Creativity: Don’t take it personally
I’m reading Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s (yeah, he’s the one who came up with the concept of flow) book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.
Csikszentmihaly proposes a very interesting view of creativity, not as something individual or personal, but the result of fortunate interactions between individual productivity in a certain field and the encouragement and recognition of that productivity as novel and interesting by other people in the field.
He calls this a systems view of creativity and explains that it’s not enough for individuals to come up with ideas. If these ideas are not recognized and encouraged by peers, no significant contribution to society or culture happens.
I initially found Csikszentmihaly’s view of creativity counterintuitive (like most academic concepts ?) but I’m beginning to fall in love with it because it points out the importance of the environment for creativity.
Csikszentmihaly hints that a supportive, encouraging environment that invests attention and resources in potentially creative individuals might be more significant a variable than individual creativity itself.
Using the example of the Renaissance, and the extraordinary creations of the dome over Santa Maria del Fiore by Brunelleschi (photo) and the Gates of Paradise by Ghiberti (photo), Csikszentmihaly writes:
If these two artists had not been born, some others would have stepped in their place and built the dome and the doors. It is because of this inseparable connection that creativity must, in the last analysis, be seen not as something happening within a person but in the relationship within a system.
According to Csikszentmihaly, an environment (system) that fosters creativity has the following characteristics:
- Provides support & encouragement in the form of attention to ideas
- Provides resources to individuals so they can engage in creative processes
- Provides stimulation through competition
- Has a system in place for selecting good ideas and acting on them
So how do you, as an employer, teacher, manager, or academic administrator create a system (an environment) that fosters creativity?
<rant> Meeting every single idea or initiative with “we can’t…,” yes, but..” and/or “we tried that 10 years ago, and it failed” might not be the best way to go about it.</rant>