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

From the Great  Trait to More Individuality

Before the turn of the century, Feldhusen and Goh (1995) remarked, “...those who search for the essence of  creativity in current theory and research are apt to be overwhelmed by both the current breadth of conceptions of the  field as well as the relative uncertainty of its fundamental components” (p. 232). After the era of personality psychology approaches to  creativity, a cognitive psychology wave advanced (Sawyer, 2006), and  creativity research was no longer restricted to unraveling the creative personality. The scientific focus turned from the creative person to the creative process. Creating individuals were still central in studies, but now the way they created was investigated. The process is commonly divided into four stages (cf. Csikszentmihalyi & Sawyer, 1995; Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1996): (a) preparation (b) incubation (c) insight or illumination and (d) verification. This stage model of  creativity is still quite popular in pragmatic approaches (Nöllke, 2006) and much research has been conducted on incubation and insight. Contemporarily, it is viewed as a heuristic model characterized by overlapping and iterative stages (Sawyer, 2006).

In the relay to unravel  creativity, cognitive psychology passed the stick to neurological approaches to  creativity (Martindale, 2004;Sawyer, 2006). This research trend did not only evolve due to technological advancements in medical imaging, but also because psychological methods were unable to clearly account for what actually happens during incubation, the phase right before insight, i.e. the moment a creator perceives the outcome of this mental process. The neurological approach has lead to attempts to localize the so-called “creative drive” (Flaherty, 2005) and the realm of  creativity and innovation production (Vandervert, Schimpf, & Liu, 2007).

Creativity scholars started with the individual and moved on to examining the process. Other scientists have made attempts to describe the outcomes, or products, of creative behavior (Amabile, 1996; Gruber & Wallace, 1999). Although only a fraction ofcreativity definitions have been mentioned here, they have one thing in common: their  trait or individual character.  Creativity is interpreted as a potential outcome of either a) intellectual, personality and/or neurological attributes or b) individual cognitive skills. Although the latter skills are not inherent and may be trained to improve creative performance, they are particular to the individual. This implies  creativity is either attributed to a stable  trait (Meyer, 1999) or individual skills. However, such attributions result from others observing and evaluating individual behavior, be it on personality or performance tests. Yet who is responsible for this decision?

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