The Many Facets of Creativity: Some extracts from my research

“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong” – Buckminster Fuller


Some extracts from my Creativity Research…

Despite the fragmentation of the literature concerning creativity (Woodman et al., 1993), there is a degree of convergence amongst theorists (Mayer, 1999) that the notion that creativity can be used in reference to something that is both original (novel), and valuable (of use; relevant to context) (Sternberg and Lubart, 1999; Lubart, 1994; Osche, 1990; Bilton, 2007; Ford, 1996). However this is not a new conception. In 1976, Williams suggests that ‘creative’ means ‘a general sense of original and innovatory, and an associated special sense of productive’ (see also Stein, 1953; MacKinnon, 1962). So, for example, Margaret Boden describes two forms of creativity in this vein – ‘p creativity’ concerns something that is creative relative to the individual (a child painting a house for the first time) that is creative in a personal sense, but not with particular value in a wider context: children have painted houses before. This is presented in opposition to something creative relevant and valuable to a wider context (a theory in the field of biochemistry; an advance in eco-architectural design); ‘h creativity’.

However, this value/relevance/usefulness judgement remains subjective – and necessarily so due to the importance of an audience by which the creative product can be judged, and the inherent subjectivity of satisfying aesthetic needs within that audience. Certainly some areas of creativity – consider again the development of a new theory by a biochemist – lend themselves to having more objective judgement criteria such as parsimony, practicality or explanatory power take precedence (Penke, 2003). Or, in a commercial context, more objective measures such as ROI, cost and client expectations must be considered.  However, attempts to define specifically or more objectively what this usefulness/value might be have failed (Runco and Charles, 1993), primarily due to the contingency of value judgements being context/domain specific (Amabile, 1996), and the fundamental need for an aesthetic aspect in describing why a painting, a musical composition or a poem should be valued at all (Runco, 1993). Indeed, such value judgements are not arbitrary or idiosyncratic but rather, ‘intellectual aesthetic value represents a functionally based way of dealing with a cultural environment that is full of diverse ideas. In this perspective, cultural learning of values is not arbitrary. Learning mechanisms, in conjunction with feeling mechanisms and mechanisms of self-awareness that allow us to test how our ideas and behaviors are perceived by others, guide us through a maze of ideas towards intellectual beauty. Appropriate values will often differ between societies and within societies between social strata and individuals’ (Thornhill, 2003).

Further, it is posited here that a prerequisite to this conception is a combination of both divergent and convergent thinking, in order to produce both novelty and value (Bilton, 2007). In an organisational context, Bilton argues for the marriage of creativity and management, often held at arms length in western society, in order to create a context for the delivery of creative work.


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