Creativity is often viewed as an ethereal, unpredictable force that cannot be categorized or systematized.
But I believe there is great value in analyzing the types and forms that human creativity takes.
Though the spark of inspiration may be hard to pin down, understanding creativity's diverse manifestations can empower us to nurture it more deliberately across many contexts.
The Traditional Limited Perspective
The common perspective held by many is that creativity either is or isn't - you either have that magical creative juice flowing through your veins, or you don't. This binary viewpoint fails to appreciate and acknowledge the rich diversity and nuance through which creativity expresses itself. It also implies that creativity is somehow a fixed trait or talent, when abundant research shows creativity can in fact be intentionally developed over time with the right conditions.
This limited notion that creativity is set in stone and undefinable does more harm than good. It discourages people from believing they too can unlock their creative potential. It stops organizations from consciously shaping environments where varied forms of creativity can blossom. And tragically, it causes society-wide innovation stagnation by perpetuating myths about creativity being ethereal and inaccessible when it is in fact flexible and cultivatable.
A Practical Framework for Understanding Creativity
By identifying categories and dimensions through which creativity expresses itself, we can develop a more nuanced perspective. Structured frameworks allow us to better comprehend creativity's diversity beyond the oversimplified view of it being either present or absent. A few potential frameworks include categorizing creativity:
Research shows that creativity manifests quite differently across domains. Breaking down domains, we could categorize creativity as:
- Artistic - all forms of visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, music, dance, etc. Manifests itself in novel expressive works that evoke emotion and perspective.
- Scientific - development of theories, experiments, discoveries that advance a field. Manifests itself in building understanding of phenomena via the scientific method.
- Technological/Entrepreneurial - creation of inventions, designs, products, services, business models. Manifests itself in artifacts intended to solve problems and serve people.
- Interpersonal Emotional - creative forms of leadership, relationship-building, social skills, emotional intelligence. Manifests itself in connecting with others.
Appreciating distinctions across domains allows much more tailored approaches to cultivating creativity. We know certain environments nurture artistic creativity, others scientific, others technological. Once we get clarity, we can shape conditions accordingly.
By Magnitude and Scale
Another constructive framework categorizes manifestations of creativity based on the magnitude or scale of impact:
- Paradigm Shifting - The rarest form, this creativity fundamentally transforms entire fields when new ideas and discoveries utterly disrupt accepted paradigms. Examples are Einstein's theory of relativity, which shaped modern physics, or Picasso pioneering cubism, which changed art forever. This form of immense creativity essentially rewrites the progress of an entire domain.
- Pioneering - The mid-level form, this category represents innovations that create important new niches within established domains. Examples are Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone within communication technology, expanding what was possible. Or duPont developing nylon as a new form of polymer. Pioneering creativity moves a field meaningfully forward.
- Incremental - The most common manifestation, consisting of small but gradual innovations and adaptations over time that incrementally enhance processes, products, understanding, etc. within a domain. While not reshaping paradigms, it sustains progress meaningfully. Examples are the constant small improvements to software interfaces over the years.
Parsing out varying impact levels shows us that creativity does not need to be earth-shattering or make headlines to be valuable. Even micro-innovations in thinking add up meaningfully. This helps move us beyond the sensationalism often associated with "genius breakthrough moments" as the only form of praiseworthy creativity. Compounding incremental enhancements fuel progress.
Cultivating Creativity Skillfully and Intentionally
A more practical, structured perspective on the taxonomy and dimensions of creativity does not in any way limit or constrain it. Rather, structured understanding liberates creativity by allowing us to more intentionally promote the particular types of creativity most needed and impactful. With clearer mental models, environments from classrooms to boardrooms can shape conditions skillfully to stimulate creativity's most relevant forms.
For instance, if an organization seeks to drive more product and service innovation, leadership can reference research on the types of spaces, culture, teams, and processes that often spark such technological creativity. Or if a college aims to inspire more pioneering works of art amongst students, structured frameworks help inform environments for that outcome.
Creativity thrives most when consciously cultivated rather than solely left to chance. Categorizing creativity's diverse expressions empowers us to more intentionally nurture it across contexts.
The future progress of economies and societies depends greatly upon continually expanding human creativity's fruits.
Sharing its gifts depends deeply on skillful cultivation.