Creativity is a strange beast. Often creativity is blocking us, running away. We often talk about it, discuss it at length and even say it can be learned. Sometimes it’s even hard to find that creative spark. However what is creativity. In reality creativity is a hard thing to define as a specific reproducible item.
Doesn’t help that creativity is different things to different people.
You see creativity can be related to the newer western principle of making products, building things for a purpose, the expression of scientific or technological innovation. Where as in older cultures, there has always been an undertone for creativity being more for personal fulfilment, private goal setting, the taking of an inner journey.
Sure there are definitions of creativity all over the place. This still doesn’t help, as the biochemical, physiological and psychological process of creativity is still something of a mystery to which we only have fragments.
What is Creativity
What we do know is that the moment of creativity is often accompanied with a heightened state of consciousness.
Things appear to be more vibrant, more alive, colours are vivid, sounds more pure, it’s like a sensory overload. Others have described this inspirational moment as a peroid of loss of control, a trance like, muse controlled, dreamlike state.
Interestingly Carl Jung (that psychologist guy) segmented these two states into:
- “a state of emotional high tension” and;
- “a state of dream-like contemplation”.
His idea is that creativity is the release of emotional tension. Especially the tension, built up over time, coming from the hard work of the creative process. Well I know we can all relate to that idea.
Later on Damasio (a neurologist) leveraged off Jung’s work in looking at emotions, creativity and consciousness. Damasio theorised self-awareness was a very important component of the creative process. The ability for your mind to make it’s own patterns, designs without reference to previous experience or knowledge. This will be of a particular interest later.
Creative excitement of the artist at her easel or the scientist in the lab comes as close to the ideal of fulfilment that we all hope to, and so rarely do, achieve – Mihaly Csikszentmihalhyi
More recently research has indicated that the two different states of consciousness, correspond to two different brain states:
- Enhanced consciousness is associated with increased beta waves.
- Dreamlike state is associated with alpha waves.
This supports the relevant experiences of clarity and dream-states that have been reported. Nothing new really, just a documented physiological response.
It’s also been suggested that creativity is similar to a spiritual experience, a type of receptive non-egoist cognition. The type of experience where you just trust in a state higher than you to provide the final solution. Something like a complete trust in a greater god-like power.
Personal and Group Creative Processes
Still creativity is not just about the creative individual either.
Yes, true, you do get the creative star. The person that is going to produce that single creative masterpiece. However creativity can also be a group process, requiring the dynamic of the group to foster the creative process.
The inclination to work in one process or the other really just comes down to a personal choice, the processes, the environment, social dynamics and the expected outcomes.
You tend to find that teams that don’t allow for any creativity, that focus on the total needs of the team at the costs above everything else with not have strong creative outcomes. This can mainly be seen as a stifling of the creative spark. The removal of the lack of self may be a very large contributing factor here.
Still you can have creative people in the team, and yes they will create, if you let them. Even though they have become faceless in the team itself. It’s matter of fostering the belief in self.
It’s their individual presence and creative ability in the team that produces the creative outcome. It’s their being able to express their sense of self that seems to promote the creative process.
Something to think about in UX teams. Even in a team it’s still about the person, and promoting personal creativity.
Original Creative Process
Something we tend to forget is that the creativity is about being original, creating the new. The magic of producing something from nothing. Or maybe even reshaping an old idea into something new from a different angle.
Newness and Uniqueness
The aspect of what is original is really relative to the individual. You may consider an idea new to yourself, but your peers may consider it to be old and an estabilished concept. Interestingly this relative creativity even has a series of terms associated with it.
Margaret Boden, categorised relative original creative ideas as:
- P-creativity (psychological creativity) – new or novel ideas only from the mind of the individual concerned.
- H-creativity (historical creativity) – known to be new or novel to the whole of human history.
So if you produce an idea that is new to you, you are being p-creative. However if the idea is new to society then it is h-creative or historically creative.
This does bring us to a question of what is unique and what is new. Something can be new to generation, new to an individual, but its not an absolute. Historically it is not new. Where as something being unique is the first of it’s kind, without parallel or comparison to anything else ever.
So maybe true creativity maybe expressed in uniqueness.
The issue is that in today’s world it is hard to be truly unique in ones creativity. We are often unconsciously referencing to our memories, experiences and influences all the time. With the information age – the amount of information that we are exposed to is without doubt a magnitude larger than our predecessors even 20 years ago.
We no long have the benefit of living in the world of our predecessors; left to just receive a trickle from the rest of the world of the changes, new information and influences around them. In the past they had the luxury that they could create with a distinct reduction from the taint of the world around them.
Produce or Create
Following on from this is the question can something artificial, like a computer, be creative. What is it that makes anything creative. Does some that is going to be creative need a state of consciousness to capture the unique ideas.
This could be debated here till the cows come home. So let’s not, eh.
Maybe its just the lack of consciousness that is stopping the creative process with machines, provide consciousness and you have creativity.
Then again if we are borrowing from our previous experience and knowledge are we being really creative. Maybe we are just being machine-like and producing a design, instead of creating a design. Something to think on when you do your next UX project.
It could just be the use of the logical process verse the gut instinct to produce the creative process. Semantics, yes, but still very important.
Meaningful Creative Process
Now creativity without a cause, without meaning, is often seen as pointless, soulless.
The meaning can be a personal thing, for the creator, or even a commercial motivation. Still at the end of the process there has to be a reason, a goal, a meaning behind it all.
It is this meaning that allows us to have a sense of achievement when we complete a creative process.
In a way, one only becomes creative if there is understanding and meaning of the creative product. If the product has no understanding or meaning, then the creativity can’t be seen and understood by others. It follows then to others it’s not creative, it’s just product of a process.
UX and Creativity
With all this talk on creativity and what it is – are we really being all that creative in the User Experience process? Or are we just applying the outcome of the design (user) research, web strategy and general design principles to the user interface design. Or are we stepping beyond this and making something new, unique and innovative?
Sometimes I question if we are being as creative as we could be, has business and commercial constraints weakened our grasp on creativity?
To be creative an idea must be usable and actionable – Teresa Amabile
Still what is creativity to you? Do you think it can be learned, studied and mastered; or is it something more innate?