Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 10 / OCTOBER 1983 / PAGE 196

Profile of the creative individual. (part 2) Eugene Raudsepp.

Despite the contemporary trend toward specialization in almost very occupation and profession, there is a growing realization that no specialist can make a significant contribution in his field of endeavor unless he is well versed in many fields beyond his own specialization. Many fields have evolved to such a degree of complexity and difficulty that it takes continuous, unremitting study in many diverse areas to be able to function creatively.

The intellectual baggage a person has accumulated during his educational career becomes obsolete only four to seven years after graduation unless he actively continues his education, according to several studies. In addition, it is estimated that in some technical fields as much as a third of a person's time during the workday must be devoted to keeping up with the ever-increasing arsenal of new knowledge. And this cumulative information deals exclusively with the area of a person's specialty. For creative thinking, however, one needs competence that spans a variety of disciplines. Heedful of this, the creative person makes education and the acquisition of new knowledge a vital part of his career design. His goal is to broaden and deepen his intellect without spreading himself thin or becoming pedantic.

The specialist (especially in technological fields) is frequently noncreative because he is unable to see beyond the accepted narrow area of his particular field of specialization. As William J.J. Gordon, founder of Synectics, Inc., points out, "Many highly trained people naturally tend to think in terms of the dogma of their own technology, and it frightens them to twist their conventions out of phase. Their conventions sometimes constitute a background of knowledge upon which they rely for their emotional stability. Such experts do not want cracks to appear. They identify their psychic order with the cosmic order and any cracks are signs of their orderly cosmos breaking up."

The narrow specialist frequently thinks he knows it all and takes inordinate pride in his expertise. When confronted with ideas or approaches that are somewhat unorthodox, he feels compelled to prove, often with convincing logic, that they just wouldn't work. The creative person, with a more open mind and global grasp of things, will often not accept or believe the arguments that the expert advances. He goes ahead, develops his own method of approach, and is frequently successful with problems considered by the expert to be insoluble.

Perhaps the chief danger of specialization, however, is that it emphasizes and demands strict conformity to the accepted dogmas and conventions of a field. Learning to comply with the established dogmas starts early in a person's educational career. By the time he is ready to graduate into original production, he frequently finds that he cannot free himself from its bondage.

Relatively few individuals find the courage to tackle new problems in a new, unconventional manner; only a few transcend their subjugation to the traditional and jump beyond the orthodox to original viewpoints and approaches. The renowned physicist and father of operationalism, P.W. Bridgman, advises that the most important thing for the creative peson to remember is merely "to do his utmost with his mind, no holds barred."

This is not to deny the value of mastering the traditional methods and canons of a field. Without mastery of the accumulated knowledge of a field which takes a great deal of study and practice, one's compelling hunches may remain mere flashes in the creative pan. The power of originating ideas without skill and knowledge often prevents their full exploitation. Still, the important point is that one cannot afford to be unduly influenced or enslaved by established knowledge. Creativity is the natural enemy of dogma and conformity. Creative Memory

The unconscious is a vast storehouse of memories: facts, observations, impressions, ideas, and associations. The creative individual's unconscious is always richly stocked with these, but this in itself does not indicate creative ability. Most of us know people who seem to have all kinds of information and facts at their fingertips, yet have never been able to achieve much in a creative way. Often the reason for this is that their memory functions as a rigidly ordered storage of deposited concepts that precludes a flexible and imaginative use of them.

That a prodigious memory can act as a deterrent to creativity is pointed out by scientist Ralph Gerard: "Memory is a desirable attribute; but it is not worthwhile if, as is often the case, one pays for it by having a nervous system that somehow fixes so easily that it loses pliability and the ability to use facts in reasoning and imagining. The general experience has been that the memory wizards are likely to know everything but are not able to do much with it; they are not creative people. There are, of course, notable exceptions; if you happen to be a memory wizard you may also be creative, but the chances are strongly against it."

