Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 8 / AUGUST 1983 / PAGE 170

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

Profile Of The Treative Individual

The creative individual possesses many distinct attributes or characteristics by which he can be identified and that significantly differentiate him from those who are less creative or even noncreative.

Before describing those attributes in detail, it should be pointed out that no one individual could hope to possess all of these in a uniformly high degree. Rather, the descriptions should be taken as a composite profile of the "ideal' creative individual. There are many gradations in the attributes and skills creative people possess. But all of them have at least some of these attributes in common to earn the appellation "creative.' Also, certain assemblies or combinations of ideational dexterity frequently compensate for many attributes that are less developed or have fallen into disuse.

Another thing that must be pointed out is that no attempt will be made in this article to divide or classify these attributes into the customary cognitive, affective, and conative groupings. The reason for this is that the attributes of creativity are not self-contained units, but overlap and merge into one another, partaking of the affective, the cognitive, and the conative. It would be idle and meaningless to attempt to draw sharp lines between them.

We can not divide personality into characteristics the way we can slice bread into so many pieces. The slices of bread add up to the complete loaf, but a collection of personality characteristics does not add up to a complete personality. It is only to facilitate analysis and description that the characteristics are treated here as discrete entities.

What is the value of gaining an insight into these attributes? Because we learn by imitation, we can substantially increase our creative capacities and performance by deliberately cultivating those characteristics we feel we lack at present or that need some "dusting off.'

Sensitivity To Problems

Philosopher John Dewey was one of the first to note that creativity does not start with facts, theories, or hypotheses, but with a problematic situation. He felt that sensitivity and the ability to envisage and formulate the right problem are crucial to effective problem solving.

The creative person has keen powers of observation and an unusual ability to perceive and notice problems, situations, and challenges that have escaped the attention of others. This is because of his greater sensitivity to the unusual, the odd, or the promising aspects of situations--the hidden opportunities often overlooked by less creative individuals.

The exceptional, incongruous, paradoxical, and unusual happenings and situations that he sees snap him instantly to attention and are grist for his mill. Because of his questioning approach to almost everything he encounters, he doesn't take the obvious for granted. Rather, he deliberately places his problems in new and different perspectives to approach solutions from unique vantage points.

Added to his capacity to note and arrest the unusual or different, to see gaps and unrealized potentials in situations, is his equally well developed ability to see resemblances, similarities, and analogies among a multitude of different experiences.

Perhaps because of the creative person's greater sensitivity to self, to others, and to sensory stimuli from the outside world, he tends to be dissatisfied with things as they are and eager to improve upon them. Hence, he is constantly either seeking or finding challenging problems to solve.

He is like the proverbial Socratic philosopher with a "thorn in his flesh,' in that he is perpetually disturbed by something. For him there is hardly a situation entirely free of problems, but this does not cause him frustration and worry. On the contrary, he welcomes the challenge of problems and the state of "happy' dissatisfaction with the status quo. He knows that creativity grows, as the poet A. E. Houseman speculated, out of irritation, like a pearl created from a friction-generating particle of sand in an oyster shell.


In addition to sensitivity, there are two other attributes vital for creative problem solving: fluency and flexibility.

The creative individual has the ability to generate a large number of ideas when confronting a problem or seeking improvements. He can scan more alternative thoughts, ride the wave of different associative currents, and think of more ideas in a given span of time than can people who are less creative. Capable of tapping his tropical imagination and producing ideas in volume, he stands a good chance of selecting and developing significant ideas.

Fluency can be demonstrated by a simple test first developed by psychologist J. P. Guilford. One can ask people to list as many uses as they can think of for some common object, such as, for example, a red brick. If the person lists a large number of uses all in one class or category, such as construction or adornment, he shows fluency. If he, in addition, lists uses that range over several categories (there are more than sixteen such categories in the case of the red brick), he shows that he also has flexibility.

It must be pointed out that fluency of ideas and spontaneous expressiveness can be considerably enhanced if one learns deliberately to restrain or suppress critical judgment and evaluation of ideas as they occur--until he has marshaled all the ideas he can come up with. An overdeveloped or premature critical attitude during the creative process can inhibit fluency and the processes are not clogged with stereotypes,

Educator Leif Fearn explains fluency this way:

"Fluency is the identification and isolation of knowns. It is rather like rummaging through one's space to make conscious all the possibilities, no matter how remote, that surround a question or problem . . . One characteristic of fluent behavior is its chaining effect by which, given the freedom to brainstorm, some ideas trigger other ideas that might have remained obscure had the production of ideas been limited . . . Fluent behavior has no judgment component because it has nothing to do with "good,' "feasible,' or "appropriate' ideas.

It is purely a searching behavior the objective of which is to make conscious as much data as possible.'

