Understanding Creativity – Person - Part 2

Creativity isn’t mysterious or unique. It is a trait that every person has to some degree. Creativity has little to do with IQ. It is simply the deliberate use of our ordinary thinking processes. These thinking approaches can be taught and therefore any person can move from their present level of creative ability to a much higher one.

 Creativity can also be unlearned. In 1968, George Land studied the creativity of a group of 1600 children over time by administering a test used by NASA to select innovative engineers and scientists. 98% of children at 5 years old would have been selected. At 10 years old, only 30% of these same children would have been chosen. At 15 years old, the percentage dropped to a mere 12%. The same test was given to 280,000 adults and only 2% would have been selected. What is going on? 

 The power of place and the impact of one’s environment – in part 3 of this series – will highlight some of the reasons that creativity is affected. Let’s first look, however, at the characteristics of creative people to understand their dominant attributes. Researchers have determined that broad interests, attraction to complexity, curiosity, intuition, tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, self-confidence, intrinsic motivation, and freedom from stimulus contribute to creative thinking.

 Tolerance of Ambiguity

The tolerance of ambiguity is the most important personal quality of a creative person, according to professors and researchers John Dacey and Kathleen Lennon. Ambiguity is the ability to see a situation or issue in various shades of gray, instead of in black and white, remain open-minded about the approach or solution, and sometimes even enjoy the process. A creative person would take a longer time to respond emotionally—boredom, excitement, fear, terror—to a situation than the average person. This tendency to find the unknown or unfamiliar interesting or exciting rather than stress producing, increases their ability to think and react creatively.

 Perseverance and Delay of Gratification

This ability to be comfortable in the unknown is helped by being perseverant and being able to delay gratification. Creative people can maintain a clear sense of purpose through obstacles and frustration that other might find overwhelming. Their self-confidence allows them to be able to go against what others are doing to continue on the path they believe is correct. In order to reap higher pleasures and gains in the long run, they can tolerate long time frames and delay the gratification of the reward.

 In the 1970’s a Stanford psychology professor, Walter Mischel, observed the effects on nursery school students when told they could have two of a chosen treat, such as a marshmallow, rather than only one if they waited some undetermined time. The children who could only wait 30 seconds before eating the marshmallow were found years later to have more behavioral problems and average SAT scores that were 210 points less than the students who could wait the entire 15 minutes. When Mischel taught the children a creative thinking technique to imagine that the marshmallow is only a picture surrounded by an imaginary frame, he dramatically improved their self-control and increased the time that they could delay gratification.

 Freedom from Stimulus

Although this sounds complicated, it simply means the ability to break free from assumptions about a specific situation. Creative thinkers are rule breakers. They do things that others say can’t be done. Neuroscientists have determined that the brains of creative thinkers are wired to be open to novel encounters and seeing things in a different way, instead of taking the neural path of least resistance. When the stated rules of a situation interfere with a developing creative idea, the creative person will simply ignore or bend the rules to suit their needs. Additionally when faced with an ambiguous situation or when there are no rules, they do not assume that any rules exist. People who are less creative will make-up non-existent rules in order to eliminate the fear of being wrong. Fear greatly restricts creative thinking.


Motivation encompasses what to do, whether to do it, how to do it and when to do it, according to Teresa Amabile, a leading creativity researcher. People become motivated to work on something when they find it interesting, involving, exciting, satisfying, and personally challenging. Creative people are driven by curiosity and the enjoyment of searching for new insights. Their work becomes a labor of love and is self-motivating. Job satisfaction studies show that people will be most creative and most satisfied in their jobs and perform better when they are primarily intrinsically motivated.

 It used to be thought that external forces could not positively or negatively impact intrinsic motivation. However recent research by Amabile shows that people’s perceptions and emotions can affect their motivation.

 Many techniques can be learned to increase creative ability, forming new neural pathways in our brain. The pressures or support of place and the environment (the second “P”)—work, family, school, peers—however, will have a large impact on the ability of the individual to practice creative thinking strategies until they become second nature.  More on these outside influences will be discussed in part 3 of this series.

 Copyright 2019 J.E. Brunn, LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Reprint Rights: You may reprint this article as long as you leave all of the links active, do not edit the article in any way, and give author name credit.

Understanding Creativity - Person, Place, Product and Process (Part 1)

What do person, place, product, and process (the 4 P’s) have in common? According to creativity researchers, these are the four generally accepted facets to creativity. Additionally these facets are interrelated, which makes creativity complicated to understand and to cultivate, especially in organizations. Understanding its multiple aspects, however, is a critical first step in bringing more creativity, and hence innovation, into a corporate environment. Creativity is generally considered to be a new idea or insight that is recognized by experts in that field as having value.  Creativity is the necessary first step to fueling innovation. This first article, in a series of articles about the facets of creativity, will present an overview of the 4 P’s of creativity and how they are interrelated.



