Creativity is a fascinating and important subject for anyone to study. Understanding how people tap into their creative powers and why some are better than others is quite interesting. Nancy C. Andreasen is a very qualified person to address this topic. In addition to a PhD in English literature, she later switched careers and earned an MD with a residency in psychiatry. In the current edition of The Atlantic, Andreasen writes on “Secrets of the Creative Brain” (July/August 2014, pp. 62–75). Not only do I highly recommend the article to you, but starting yesterday I am devoting several of my blog posts to various aspects of it.
A one-size-fits-all formula for creativity approach or measurement does not exist. What works for one person, process, or situation may not work for another person, process, or situation. Creativity—by its very nature—comes in diverse packages and approaches.
For example, consider divergent thinking versus convergent thinking. Divergent thinking challenges us, as Andreasen explains, to identify as many uses as possible for a brick. Whoever comes up with the most uses must be the most creative person because he or she used divergent thinking. On the other hand, convergent thinking challenges us to identify the one correct answer to a question.
Is one approach intrinsically superior to the other when it comes to creativity? Andreasen makes the case that any bias toward using a divergent thinking approach (counting the number of uses for a brick) might involve some dangerous assumptions. Moreover, we have to be careful about the assumptions we make about creativity:
“While [the divergent thinking] approach is quantitative and relatively objective, its weakness is that certain assumptions must be accepted: that divergent thinking is the essence of creativity, that creativity can be measured using tests, and that high-scoring individuals are highly creative people. One might argue that some of humanity’s most creative achievements have been the result of convergent thinking—a process that led to Newton’s recognition of the physical formulae underlying gravity, and Einstein’s recognition that E=mc-squared.” (p. 66)
I agree with Andreasen’s observation. Divergent thinking is powerful and important. Convergent thinking is powerful and important. However, to ascribe superiority to one approach over the other is folly. Perhaps a divergent thinking approach will produce a superior result when convention demands a convergent thinking approach. Perhaps a convergent thinking approach will produce a superior result when convention demands a divergent thinking approach. Again, creativity by its very nature requires that we are open to diverse approaches.
You never know exactly where a good idea might originate . . . until you try.