What makes memory creative is a state of flux or dynamic mobility in its components. The noncreative memory encapsulates or files its data and impressions neatly into independent groupings, clusterings, and categories, all clearly bounded and demarcated. The creative memory, on the other hand, has permeability in its structural boundaries so that all sort of related or unrelated data, impressions, and concepts can be cross-indexed and interassociated. Furthermore, in the creative individual's unconscious an incessant rearranging, pruning, discarding, and refining of ideas occurs. Such a permeably structured and dynamically fluid memory encourages new combinations of ideas to form. Thinking In Images

Creative people rely heavily on internal visual imagery or "thought-visions," which are, at times, exceptionally clear and vicid; at other times they can be murky and tied to a tumble of vague, meandering thoughts. Whether clear or cloudy, imagery often contains the kernel of an original idea.

It was an image analog that started atomic physics. To find an explanation for the atomic structure of elements, Niels Bohr used the image of tiny spheres circling in orbits. For insight into the processes within the atom, he used the image picture of a miniature planetary system. Einstein also claimed that he rarely thought in words. Notions came to him in images, and only later did he try to express these in words. And there are many other noted creative individuals who state that first they try to feel or couch in imagery what they imagine before naming or verbalizing.

Language, of course, can exert a tremendous influence on both the unconscious direction of thinking and on the way thoughts are finally formed and articulated. But this influence can often be harmful because of the readiness of language to name immediately, to label what is perceived internally. Frequently this limits any further development of the incipient ideas.

Most people are impatient with the vagueness and incoherency of ideas during the beginning stages of the creative process. They feel immediately compelled to force them into the familiar mold of existing framework or into language and concepts that invariably fail to do justice to the singular qualities of the perceived novelty. The attempt to crystallize the initially dim or vague creative idea, the eagerness with which most people attempt to snatch it from the void, so to speak, forces on the idea a premature closure that prevents the full range of novelty from finding expression.

The precision forced on images and complex thoughts through premature articulation is also fraught with the danger of latering them. The renowned mathematician Jacques Hadamaard states: "I feel some uneasiness when I see that Locke and similarly John Stuart Mill considered the use of words necessary whenever complex ideas are implied. I think, on the contrary, and so will a majority of creative people, that the more complicated and difficult a question is, the more we should distrust words, the more we should feel we must control that dangerous ally and its sometimes treacherous precision."

Philosopher F.S.C. Northrop states that "If one wants to get pure facts, he must go not to physicists or to chemists or to engineers, but to impressionistic painters. They give us the pure qualities, just the impressions, not the objects we infer from them. ... The person in our society today who shows us what is directly observed is the impressionistic painter. He just paints this field of immediacy with the sensuous qualities and says, 'Now just stop with those and enjoy them.' I believe that one of the greatest sources of creativity is to be found in being pulled back by the modern, Western impressionistic painters to that which is sensed immediately. Only thus are we broken loose from our older inferred theories and enabled to start over again."

What Northrop means is that one should sense what one perceives before articulating it, before making it conceptual or symbolic, or simply, before trying to understand it intellectually. In this essentially feeling-sensorial fashion, we can make our perceptions more original and creative. And if we can incorporate observations creatively, then we can also immeasurably increase our capacity to think creatively. Toying With Ideas

There is often an apparently light side to the creative person's involvement in his work. He tends to become lost in what to an outsider seems irresponsible play with ideas, forms, materials, relationships, concepts, and elements that he shapes into all kinds of incongruous and imaginative combinations. The creative person know from experience that this seemingly purposeless toying with possibilities strengthens while it loosens his imaginative powers. It is a "letting go" exercise, out of which significant creative ideas often emerge.

Improvisation also serves a very concrete and immediate purpose. It often helps creative individuals to "chance upon" creative solutions to recalcitrant problems that had defied any frontal attack. But most important, playful improvisation and the willingness to view a problem from unusual angles helps capture a mood that facilitates the flow of ideas. Then, oen idea will pull out another and, in turn, another, until one idea suddenly commands their full attention because they think that the idea represents something truly novel.

Creative individuals have also learned from past experience that these quasi-serious exercises relax the critical and conservative bent of their consciousness. A light-hearted spirit of play frees them from the habits, conditionings, and conventions that impede the arrival of the new. By putting the judicial censor of their conscious minds to sleep, they can pass over the established order and set the stage for the premiere of fresh ideas and solutions. Analysis and Synthesis

The creative person is able to analyze a problem and to perceive the relationships that exist between the parts and the whole. analysis may seem to be diametrically opposed to creativity, but it is part of the ability to synthesize; prolonged searching and analysis usually precedes creative synthesis. The analysis of a problem and synthesis of elements condition one another and, thus, are complementary aspects of a single process in creative problem solving.

