Creativity: What is it?

Creativity seems to be the buzz-word in education right now. Read new curriculum documents, and they tell of prescribed learning outcomes that include creative thinking.  When we speak of problems that go on in the world around us, we are quick to say “we need to think of creative solutions to those problems.”   Yes, indeed.

But what is creativity?

The word creativity is synonymous with words such as fluency and flexibility, and being inventive and original. When the word creativity first came up, I thought about a child taking paints, and creating their own picture. I thought about the ability to think of strange, outside-the-box ideas. Mueller, Melwai & Goncalo talk about creativity as something that is both NOVEL and USEFUL. I really like this definition, especially the focus on usefulness. It must be useful to whatever the purpose it: whether this be in a workplace setting, or purely for the enjoyment of creating it. Creativity must also be novel and different, not just taking the first idea that pops into your head, but allowing time for all other possibilities. Some downfalls that come with creativity are the amount of time that it takes, the many failures that come with true novelty, and the periods of uncertainty that can stop people from being creative. According to Hennessey and Amabile, some things that increase creativity are having a positive affect, group work, and intrinsic motivation.
Mueller, Melwai & Goncalo justify that creativity must be both novel and useful because this is the only way that we can hope to address the myriad problems facing our schools, hospitals, cities, economy, nation and world. This creativity must be used in the correct way to truly inspire change and help people recognize solutions. In order for students to be truly creative, they must first be taught the foundational skills necessary to think of a new perspective that they can use to solve a problem.
“Creativity is thinking up new things, innovation is doing new things.”

Hennessey, B.A., & Amabile, T.M. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569 – 598. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100416
Mueller, J.S., Melwai, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012). The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological Science, 23(1), 13–17. doi: 10.1177/0956797611421018


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