of the idea or behaviour; i.e. no trial and error.

    Original vs. creative: a note

    Some people use the words "original" and "creative" as constrasting, although I myself do not usually see any reliable difference between them. (However there are certainly important distinctions to be made: the main content of this document is trying to identify them.) I saw a competition which had both originality and creativity as criteria, as if independent.

    Originality is (roughly) novelty: but usually relative to a group rather than to the inventor. (H-creativity) "Original" just means H-creative; but in terms of this page's analysis, the originality may be about the means rather then the end/value of the new idea.
    Example of originality and no creativity: accidental selection from things, objets trouvés.
    Example of creativity and no originality: P-creativity.
    So this note tries to map the two words on to personal creativity vs. culture-wide originality.

    Or perhaps, for me: "original" means surprising; while "creative" may mean novel but not surprising.

    Another way of mapping the words is on to the goal (value) vs. means distinction. So to be original, the conclusion has to be novel; while to be creative, the means of arguing or supporting the conclusion has to be novel. (Yet I could say "original argument"; "creative conclusion" .) To be original it must also be true and so useful (cf. insight learning); while to be "creative" is neutral on truth, and merely attest to novelty?

    Another way is to think about the distinction we feel about the scope of the novelty / innovation. If we think about walking across a shallow valley without paths, there are many variations on the line we might pick, but which all do the same job. Similarly, there are many ways to express even a simple given thought in English, which is why it is rare for people to use the same sentence more than once. A contrasting case is when a path takes us up over the side of a valley and suddenly we can see wholly new vistas. Technically, the novelty is equal, but we feel the latter kind is much more important. Sometimes people use "transformational" in an attempt to denote which innovations matter most.

    Attribution of social credit

    Lev Landau's [a great Russian physicist] group was discussing a bright new theory, and one of his junior colleagues bragged that he had independently discovered the theory a couple of years ago, but did not bother to publish his finding.
    "I would not repeat this claim if I were you," Landau replied: "There is nothing wrong if one has not found a solution to a particular problem. However, if one has found it but does not publish it, he shows a poor judgment and inability to understand what is important in modern physics".

    This may be important too in pure vs. applied cases. It is easy for a pure researcher to feel they "had" an idea, but not mention it; or not bring it to a usefully applied conclusion. Certainly true of Fleming and penicillin. The key here is that "utility / value" IS different to the two types of researcher.

    Again, the cases of "finding" something but not recognising what you have. Credit goes to the person who does recognise it.

    Hence Pasteur's dictum that "chance favours the prepared mind", applied to seeing the importance of what you see.

    Whose idea was it? who practically worked on estabishing the discovery? Gratitude or historical novelty?

    Giving credit to who writes it up, not who collected the data etc.

    Credit for agency?
    When do we see a person as crucial to the effort?
    Why not give credit to electricity generating staff; little research happens without that today.
    Or to the mothers of the researcher? without whom they would not exist?


    Part D: Classifying types of creativity

    The dimensions (variable properties) of the creativity process

    notes (1)

    The original dimensions give rise, not simply to binary present/absent properties, but to ways in which cases of creativity vary from each other.
  • Agency: what kind of human agency?
  • Novelty (never actually happened before): solo vs. group originality: and which is the relevant group to consider "around" the inventor?
  • Surprise (did it violate expectations, or not?). Gradual vs. sudden; and for which group? (different people / groups have different expectations).
  • Utility: or goal or value. Creativity for aesthetic purposes as much as for material utility. Or doing just because I want to: for some personal value neither aesthetic nor material.

    notes (2)

    In summary, I propose the following dimensions of the process of creativity, which are explored in the following tables. The first is one of the necessary defining conditions for creativity (human agency), while the others are dimensions on which the process of creativity varies between instances.

    I claim that these dimensions apply equally to technology (product design), Art, and also to entrepreneurial design of services, and to pure science. (Although I am personally more familiar with cases from technological creativity.)