Analysis is necessary because it helps the creative person to break the problem down into manageable elements. to synthesize creatively means to combine or rearrange many elements in a way that results in the formation of a new whole. Thus, the creative person has strong dual abilities, both to abstract the details and particulars and to synthesize or orchesrate a new configuration.

That creative people tend to spend more time in the analytical phases of problem solving then do less creative individuals has been documented by several experiments.

For example, psychologist Gary A. Steiner states: "Experiments have indicated that highly creative individuals often spend more time in the initial stages of problem formulation, in broad scanning of alternatives. Less creative individuals are more apt to 'get on with it.' For example, in problems divisible into analytic and synthetic stages, highs spend more time on the former--in absolute as well as relative terms. As a result, they may leapfrog lows in the later stages of the solution process. Having disposed of mor blind alleys, they are able to make more comprehensive integrations."

Researchers S.I. Blatt and M.I. Stein reached a similar conclusion with their experiments. "Our more creative individuals spent more time and asked more questions that were oriented to analyzing the problem. Our less creative individuals, on the other hand, spent more time and asked more questions that were oriented to synthesizing the information they had. Our observations suggest that the more creative men were 'feeling out' the problem, attempting to understand it, to become one with it; and, after they understood what they were about, they then integrated what they had learned. Consequently, they spent more time analyzing the problem and less time synthesizing the information they had. Our less creaive individuals looked as if they were going to wrench the solution from the problem to dominate it; they 'went after' the answer even before they knew the structure of the problem." Tolerance Of Ambiguity

For many people a significant reason for the lack of ability to produce creative ideas is their strong preference for precise and concrete thoughts. Consequently, they tend to reject prematurely notions and ideas that do not fit into what they already know or that are too intangible or elusive to permit immediate comprehension and categorization. Many people who prefer clarity and effortless understanding experience any vagueness or vague sense of meaning as a scary, uncomfortable, and sometimes even irresponsible state of mind.

Most people find ambiguity threatening; they choose instead the tried and tested pre-mixed recipes for their cognitive food. The clearly defined and familir enthrall most people because the new threatens to disturb the secure comfort of the familiar.

As William J.J. Gordon explains: "All problems present themselves to the mind as threats to failure. for someone striving to win in terms of a successful solution, this threat evokes a mass response in which the most immediate superficial solution is clutched frantically as a balm to anxiety. ... Yet if we are to perceive all the implications and possibilities of the new we must risk at least temporary ambiguity and disorder. Human beings are heirs to a legacy of frozen words and ways of perceiving that wrap their world in comfortable familiarity."

The hold of familiar precludes the possibility of permitting the unguided imaginative promptings that emerge during the creative process to have spontaneous free play.

The truly creative person is not afraid of disorder or ambiguity. On the contrary, he seems rather attracted to phenomena that are not fully ordered or readily comprehended, and he prefers cognitively challenging and complex situations. Aa a result, he is aware of and open to the intricate, confusing, and paradoxical qualities of most situations. There is no desire motivated by fear to close out, ostrich-fashion, any conflicting or ambiguous elements he encounters. Like all human beings, he seeks integration and order but is willing to seek it without shutting out the chaotic or the ambiguous; he has little fear of the unexpected or the unknown.

In his work he is always ready to relax any binding habit patterns and adheres as little as possible to preconceived plans or stereotyped approaches. He also shows his pliability by being able to consider simultaneously different or conflicting concepts and frames of reference.

In addition, the creative person shows his greater plasticity and adaptability while creating; he respects groping and uncertainty while forming and ordering his thoughts. Discernment And Selectivity

By overemphasizing the factor of fluency, those who have investigated creativity, may have overshadowed the importance of another attribute, often overlooked in the discussions of the creative process--the ability to discern the fundamentals in a problem. The factor of discernment, the sensing of relevance, the intuitive feeling of what is significant, is in some ways opposed to fluency but may be as crucial an attribute for creativity as fluency is.

