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

The  Relation

Think of a creative person you admire. What makes you believe this person is creative? An educated guess is that you have seen something he or she has made, e.g. an art performance, a new recipe or an organizational change at your workplace. This thought experiment introduces the first necessity in the relational definition of  creativity: the product (Amabile, 1996; Westmeyer, 2001). Before deeming someone creative, we must recognize what type of behavior this person exhibited to be considered so, and behavior is manifested in an observable outcome. This is the basis of numerous approaches to  creativity, including the ones by Galton (1865) and Guilford (1950) sketched earlier. Yet in deeming someone or something creative, we are not, as often assumed, only recognizing their traits or skills. Instead, we are observing a behavioral outcome and adopting a position on it (Amabile, 1996; Nicholls, 1972; Westmeyer, 2001). This postulate is not as novel as it may sound; the same thing occurs when psychologists assess  creativity with psychometric tests (Hocevar & Bachelor, 1989; Csikszentmihalyi, 1999).

Csikszentmihalyi (1999) developed a model to describe how this observation and judgment process proceeds. Instead of viewing  creativity as an objective property of a person, process or product, he sees it as the effect something is able to produce on others. Similar to an audience’s fanatic reaction to a concert band,  creativity is the judgmental outcome of people witnessing and implicitly or explicitly evaluating a particular focal output. According to Csikszentmihalyi (1999), this relational approach is based on the interaction between three social systems: the individual, the  field and the  domain (see Figure 1).

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