What is creativity? A blog post by Rachel Oates

What is Creativity?

Creativity is difficult to define because there is little consensus among most academics; is creativity a personality trait or is it a process? You may have seen my previous post about why I value creativity so much. In that post I talk a lot about why creativity is so important but I never really get into what creativity is? In what cases do we label someone or their actions as creative?

Creativity as a Characteristic

Recent literature refers to creativity as a characteristic of certain people. Zangalo & Branco (2015) discuss how there is evidence that humans have been creative for thousands of years, while Abraham (2015) talks of how every person has the potential for creativity to exist within them. Similarly, Dahmen-Wassenberg at al (2016, p.60) try to define creativity as ‘an expression of one’s inner self’.

Although this particular definition can be argued to be vague and a bit unsubstantiated, each of these points corresponds with the idea that being creative is something you either are or aren’t. A further example of this can be seen in Burkus’ research which concludes that there isn’t ‘one particular creative personality type’ (2014, p.38) but still suggests that creativity is an aspect of one’s personality.

What is creativity? Is it a process or can you be a creative person?

Creativity as a Process

Other research looks the idea of creativity as a process and way of thinking that anyone can learn. Recently Newton and Leonard both defined creativity as an action. One described it as the way we process and express new, useful ideas (Leonard, 2010), while the other talking about how an idea, an activity or a process can be creative with little or no mention of an individual being creative (Newton, 2015).

Similarly, Davis et al concluded that in understanding creativity we need to view it as a ‘social process as much as a psychological phenomenon’ (Davis et al, 2000, p.19) which is an interesting perspective which suggests creativity might not have to be one or the other. Based on this it can be proposed that creativity is a way of approaching problems which some people have a predisposition for more than others.

What is creativity? Is it a process or can you be a creative person?

Being Creative is Important

Despite the debate over creativity’s definition, most literature consistently agrees that the desired outcome from creativity is to develop new and useful ideas – it is a tool for innovation (Martindale, 1999, Leonard, 2010, Charyton, 2015, Kandler et al, 2016). Throughout all fields, creativity is important.

Zangalo & Branco (2015) credit creativity with all humanity’s development, from fire to spaceships, while Fisher & Williams point out that when successful, creativity is always responsible for bringing ‘something new to human
knowledge and / or experience’ (Fisher & Williams, 2004, p.9).

Sources & Further Reading

  • Abraham, A 2015, ‘Gender and creativity: an overview of psychological and neuroscientific literature’, Brain Imaging And Behavior, p. 10
  • Burkus, D. (2014) The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Wiley
  • Charyton, C. (ed.) (2015) Creativity and Innovation Among Science and Art: A Discussion of the Two Cultures [e-book], Springer
  • Dahmen-Wassenberg, P., Kämmerle, M., Unterrainer, H. & Fink, A. (2016) The Relation Between Different Facets of Creativity and the Dark Side of Personality, Creativity Research Journal, 28, 1, p. 60-66
  • Davis, H. & Scase, R. (2000) Managing Creativty: The Dynamics of Work and Organisation, Buckingham: Open University Press
  • Kandler, C., Riemann, R., Angleitner, A., Spinath, F., Borkenau, P. & Penke, L. (2016) The Nature of Creativity: The Roles of Genetic Factors, Personality Traits, Cognitive Abilities, and Environmental Sources, Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology
  • Leonard, D. (2010) Fostering Creativity: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges, Boston: Harvard Business Press
  • Martindale, C. (1999) Biological Bases of Creativity, In Sternberg, R.J. (ed.) (1999) Handbook of Creativity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Newton, H.B. (2015) The Neurology of Creativity: Focus on Music. In: Charyton, C. (ed.) (2015) Creativity and Innovation Among Science and Art: A Discussion of the Two Cultures [e-book], Springer, pp.3 – 52


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