When confronting a problem, creative people differ from the less creative and the noncreative in the quality of elements they select. They are better able to judge which factors must be taken into account and which can be neglected or discarded witout risk of error. They are also able to discard irrelevant ideas, however original, that simply do not fit, whereas a merely fluent person may have his attention tangled amid a jungle of possibilities. In addition, the creative individual shows his selectivity in his ability to organize his work as economically as the objectives allow. He won't allow any superfluous clutter to ruin the elegance of his creative solutions.

In creative problem solving, it is not necessarily the individual who is ebulliently fluent about a problem, nor the person who reaches the highest degree of abstraction in analysis, who shows the most creativity. Whether fluent or not, the individual who can grasp the heart of the matter and has understood the core of a problem, frequently is the most creative.

In creative thinking it is the quality that counts and not necessarily the quantity of ideas produced. Quantity can add up to nothing if the central point is missed. What counts is the discriminative power to see in an area of experience the relevant and qualitatively significant. Creativity means penetrating to the essence, discerning the crux of the problem, rather than merely exhibiting a wealth of notions and ideas.

The creative individual is guided by a hunch or an intuitive feeling that enables him to exercise choice, taste, and discernment. The intuitive feeling enables him to make valid distinctions in the complex interplay of elements with which he is dealing. Without this feeling, he not only misses much of significance, but is apt to get lost in a welter of irrelevancies. Tolerating Isolation

When ready to work, the creative person isolates himself from the distractions and interruptions of his environment in order to establish a receptive, leisurely mood.

He arranges circumstances so that he can be completely alone and undisturbed to concentrate solely on the creative task at hand.

In addition to his ability to tolerate comfortably long periods of physical withdrawal from others, the creative person can tolerate a measure of psychological isolation. If he works in an organization, he realizes that his capacity to create also requires psychological distance from others. This means that he attempts to purge his creative deliberations from considerations such as scheduling, costs, his superior's pet ideas about the approaches to the problem, and most of the other prosaic demands of organizational existence.

Any extraneous considerations that are grafted onto his problem can block the emergence of new ideas. They can act as barriers by inducing anxiety and guilt feelings because he is not doing what is expected or demanded of him. Ideally, he should be allowed to let his mind work at its own pace and in conformity with its own natural, congenial way. Although the creative person requires periods of privacy and is frequently considered to be a "lone wolf," he is seldon withdrawn, isolated, or uncommunicative.

It should be pointed out, however, that prolonged periods of isolation from others tend to deflate and devitalize rather than enhance his capacity to create. Imagination--when isolated or encapsulated--shrinks and shrivels. It must be nourished occasionally by active participation with others. But the creative person cannot allow undue influence from others. He has to retain a safe margin of social distance to do justice to his creative potential.

Because the creative process is a private and internally motivated affair, the creative individual must have the courage and ego strength to face loneliness when venturing into the unknown. Once he is committed to the no-return path toward the unknown, it is almost impossible for him to rely on somebody else or to share the responsibility and the development of his idea. Although teamwork projects are popular these days, the creative person seldom fulfills his potential through collaboration. In the realm of geniune creativity there is only one solo instrument: the private individual mind and personality of the creator.

As Carl R. Rogers states: "One cannot be creative without being out there and alone;" the extent of the aloneness depends on the extent of the creativity. The more creative the act, the more completely alone one is."

And he frequently needs all the courage and self-confidence he can muster to stand up to the criticisms aimed at his idea, for any radically new idea almost always encounters a mountain of resistance and criticism.

The need for isolation and detachment does not mean that the creative individual can totally dispense with encouragement and recognition. Many things of permanent value have been created only because the creative individual received, at one time or another, a great deat of encouragement and stimulation from somebody. Yet, in the final analysis, he must rely on himself. Support and encouragement can be easily withdrawn and constitute only flimsy crutches on the fragile creative terrain. The condition of self-sufficiency and self-responsibility has to be rooted in the creative person himself. Incubation

During the creative process, there comes a time when thinking becomes ponderous and clogged, when errors start to pile up and no further new insights occur. This is the time for the creative person to stop his work on the problem and turn to something freer and different. Many creative people find a welcome change of pace in music, painting, sightseeing, manual tasks, daydreaming, reverie, and so on. These activities not only provide a refreshing interlude, but enable his unconscious mental activities the freedom to operate unrestrained by conscious concentration.