While there is little doubt that a person who wants to increase his creativity in problem solving should be willing to try a wide variety of "shots in the dark' and list a wealth of notions and ideas, it must not be overlooked that fluency is just the initial stage of the creative process. Fluency must be coupled with, first, the selectivity to choose the more fundamental aspects of the problem to attend to and, second, the ability to identify which of many options is the best for solving the problem. Easy rhetoric and ebullient fantasy unguided by these two factors do not guarantee adeptness in creative problem solving.


The creative person is flexible in his thinking. He is able to choose and explore a wide variety of approaches to his problem without losing sight of his overall goal or purpose. During problem solving, if new developments or changed circumstances demand it, he can easily drop one line of thought or an unworkable approach and take up another. He shows resourcefulness in his ability to shift gears, to discard one frame of reference for another, to change perspective, modify approaches and adapt quickly to new developments or requirements. He constantly asks himself, "What else?' or "What would happen if I viewed the problem from a different angle?'

Scientist James H. Austin distinguishes between two kinds of flexibility: "One is the tendency to shift from one category of meaning to another; the second is loose and unstructured meandering of attention, a readiness to free associate, to daydream, to unleash one's thoughts into broad unclassified paths only tangentially related either to the starting point or to each other.' Austin feels that this kind of flexibility correlates with the rapid production of original ideas.

The associative links between the ideas and idea components the creative person forms during problem solving are loose, fluid, and capable of being dissociated and then reassembled into new patterns. He has no obsessional need to arrive at a closure by primaturely categorizing and structuring any of the elements he conceives. Rather, he prefers to consider, test, and weigh many configurations before choosing the one that will solve his problem. Able to perceive a problem from different viewpoints, he can bombard it with a variety of possible solutions. He is free from what can be termed the "hardening of categories.'

Hardening of categories frequently occurs as a result of over-familiarity with an object. As the late professor John E. Arnold of Stanford University put it: "We see a pencil as only a writing instrument, we never see it as a tool for propping open a window, or as fuel for a fire, or as a means of defending ourselves in an attack. A pencil is a pencil. It is not a combination of graphite, wood, brass and rubber, each of which has multiple properties and multiple uses.'


The creative person displays originality in his thinking. Since his thought processes are not clogged with stereotype, he can reach beyond the ordinary or commonplace to think of unusual, unique solutions to his problems. His originality expresses itself also in his ability to take apart firmly structured and established systems, to dissolve existing syntheses and to use elements and concepts outside of their primary contexts to create new combinations, new systems of relationships.

In addition to this ability to fragment and differentiate, the creative person has the ability to find unity in diversity, to see unexpected relationships and kinships, similarities, likenesses, and connections between things, experiences, and phenomena that to the noncreative person evidence no relationship whatever.

The creative person is always in search of the new, always ready to see something unexpected, novel, and fresh in his experiences. He is receptive to unusual ideas, whether they be his own or others'. In fact, it has been noted that the creative person's open-mindedness sometimes extends to the point of gullibility in accepting bizarre or even crackpot ideas, and that he frequently considers such notions quite seriously before relegating them to the dustbin. New perspectives, new ideas, and venturesome concepts provide an end-less source of exercise for his mind.

Originality feeds on change. It is for this reason that many creative individuals--through travel and immersion in new happenings--perpetually seek to re-experience the quality of freshness and the feeling of novelty.


Creativity is, in an important sense, contingent upon the preservation of the curiosity and sense of wonder that are so apparent in youth and so conspicuously absent in many adults. The educational and developmental processes most people to through, while ostensibly preparing them for the responsibilities of adulthood, nevertheless manage to conventionalize them to the point where lively curiosity and wonder almost cease to exist.

In addition to, or perhaps as a consequence of this, many adults have a deep distrust of originality, imagination, and fantasy. They often display this by being quick to criticize or dismiss thoughts that cannot be defended with fact or logic. There is little doubt that this closed-mindedness has invested much of our social environment with a timid cautiousness which prevents many valuable ideas from taking root.

Children have a keen and intense awareness of their environment. They have a ready feeling of curiosity about everything they touch or come in contact with, a precious propulsion toward seeking understanding, toward piercing the mystery they sense in everything they perceive.

The rapt sense of children's wonder and the avid interest in the minutest details of their surroundings, indeed, the sheer poetic intensity of living, disappears sooner than any other characteristic of childhood. Only the truly creative individual manages to retain this early sense of curiosity. And it is thanks to this lively attitude of curiosity and inquiry that the creative person can constantly enrich and increase the store of information and experience that he draws upon when creatively engaged.

Another noteworthy characteristic of the creative person's wide-awake interest and attitude of inquiry is that it invariably extends far beyond the confines of his specialization or main line of work. His wide spectrum of interest embraces many related and unrelated areas, and he can get excited about almost any problem or phenomenon that puzzles him. Many things that are taken for granted by others are for him pregnant with mystery, puzzlement, and challenge.

