Henri Matisse once said “Creativity takes courage”. Courage and the other traits that distinguish the creative mind is what we will try to uncover in this article.
A lot of research has been conducted on the topic of creativity and recently psychologists and experts have made significant strides in discovering its mystical secrets. I believe people will become more and more interested in this area of studies. The world has become extremely saturated with information, products and services. Therefore, if you want to break through the noise you need creative people to generate new ideas or simply reframe old ideas in entirely different concepts.
One recent paper written by psychologists Guillaume Furst, Paolo Ghisletta, and Todd Lubart identifies three super-factors of personality that predict creativity – plasticity, divergence and convergence.
Plasticity is the personality factor which is determined by a high drive for exploration and insatiable curiosity towards the world. Creative people are searching for the answers to the “how” and “why” of everything. They might resort to different strategies to satisfy their curiosity. They could, for example, dive into intense conversations, careful observations or wander around in their own memories and imagination. Another way to play with their ideas is by creating “psychological distance”. Creatives would often take another person’s perspective or think of an issue as if they were completely unfamiliar with it. I am sure if you think of your favorite authors describing the life of the protagonist through his own eyes you will realize that what they are doing is psychological distancing.
Plasticity can also be characterized by seeking new experiences and running away from monotony. And if you think about it being curious and open to new activities seem like prerequisites for creativity to grow because these new insights and experiences fuel spontaneous ideas.
The second super-factor – divergence, relates to nonconformity, impulsivity and low-conscientiousness. These traits are further supported by the function of the dorsolateral prefrontal region of the brain which is responsible for censoring and controlling our impulses. During a creative streak this region in creative people’s minds becomes highly inactive. This is why we consider creatives to be the free thinkers of our society.
Most of us are afraid to step outside convention and social rules because we might end up being wrong about something or committing a mistake. We have been taught since elementary school two lessons. First, people who are wrong must be lazy and irresponsible. Second, to succeed in life we shouldn’t make mistakes.
During a very interesting TED talk, Kathryn Schulz, author of “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error”, asked her audience “How does it feel to be wrong?”. They answered unanimously that it feels dreadful and embarrassing but she stands to correct them “this answers the question how does it feel to realize I am wrong”. Schulz elaborates further that being wrong doesn’t feel like anything. In fact, it feels like being right. This is essentially how creative people perceive this situation. They just worry less about staying within the norm, about being wrong or making a mistake.
Schulz even gave an example from her own personal experience of being wrong. While on a road trip through national forests and state parks she asked her accompanying friend about the chinese symbols on the side of the road.
Then, the realization stroke that this is the “chinese symbol for picnic”. I find her example especially charming and also indicative of how creative ideas are born. She was able to look at the sign from a fresh perspective which is not restrained by social norms. She connected the dots between the familiar and unfamiliar and came up with something original. This serves to say if you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.
“Fallor ergo sum” or “I err therefore I am” is a statement made by St. Augustine. Its value remains unrecognized in today’s society where mistakes are stigmatized and thus, we are forced to grow out of our inborn creativity.
Children are not afraid of being wrong or taking a chance. And I think the following anecdote is reflective of this. During drawing class a little girl was asked by her teacher what she is painting. She explained she is drawing “a picture of God”. The teacher retorted that no one knows what God looks like. The girl replied unassumingly “They will in a minute”. This story comes to show the confidence and nonconformity of the creative mind.
The third factor associated with the creative personality is convergence. It reflects the precision, persistence and critical thinking required to make an idea valuable to society. It is a misconception that creative people don’t apply logic. They simply follow their own logical pathways. In fact, because they fall out of the mass trend and convention their creations need to make sense.
The need of the hour has changed. Today we need creative people whose ideas will stand out, who will find revolutionary solutions to common problems, who will bring to life a different vision. We need them in every field not only the obviously creative ones like art, dance, literature, marketing and advertising, technology, medical research etc. We also require creative individuals in the area of business, education and policy-making. Therefore, we need to grown back into our inborn creativity.
Be stupid (sometimes)! Be creative!