Creativity is More Than a Trait: It’s a Relation

What is all the commotion about  creativity? Whatever definition this vogue expression is dressed in, it has apparently captured the awareness of countless authorities for educational, economical, governmental and last but not least, scientific issues. Moreover, the media is filled with references to  creativity or its synonyms. Ochse (1990), the author of a renowned book on the determinants of creative genius, contested that "our quality of life, perhaps our very survival as a species, depends on promoting  creativity" (p. 33).

Within the discipline of psychology, research on  creativity was initiated after an influential speech given by J.P. Guilford in 1950 to commence his election as president of the American Psychological Association (APA). Guilford (1950), until that time known for his work on psychometrics and intelligence, foretold the arrival of a "second industrial revolution" which would make humankind's "brains relatively useless" (p. 446). The economic value of our minds would be jeopardized, as he predicted, by the emergence of "remarkable new thinking machines" (ibid.).

During the same period, the American society began to search for ways to ease the “age of conformity” (Savelle, 1957) and concurrently, the Sputnik shock was interpreted by the authorities and the public alike as the price for not cultivating  creativity in individuals from early in life onwards (Preisendörfer, 2007). In essence,  creativity became something valuable to society as a whole and the question was how to go about producing more of it.

Today, we find ourselves in the initial decades of what Guilford (1950) implied. Our self-made information society is challenging the global workforce to find new ways to earn a living. Germany's federal chancellor Angela Merkel (2006) makes a similar call as Guilford did when she speaks of the country's need for a creative imperative. She explains that novel ideas and their implementation are the key to securing standards of living and prosperity in this globalized world.

Creativity B.C.R. (Before  Creativity Research)

Of course,  creativity was an acknowledged phenomenon before Guilford’s speech in 1950, but its interpretation has been subjected to various historical and societal movements. Studying how the word has been used in the past can help us understand why there are so many different perspectives on  creativity today.

In ancient Greece, there was no word to describe the action of creating something. The verb “poiein” (to make) existed, but it was solely reserved for what poets did: They invented poetry and did so freely, i.e. with no limitations due to laws (of nature). All other crafts and technologies were interpreted as acts of imitation or discovery, because they were subdued to principles of some kind (Tatarkiewicz, 1980). Therefore, the verb “poiein” was semantically similar to what many today consider “to create” to mean. In ancient Rome, poets as well as painters were free “to make” as they pleased (ibid.). The Romans had two words to describe such action: (a) facere (e.g. to make, to perform, to bring about) and (b) creare (to create, to make).

In the Christian period, the act of creating became one solely attributed to God. This verb no longer designated the realm of human action, because only the divine could produce a “creation from nothing” (creatio ex nihilo). Yet later in the Renaissance, an air of freedom and independence characterized European societies and the act of creating became something inspired humans could do. It was from this period onwards that  creativity became connected to science, eventually leading to the study of eminent scholars from all disciplines (Albert & Runco, 1999).

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