In this sense he is intellectually restless; not satisfied with what is accepted, established, or known; constantly wondering how things could or might be; always ready to consider and visualize new possibilities. He feels that it is necessary to improve upon, or add to, existing things.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but there has been a curious lack of interest in discovering who the father is. Could it be that the father is curiosity?

Feelings And The Unconscious

The creative person has more energy, is more impulsive, and is more responsive to emotions and feelings than is his less creative counterpart. Since he is more in touch with, and open to, his internal processes, the creative person has better access to the materials buried in his unconscious. Or, to put it differently, his ability to minimize his internal defenses and inhibitions--his relative lack of defensive distortions and repressions--enables him to have a more direct and uncluttered pipeline to the well of ideas in his unconscious.

According to psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, the really creative person is one who accepts his essentially androgynous character: "This is the person who can live with his unconscious; love with, let's say, his childishness, his fantasy, his imagination, his wish fulfillment, his femininity, his poetic quality, his crazy quality. He is the person, as one psycho-analyst said in a nice phrase, "who can regress in the service of the ego.' This is voluntary regression. This person is the one who has that kind of creativeness at his disposal, readily available, that I think we're interested in.'

According to Maslow's theory, there are two distinct kinds of creativity: primary creativity and secondary creativity. Primary creativity is the kind that emerges from the unconscious; is the source of new discovery, novelty, and ideas that depart from what exists at the moment; is common and universal to all people; is found in healthy children; comes from those who are able to play, dream, laugh, and loaf, comes from those who can be spontaneous, open to unconscious promptings and impulses; is present in those who accept their softness, femininity, and weakness; is found more among individuals who have a keen interest in the artistic and aesthetic fields.

Secondary creativity, on the other hand, is the kind that comes primarily from the conscious; comes from rigid, constricted people who are afraid of their unconscious and are cautious and careful in everything they do; comes from those who can't play very well and who excessively control their emotions; is characteristic of those individuals who demand a high degree of order in their lives and who dislike poetry and other expressions of emotion; is present among those who drown their childishness and who are afraid of their softness and femininity and who repress all weakness.

According to Maslow, the healthy creative person is one who uses neither the primary nor the secondary processes exclusively, but who has managed a fusion or synthesis of both the primary and the secondary processes, of the conscious and the unconscious, of the deeper self and the conscious self.

Since the creative person puts greater trust into his feelings and intuitive sensings, he is readily able to use them as guides to steer him during the creative process toward unique solutions to his problems. When judging the relevance of ideas that come to him during the process, he measures their appropriateness and pertinence by their feeling of fit and harmony.


Basic to creative achievement is a strong desire to create. The creative person derives great satisfaction from his creative activities and is keenly interested in his chosen work and the materials with which he works. The difficulties that he encounters do not discourage him. He welcomes problems as personal challenges and looks forward to grappling with them. He assumes an optimistic stance vis- a-vis his problems and feels, like Pogo, that he is "confronted with insurmountable opportunities.'

The creative person likes to pursue problems that are intrinsically of great interest to him and is governed and guided more by internal stimulus than by external demand. He creates not because someone wants him to create, but because he must. In a sense, he is at the mercy of his own values and motivations and deals best with problems to which he has a strong emotional affinity.

The highly creative individual is frequently haunted by his problems and cannot let to of them. Anyone who has observed the creative person at work has been impressed by the total absorption and vigorous concentration that infuses his activity. His strong sense of purpose and commitment and the intensity of his encounter with problems shows strong ego involvement. And this ego involvement is responsible for the unusual tenacity that the creative individual exhibits.

The creative person is ready to engage in meaningful problem solving purely for the satisfaction that it provides and even when there is no other reward in sight. This explains why he goes to great lengths to find problems that interest him and challenge his capacities. His motives are more internal and goal-oriented than competitive, and he is not unduly influenced by what others may be expecting of him.

His chosen work is the most important avenue for the fulfillment of his life and his striving for completion. He is dedicated to what he is doing, and enjoys it. Unlike many human beings, he is not preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness, but finds his happiness in the pursuit of creative activities.

Freedom From Fear Of Failure

Because the career orientation of most people is governed by the pursuit of success, the specter of failure looms large, and in the risk-taking enterprise of creativity, failures do sometimes occur. No new ground is completely secure under foot. One must respond positively to the risk and the challenge of exploring new frontiers. As Austin puts it: "Creativity involves taking one step after another into pitch darkness--not a fussy rearranging of familiar furniture in a flood lighted room.'

The attitude that is requisite for risk-taking is well expressed by the American painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder: "Have you ever seen an inchworm crawl up a leaf or twig and there, clinging to the very end, revolve in the air feeling for something to reach? That's like me. I'm trying to find something out there beyond the place I have a footing.'