    1. Is there a manager (inventor), actively seeking the answer?
      An active director?
    2. Which of the 2 parts (the goal or value; vs. the method or solution) came first? I.e. {Solution, value} X {Given, sought}
      I.e. which was given, and which sought?
    3. Information source: {Solution, value} X {Inventor, other people, observed world}
      Where did the information (the discovery) come from: the active director or inventor himself? or from others? or from researching the world?
    4. Time and surprise: was the invention gradual or sudden, (relative to each of: group vs. individual)

    Firstly, the question of whether there is an inventor acting as manager at all: in other words, whether the case satisfies the necessary condition ("0th dimension") for creativity of being due to human agency. Cases that do not nevertheless help by giving us a perspective on those that do, so a few are included as examples. Examples where an invention is just noticed, and so arguably cannot qualify as creative, are where both value and solution are noticed together. One case is noticing that sunken ships in some locations have functioned to begin a new reef: and now some ships have been placed and sunk deliberately for that purpose. Another might be noticing that cigarette smoke tends to repel midges, then smoking for that purpose. I.e. is there an active manager, or was the "creation" just observed and adopted?

    Secondly, since (according to the argument here) there are always 2 parts to any creativity which consists precisely of joining them, and the inventor's job is that of a manager who searches for the missing part, then we can classify each case by which of the two parts was "given" (there already), and which was searched for. If both are given then it is a case of no creativity (discovering something useful, as above). If neither are given, then it is a case of a professional inventor setting out to do invention by simultaneously looking for unsatisifed needs (functions) and for solutions that match them.

    Thirdly are the dimensions of information source: for each of value and solution, who or what supplied the information? The basic idea is whether it comes out of the "director's" head (as in painting and maths) or from testing the world, or asking other people. However a major reason for not having a single clear answer to this in many cases is that often, there may be a demonstrated key element that should make a solution possible, yet there also needs to be a substantial development process to establish how the solution can be reliably and economically produced. Penicillin is an example of how crucial this step is. In fact the same applies to the "value" element as well: managers may hit on a use they believe in, but only much further work and rolling it out will in fact prove whether or not there is real demand for it. This leads to ambiguity in how to describe each case and fill in entries to the table.

    Fourthly is the issue of whether the process is perceived as sudden or gradual, and by each of the inventor and the surrounding social group.

    Additionally is the contrast between pure science and saleable technology. Both are creative in these terms, but a science goal concerns the value of knowledge. In fact in both cases, the value is only really known (established) after the creation is fully delivered, and even then changes in time as the context changes.

    Illustrative tables of the attributes of the process

    This table illustrates how creations may be sudden or gradual; and how the perception of this is different from the viewpoints of the inventor or of others (the group).
    Perceived suddenness of the creativity process
    Perceived by others (group)
    Sudden Gradual
    Perceived by inventor (individual) Sudden Find a new species, SMS
    [Neither function nor solution anticipated]
    NW passage, cure ulcers, 4-colour theorem proof
    [Sudden solutions to long standing goals]
    Gradual Aniline dyes, PostIt
    [Slow development for unanticipated utility]
    Fusion power, maleria vaccine
    [Gradual progress on longstanding goals]


    This table illustrates how either part may come first (be a "given") or second (be sought by the inventor).
    Which of the 2 parts came first?
    Utility / goal / value
    Utility given Utility sought
    Solution Given Use sunken ships to create a reef
    [Discovery not creativity]
    Aniline dyes, PostIt notes
    [Novel uses]
    Sought Zero resistance electrical wire, HIV vaccine, Green automobiles, Penicillin-Florey
    [New solutions to pressing needs]
    Jackson Pollock, Radium
    [Professional inventors]

    Summary table: cases with the attributes of the creativity process for each

    This table compares and classifies different cases of creativity by these process properties.