Although the creative person spends a great deal of his conscious effort to solve a problem, he realizes the limitations of this effort and finally resorts to incubation. As psychologist John M. Schlien points out: "Although he has confidence in his ability, the creative person also has an attitude of respect for the problem and admits the limits of his conscious power in forcing the problem to solution. At some point, called 'incubation' by many who have reported the process, he treats the problem 'as if it has a life of its own,' which will, in its time and in its relation to his subliminal or autonomous thought processes, come to the solution. He will consciously work on the problem, but there comes a point when he will 'sleep on it.'"

During the incubation period, the autonomous thought processes in the unconscious take over and continue to solve the problem. Often, when the conscious forcing of the problem to solution has failed, the incubational process succeeds. Productive Periods

The creative person develops an awareness in retrospect of the periods when he solved his problems creatively. He takes note of the methods that were successful and those that failed. He tries to lern why by retracing, as far as he can, the routes he followed and noting those he avoided. He has learned that knowledge of his particular idiosyncrasies and style of creating facilitates his creative process.

He schedules his creative thinking periods for those times when he has his most favorable mental set for producing ideas. He is aware of his personal rhythms and peaks and valleys of output. By keeping a record of those periods during the day or night in which he is most creative, he can establish a pattern and plan ahead, reserving peak periods for concentration and uninhibited thinking, and his less productive time for reading and for gathering information. Even if he has not established a timesheet of productive periods, he has at least developed a sensitivity to those moods that promise really creative returns from his efforts, and he knows when they are approaching. Other Characteristics

Here are some of the other characteristics that differentiate the more creative individual from the less creative:

* He is more observant and perceptive, and he puts a high value on independent "true-to-himself" perception. He perceives things the way other people do but also the way others do not.

* He is more independent in his judgments, and his self-directed behavior is determined by his own set of values and ethical standards.

* He balks at group standards, pressures to conform and external controls. He asserts his independence without being hostile or aggressive, and he speaks his mind without being domineering. If need be, he is flexible enough to simulate the prevailing norms of cultural and organizational behavior.

* He dislikes policing himself and others; he does not like to be bossed around. He can readily entertain impulses and ideas that are commonly considered taboo; he has a spirit of adventure.

* He is highly individualistic and non-conventional in a constructive manner. Psychologist Donald W. MacKinnon puts it this way: "Although independent in thought and action, the creative person does not make a show of his independence; he does not do the off-beat thing narcissistically, that is, to call attention to himself. ... He is not a deliberate nonconformist but a geniunely independent and autonomous person."

* He has wide interests and multiple potentials--sufficient to succeed in several careers.

* He is constitutionally more energetic and vigorous and, when creatively engaged, can marshal an exceptional fund of psychic and physical energy.

* He is less anxous and possesses greater stability.

* His complex personality is, simultaneously, more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, crazier and saner. He has a greater appreciation and acceptance of the nonrational elements in himself and others.

* He is willing to entertain and express personal impulses, and pays more attention to his "inner voices." He likes to see himself as being different from others, and he has greater self-acceptance.

* He has strong aesthetic drive and sensitivity, and a greater interest in the artistic and aesthetic fields. He prefers to order the forms of his own experience aesthetically, and the solutions at which he arrives must not only be creative, but elegant.

Truth for him has to be clothed in beauty to make it attractive.

* He searches for philosophical meanings and theoretical constructs and tends to prefer working with ideas, in contradistinction to the less creative who prefer to deal with the practical and concrete.

* He has a greater need for variety and is almost insatiable for intellectual ordering and comprehension.

* He places great value on humor of the philosophical sort and possesses a unique sense of humor.

* He regards authority as arbitrary, contingent on continued and demonstrable superiority. When evaluating communications, he separates source from content, judges and reaches conclusions based on the information itself, rather than wether the information source was an "authority" or an "expert."