Fear of failure prevents many individuals from daring anything really creative, especially when risk is considerable. Their attitude of caution is dictated by their fear of failure. It casts a shadow on them because of the self-induced responsibility for accurate judgment they have and the pride they take in their ability to work and plan successfully. This ability to exercise sound judgment nevertheless qualifies their willingness to risk the kind of leap into the unknown that is involved in genuine creative advances.

Actually, failure should be regarded as a "learning situation'--a situation from which new or improved ideas may arise. Almost every new development has had a history of failures that led ultimately to success. In reality, the greatest failure is the failure to attack a new idea at all.

Persistence and Concentration

An enormous capacity for taking pains, a dogged persistence in the face of difficulties and frustrations, and a vast amount of sheer hard work are some of the other outstanding attributes that mark the creative person. These qualities stand out in their biographies and are also the ones they emphasize most when counseling others with creative aspirations.

The popular notion that the creative individual relies mainly on effortless inspiration and enforced spontaneity is a widespread misconception. Few people realize that creative achievement requires a hard core of self-discipline and arduous, unceasing application. It also requires confidence, the maintenance of morale, and long-lasting pervasive excitement to resist stubbornly premature discouragement in the face of difficulties and temporary failures.

Although the creative person occasionally experiences failure, he is not downed, crushed, or maimed by it. He feels that any adversity he experiences is only temporary and will exhaust itself if he persists. As Einstein once remarked, "I think and think, for months, for years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.'

From talking to highly creative individuals, it becomes clear that the majority of them are unfamiliar with the eight-hour workday. Their preoccupation with problems is incessant. Occasionally they may have moments in their work that are crowned with joy, when, for example, they find that ideas begin to flow after they have surmounted a disruptive hurdle.

But frequently the intense struggle with problems does not yield immediate solutions. As someone put it: "Creativity can be, and often is, a savage experience demanding hard work and the willingness to live with a task to a self-defined conclusion.'

Creation is preceded by hard thinking, prolonged reflection, and concentrated hard work. There is a continuous assimilation of new knowledge and experience, a continuous pondering of the causes of the difficulties that are encountered regularly, and a sorting out of hunches and ideas that flash across the firmament of consciousness, That all this takes time and willingness to experience and accept many agonies along the route is apparent.

Many creative individuals have been threatened--especially when their wastepaper baskets overflow with discarded worksheets--to quit their work for good. In the face of insoluble snags and feelings of helplessness, even digging ditches looks like an easy way out. But the next day they are back, probing and attacking problems, determined to complete what is unfinished, the image of road gangs all but forgotten.

Quite often conscious efforts in the beginning stages of creative problem solving are abortive and useless; creative individuals have testified that they frequently give up their efforts temporarily, that many of their initial attempts end in failure, before valid solutions or ideas emerge. Still, all these apparently futile initial efforts are not wasted, but serve to activate the unconscious processes of cerebration and incubation. Without preparatory work, the unconscious can be notoriously unproductive.

It is true that some creative people rely deliberately on the gestative process of the unconscious to produce ideas for them. With most creators, however, a dogged and intense preliminary effort-- much exhausting spadework--is the necessary prelude to original production. The capacity for original work grows out of long training, constant application, and unflagging persistence.

Since, in the course of creative work, a lessening of persistence frequently occurs--sometimes due to repeated failures, at other times to lessening of interest--the creative person soon learns to cope with this reaction.

Discomfort with persistence or a feeling of flagging interest is often a signal of the need to get away from a problem and relax for a while. Creative individuals often find that they can relax by attacking another challenging problem. Many of them say that they function best when involved in several undertakings simultaneously, each at a different stage of development, each affording an opportunity to relax when interest or ability to persist in working at one problem fails.

The creative process also requires concentration and continuous thinking to the extent that the creative person becomes oblivious to his surroundings. During the creative process he maintains an uninterrupted rapport with his unconscious and formulates the emerging proposals into a sensible solution. This requires disciplined concentration.

Philosopher Richard Guggenheimer explains it this way: "A great disciplinary effort is required for most productive minds before they reach a stage where they are able to swiftly launch themselves into completely spontaneous absorption in the creative business at hand. A thousand and one diverting thoughts must be suppressed; the mind must brush aside myriad temptations to amble here and there along the enticing byways of casual thinking. It must become totally involved in the mounting wave of its deep intent. The principal labor is getting the wave started; most of us splash about in our thinking and mistake the ripples of our noisy commotion for real movement.'

Of course, when there is a complete and wholehearted absorption in the business at hand, the activity itselt helps the process along. Suggestions on how to proceed occur spontaneously. The creative person no longer has to use his energy to force his mind to concentrate on the problem. Where great disciplinary effort is invariably required, however, is at the beginning stages of the problem solving process. It is at these stages that many extraneous thoughts must be discarded or suppressed in order to plug into the creative current.