    A creative design has:

    Dimensions of the creativity process
    Active director? Which part sought? Info source? Time
    If no=> not creative Value Solution Value Solution Inventor Social group
    Yes/No given/sought given/sought Dir/Others/World Dir/Others/World Sudden/Gradual Sudden/Gradual
    SMS phone texting Yes Sought Given Dir/Others Dir Sudden Sudden
    Penicillin,Fleming No Given Given Dir world Sudden -
    Penicillin,Florey Yes Given Sought world world Gradual Sudden
    PostIt notes Yes Sought Given Dir Dir Gradual Sudden
    DNA fingerprinting Yes Sought Given Dir Dir Gradual Sudden
    Perkins' aniline dye Yes Sought Given Dir Dir Sudden Sudden
    Sunken ships to initiate reefs No Given Given world world Sudden Sudden
    Columbus Yes - Dir - World Gradual? Sudden
    Radium (for sci) Yes Sought Sought Dir world/Dir Gradual Sudden
    Painting (perspective) Yes Sought Given Dir Others/Dir Gradual Gradual
    JacksonPollock Yes Sought Sought Dir Dir Gradual Gradual
    A new species Yes Given Sought Others World Sudden Sudden
    Plutonium for bombs Yes Given Sought Others world Gradual Sudden
    Kissograms Yes Sought Given Dir Others/Dir Gradual Sudden
    Proof of the 4 colour theorem Yes Given Sought Others Dir Gradual Gradual
    Vaccine for HIV Yes Given Sought Others Dir Not yet achieved Not yet achieved
    Zero electrical resistance wire ? Given Sought Others World ? gradual

    I shall here discuss each case, and the problems I have in filling in the table for it.

    PostIt: the research group discovered the weak glue accidentally, then searched for a use for it purposefully, and found it. They played the Director (manager) role; they also acted as the information sources.

    SMS (phone texting). The engineering group had already to implement the channel that would be used for it as the "control" channel by which mobile phones liase with stationary masts, and are handed off between them. They saw that this channel could also be used for carrying user messages with no new hardware, and no difficult extra software to write, and no costs to the supplier provided delivery time wasn't guaranteed. They imagined it would have some value, but probably hugely underestimated how much: this was later "discovered" by observing actual customer use.

    Penicillin: Fleming noticed an unusual pattern of bacterial growth in a dish; inferred that this was due to a fungus which he was able to identify and culture; isolated the substance it secreted and speculated that it would be useful medically. Florey decided to attempt to work at developing an anti-bacterial drug; chose penicillin (he presumably would have gone on to try others if this was not successful); developed ways of manufacturing it in usable quantities; and ran medical trials to establish whether it was useful. If you regard Fleming as the discoverer of pencillin in the sense of someone who created a drug hospitals could order and use, then Florey did nothing more important than a foundry worker producing a bronze sculpture. But Fleming completely failed to develop a production process and so could not treat let alone cure any human. This led to the deaths of millions of people in the years between his observation and the development of Florey's drug supply. We could thus see Florey, but not Fleming, as creative: managing a purposeful process that verified and connected a value with a working solution for delivering that value.

    Columbus had a purposeful project of discovery. He didn't discover what he had planned to, so his actual discovery was accidental; and he never correctly understood what he had discovered. He wasn't the first human to discover it (that would be the people already living there); he wasn't the first European to reach the continent (that was the Vikings) but he did discover / establish a quite different method of sailing there (at the time, much more crucial than just knowing the geographical coordinates); but most importantly, his discovery became disseminated throughout the European world. Although he probably had various utilities in mind, what has proved useful was the knowledge of his discovery, not particular planned material advantages (gold, ...).

    Marie Curie discovered the element Radium after a planned search and heroic labour, isolating a few grams from tons of pitchblende (Uranium ore). It was the first knowledge of its existence, and measurement of its properties. Its human applications were invented later and by others. Thus from an engineering viewpoint, this was discovery not creativity because it had no human utility; while later people who developed applications (e.g. using it to create glow-in-the-dark paint for watches) were creative.

    However from the viewpoint of creative science, the value was the identification of a new element and its properties, especially radioactive properties. In effect there was a puzzle (accounting in detail for the radioactivity of pitchblende) and both the method for answering it and the answer itself had to be pursued.