Stories about modern eminent creatives such as Steve Jobs and I.M. Pei and past creatives such as Thomas Edison, Madame Curie and Michelangelo warp our image of the creative person. We tend to think of people as being either creative or not creative, like it is a fixed attribute such as one’s height or eye-color. Creativity is not unique or mysterious; we are all creative to different degrees. Creativity has little to do with IQ. It is our usage or under-usage of our ordinary thinking processes that impact our creative output. Creative thinking approaches can be learned by all individuals. Research has shown that the use of creative thinking techniques reduces costs, increases efficiency and positively impacts ROI.


Our families, schools, community, religion, and workplace as well as the overall culture in which we live have major impacts on creativity; this is referred to formally as the press of the environment, which I refer to simply as ‘place.’ The values and norms of our upbringing and current environment dictate whether we are encouraged or discouraged from being creative and whether our ideas or products are recognized as being creative. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Claremont professor and creativity researcher, says that the environment has more of an impact on creative outcomes than an individual intent on creativity. Interestingly, studies have shown that creativity tends to thrive during times of political unrest, civil disturbance, and intellectual diversity. For example many young people were motivated to become artists and architects during the Renaissance. Teresa Amabile, Harvard professor and organizational creativity researcher says that our social environment can significantly affect intrinsic motivation, both positively and negatively. We often become motivated to think and act creatively when we become personally interested in or curious about a new technology, research data or trend. Working on something imposed on us by outside sources, without being personally interested has negative effects on our creativity. For example, the proliferation of the Internet has laid the foundation for an increase in artists and designers. This new surge in visual images has contributed to the current trend in businesses to utilize design thinking in addition to analytical thinking.


Can you make money from it? Do your peers and society admire you because of it? In our Western, materially focused culture, a physical product or outcome is typically the only facet of creativity that is recognized. We look at the finished product and forget there was a process of multiple creative failures that happened first. We may disregard the environment or the team of people that encouraged the development of the product. New products and ideas often have a difficult time getting past the ‘gatekeepers’ who determine the idea’s value, sometimes arbitrarily or with limited foresight. A person known in the field or from a field predisposed to creativity, such as advertising is likely to have an easier time getting past the gatekeepers than an unknown or someone from a ‘non-creative’ industry. Occasionally the product or idea is so radical and ahead of its time, it gets ridiculed or goes unrecognized for years. The concept of Federal Express is a well-known story of a ridiculed idea; van Gogh was considered a sociopathic recluse rather than a genius and died alone and penniless.


What must occur in order for us to produce a creative idea or product? There are potentially exponential trials of creative processes compared to final products. Edison tried thousands of times to produce an electric filament for long lasting electric lighting. Shouldn’t all those failed attempts be considered creative? Our culture, however, tends to label only the one successful outcome as creative.

 Each of us goes through four stages during our creative process. Preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification were originally introduced by Graham Wallas in 1926 in his book “The Art of Thought.” In the first stage, preparation, we set ourselves up for creative success by acquiring some skill, gathering data, or understanding the basic problem that needs to be addressed. This is perhaps the most difficult stage as suggested by Edison in his famous line, “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” In the next stage, incubation, our brain is working on things in the background. It is the time away from conscious thinking. This is the most powerful of the steps and the one that probably gets overlooked most often. It is hard not to consciously and continually work on a problem to conclusion, since we all have a tendency to want to solve problems as soon as possible, and are often pushed by our organizations to do so. The ‘aha’ or illumination stage, however, can only occur after an incubation period. Sometimes we do not get a solution – but another way to approach the problem. But when we get that ‘aha,’ we know with certainty that we are on the right path. Finally, we need to be able to recognize when a solutions fits the problem. In the last stage, verification, we try and test the solution. We often go back and forth rapidly between the stages. The ability to shift between stages is important to the creative process.

 How we think, how the gatekeepers respond to what we produce, the environment in which we live, and the processes we follow all combine to impact the production and acceptance of new ideas, insights and products. It is impossible to consider any one of these facets in a vacuum. We cannot separate the person from their environment, the idea from the person, the process from the environment, or the product from the process.  It is complicated, but not impossible, to address all of these facets within an organizational setting. In the next series of articles, I will go into each of the four facets in more depth.

 Copyright 2019 J.E. Brunn, LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Reprint Rights: You may reprint this article as long as you leave all of the links active, do not edit the article in any way, and give author name credit.