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How can we explain creativity?

This article seeks to explain what we mean by creativity, and includes a few different definitions of the term.
A woman pointing to a blackboard
© CQUniversity 2021

What is creativity?

It can be really frustrating when someone asks you to ‘be more creative’. This request makes it sound like it is one of those skills you can just start doing more of or better, like squatting lower or speaking louder.

The reason for this is that it is not just one skill, creativity requires a combination of skills (or mental processes), many of which are subconscious, and they will not happen just because you try harder.

Let us try to explain how we can understand creativity.

What are the elements of creativity?

Professor Anne Abraham, a psychologist and neuroscientist focused on creativity explains that there is general agreement about what creativity is in the neuroscientific community. She writes that:

Original and satisfying

Most experts agree that two elements are central to creativity. First and foremost, it reflects our capacity to generate ideas that are original, unusual or novel in some way. The second element is that these ideas also need to be satisfying, appropriate or suited to the context in question (2019)

Another similar and well-known definition that is a bit more succinct explains that ‘Creativity requires both originality and usefulness’ (Runco & Jaeger 2012, Stein 1953).

Abraham explains that this ‘definition of creativity applies to all categories of human behaviour regardless of whether it refers to creativity in service of problem solving, such as in scientific and applied domains, or creativity in service of expression, as in the fine and performing arts.’ (Abraham 2016)

A neurologically sound definition

Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius, who are focused on the neuroscience of creativity, prefer a definition that is more ‘neurologically sound’. They expand on the above and define creativity as ‘…the forming of associative elements into new combinations which either meet specified requirements or are in some way useful. The more mutually remote the elements of the new combination, the more creative the process or solution’ (p.2)

That sounds a bit more complicated but it indicates that there are certain activities (associations) happening inside our brains when we are creative.

© CQUniversity 2021
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