    Kissograms: an example of entrepreneurial creativity, where a new value (utility) is imagined, verified, and a means developed to supply it. I.e. creativity needn't be to do with either science, technology, nor art. In fact, the means (solution) could be viewed as given and the creativity was in recognising that people might use it and pay for it.

    DNA fingerprinting is essentially like PostIt notes: an unexpected property was observed; and then a use for it was thought up. This brings up a common ambiguity: although it started with a surprising discovery that would become the essential part of the "solution", even after inventing the application (utility), the solution had to be developed into a practicable and reliable procedure: reworking the solution from feasibility study to tested solution.

    Discovering a new species (whether fossilised or living in the wild): biologists go out to look, say, for new beetles. By examining every one they find they will recognise a new species. The value is given, and obvious: zoology is still interested in new species, though the amount of scientific value of each new one is only known after discovery and depends on how unexpected it is. Scientists would normally call this "discovery", yet it has all the attributes of creativity.

    Perkins examined the sludge from a failed experiment in organic chemistry and observed a strong mauve colour. He then thought of the application of fabric dyeing and established it as practicable.

    The 4 colour theorem was a long standing conjecture in maths: i.e. everyone thought it was true, but couldn't find a way to prove it. So the utility was long established, and concerted efforts to find the "solution" were made, eventually successful after a very long time.

    Similarly for malaria vaccine, and fusion as a practicable power source, except that success even after all this time is still at best partial, and it is still not known whether they will ever be really successful.

    Perspective painting: a story we might tell is that artists wished to create a stronger impression of visual realism and sought, then developed, the system of perspective.

    With Jackson Pollock he developed both novel ways of painting (no brushes, horizontal canvases to take liquid paint), and an aspect of visual experience that his pictures isolated and brought out. If that story is correct, then w.r.t. creativity he (and no doubt numerous other major painters such as Picasso) developed novelty simultaneously in both parts (aim, method): as professional inventors do for product design.

    Part E: Assessing students on creativity

    There are three ways in which we could say that creativity is already commonly assessed in various academic disciplines, without calling it that.

    Firstly, all assessment tests require "transfer": using what was learned in a new context. The question is, how far is the transfer? Reciting a poem learned by heart is transfering only to another time and place, but using identical words (very near transfer). A test on fractions might vary the actual digits each time, but the method would be identical. Another step up, would give the numbers in words not digits; a further step might ask about proportions or percentages rather than using the word "fraction": and not all children have grasped the connections. All tests test transfer; and some test ability to transfer the knowledge to significantly distant cases and contexts: and so are testing one important kind of creativity. (See here Table 8, which relates creativity to the spectrum of learning transfer.)

    Another kind of creativity assessment is the exam essay e.g. in History. While essays sometimes only elicit direct recall and reproduction, they are also often used to confront students with an unexpected proposition, and the learner is required to construct a critical thinking argument for and/or against the proposition, recruiting what they know and re-using it for this discussion. This is creative in the classic sense: uses old elements, but re-configuring them into a novel combination for a new purpose. In modern educational terms, it might be boasted of as testing critical thinking or higher-order Bloom goal types. The students who do this certainly feel an engagement and elation that indicates that it is experienced as creative (and self-actualising) by them.

    The third familiar assessment method concerns problem-solving tasks, and in particular Johnstone's analysis of designing creative problem solving tasks for learners. Open-ended problems require the learner to decide on the goal (what will count as a solution), other problems require finding new methods, some will have incomplete information given. Thus such problems have more than one right answer; but probably only a few judgement criteria (metrics of goodness of a solution) which are largely agreed in advance.

