Ordinarily when you ask people to think of creativity they automatically think of the arts; painting, writing, photography, and so on. And while there is a lot more to creativity that this, art is still a relevant and key area to explore.
Back in 1999 Feist contributed a book chapter comparing creativity in the arts and science. He listed the characteristics of artists, compared to non-artists, as being more open to experience, interested in fantasy and imagination, more aesthetically-oriented, impulsive and rebellious (Feist, 1999); an extensive, though not complete list. Others like Chang et al (2015) and Charyton (2015) went on to support and add to his ideas, also listing a preference for lateral thinking and extroversion as traits of creative artists.
However Feist should still be questioned. For example, does an artist have to be rebellious and is every rebel an artist? The likes of Charyton (2015) and Kandler et al (2016) spoke about the importance of innovation in creativity which has to involve questioning old ways of thinking, but at what point does innovation become rebellion, or vice versa? And to what extent is an artist’s creativity seen as rebellion and a scientists not?
In many ways, Feist’s comment on artists being more rebellious ‘perhaps more than almost any other members of society’ (1999, p.278) could be heavily criticised on the ground that scientific breakthroughs, the product of creativity, often causes more controversy than the majority of pieces of art. For example, look at anything from the theory to evolution to stem cell research – both took considerably creativity to reach and both are still being debated today, whereas some of art’s rebellions often seem transitory and likely to lose relevance over time.
The Creative Process vs. Results
While creativity in science may have been overlooked by some, Clark (2015) argues that it is one of the most valuable assets for scientists, in particular the chemists mentioned in his essay. He does however note that while they may recognise its value, few focus on how to improve their creativity and therefore, the ones who do tend to be the most successful.
Unlike art, in science the creativity is more in the process than the product. In the arts, being creative usually aims to make something new, whereas in science, the aim is usually to look at things in a new way to discover something that was always there but we just weren’t aware of it before (Ascheron & Kickuth, 2005, Charyton, 2015, Newton, 2015). As a result, the most creative people in science tend to have good puzzle solving skills and be imaginative enough to take old ideas and frame them in new ways.
Remember in an older blog post of mine I talked about Tharp and her concept of building on existing skills? This is more important than ever in science because all new ideas and methods are building on the discoveries of others.
In art someone may use technical skills like how to use a camera, or basic grammar to create something new but it’s not essential. Whereas, a scientist needs to understand the technical background before they can even being to change anything; a neurosurgeon wouldn’t start trying to devise a new way of treating a brain tumour before understanding how the brain works – it would be impossible.
What About in Businesses?
Business is another area where creativity is sometimes overlooked, however it’s become increasingly valued in recent years. The novelty of a creative idea can be useful for gaining an advantage over competitors, although the key is that it is as useful (and profitable!) as possible (Bilton, 2007, Proctor, 2013, Jafri et al, 2016).
As in other areas, employees need a solid understanding of the business before they can be creative but it’s also suggested that divergent thinking skills, flexibility and self-confidence and extroversion are essential for creativity in businesses (Proctor, 2013, Jafri et al, 2016). While creativity can be applied in every business, it is particularly relevant in marketing and advertising where a business’ success is measured by the profitability of its creativity (McStay, 2013).
However, employees who are being paid to be creative are at a higher risk than other for feeling restrained. Kaufman (2009) suggested that time pressure and organisational politics, among others, can lead to reduced creativity in the work place. Perhaps the best practice for employers is to figure out how they can encourage the creative process without risking reduced productivity?