    Finally: we could view assessing creativity (e.g. of painters or designers) as an expansion of this, but where the learner probably must add their own judgement criteria, and where there are probably a very large number of predicates that are relevant (even if the designer in practice picks just a few to focus on). Thus if the task is to design a coffee mug, some of the obvious goals include: holding liquid, tolerating freezing and boiling temperatures, insulating it so hot coffee doesn't burn the user's hand and doesn't cool too quickly, being easily washable, not containing steel armature wires so it can be used in microwaves, etc. Designs will generally address some of these better than others, so no two designs will be the same even in intention, let alone in solution. On this perspective, designs could be assessed firstly (1) for which predicates (design goals) were addressed vs. forgotten (identifying value), and secondly (2) on how well the design addresses each one (identifying solutions). And then further assessed for novelty for the student (3) (was it a solution not mentioned in the textbook or lectures); (4) novelty for everyone (the solution has not been seen anywhere before); and (5) for surprise: a subjective judgement about how striking the solution seems (as the Sydney Opera house is novel).

    Some links on assessing creativity

  • The HEA has stuff on how to assess creativity
  • http://www.creativelearning.com/AssessingCreativity.htm
  • http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/150029.htm
  • www.csd.abdn.ac.uk/~gritchie/papers/aisb01.pdf
  • www.gifted.uconn.edu/nrcgt/trefyoun.html
  • flux.futurelab.org.uk/projects/e-scape-assessing-creativity/
  • www.palatine.ac.uk/events/view/562/

    Links / References

  • Amabile,T.M. (1986) Creativity in context: Update to the social psychology of creativity (Boulder, CO: Westview press)

  • Bloom's taxonomy of learning objectives: see here for references.

  • Becker,J.D. (1975) The phrasal lexicon http://acl.ldc.upenn.edu/T/T75/T75-2013.pdf Proceedings of the 1975 workshop on Theoretical issues in natural language processing, June 10-13, 1975, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  • Boden, Margaret A
    Boden, Margaret A. (1990) The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson).
    Boden, Margaret A. (1994) "Précis of The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms" Behavioural and Brain Sciences vol.17 no.3 pp.519-570
    Boden, Margaret A. (1995). Creativity and Unpredictability. Stanford Education and Humanities Review vol.4 no.2
    Nutshell: a 10 page summary of her book.
  • Chris Thornton commentary

  • Boud,D. (1995) Enhancing learning through self assessment (Kogan Page, London)

    Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996) Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (New York: Harper Perennial) ISBN 0-06-092820-4

  • Gladwell, Malcolm (2005) Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

  • Gunn,Vicky (?) Body and belief course

  • VIA questionnaire. Signature strengths (free online questionnaire) (creativity is one of their 24 character strengths) http://www.viacharacter.org/VIASurvey/tabid/55/Default.aspx
  • InQbate, a highly funded (2005-10) Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Creativity. See also Prof. Peter Childs
  • A talk I gave on creativity

  • Ken Robinson report (1999) All our futures: Creativity, culture and education (UK government report) PDF

  • Siddiqui, Zarrin S. (2008) "Creativity in higher education: great expectations" International Conference on Assessing Quality in Higher Education 2008 pp.226-237

    Acknowledgements

    This page was prompted by an invitation to talk from eSharp, by conversations with Marianne Patera, and with Blay Whitby.

    To be included

    "It is wise to learn; it is God-like to create." John Saxe

    "The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates." Oscar Wilde

    "Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it." - Laurence J. Peter

    ToDo

    I'm weakest on the dim. of info source.  Does this matter?
    
    And I have commented on, but perhaps not resolved, the issue of the
    difference between the first glimmer of each element of a creation, and
    establishing a reliable procedure (not the promise of one that will work
    sometimes).
    
    Social accounting E.g.s of task-artifact cycle: of users find new apps Anagrams? fit in somewhere? This needs e.g.s from: Humanities. Art non-techno entrepreneurship geography or biology

    Problems

    Insight learning ??
    
    

    Reprise / Conclusion. If any final conclusion needed.

    Actually: this sketch is a half-assed attempt at a snazzy conclusion.
    Why human?
    Why agency?
    Creativity =~= p-solving, not all discovery.  Must have surprise (not too much purpose?)
    Aristotle again for creativity -> do need a purpose = telos (utility); and
    that is a human need.
    

    Web site logical path: [www.psy.gla.ac.uk] [~steve] [best] [this page]
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