What is Creativity?

Creativity is not easy to define. Have you ever googled: ‘What is Creativity’? You will find the answer in the form of about 200,000,000 search results! Maria Popova of Brainpickings nails it when she says “‘Creativity’ is one of those grab-bag terms, like ‘happiness and ‘love,’ that can mean so many things it runs the risk of meaning nothing at all.” Author of Creativity is Forever, Gary Davis (1983) eloquently put it when he stated “there are about as many definitions, theories, and ideas about creativity as there are people who have set their opinions on paper” (p. 41). One thing that is generally agreed upon is that creativity is complex and multifaceted (Davis, 1983; Poutanen, 2013).

Let’s begin by examining the misconceptions around creativity…

What Creativity is NOT

A good place to begin in understanding creativity is to dispel some creativity myths. Chances are, you, like me, either were told these were truths or grew up believing they were. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest myths surrounding creativity:

Myth 1: Creativity is divinely-inspired and bestowed on only a lucky few.

Also referred to as the ‘Breed Myth’, this simply is not true. With the proper training, anyone with a common-sense mindset grounded in reality can deliver creative and innovative new ideas, projects, processes, and programs.

Myth 2: Creativity is about the arts only.

This automatic notion that creativity is equal to art, including music, theatre and dance unfortunately is a huge barrier to the progress of creative development. Creativity certainly is a big part of the arts, but it is also about being open to new experiences and possibilities, new thinking and innovation.

Myth 3: Eureka myth. Ideas randomly strike.

Research shows that new ideas that appear as a flash of insight are actually the culmination results of prior hard word on a problem. Your unconscious mind is sifting through information and recombining ideas – a process known as “incubation”. The Eureka moment is actually the last step in a long, involved process – not the only step.

Myth 4: Originality myth.

There’s a long standing myth about intellectual property – the idea that a creative idea is proprietary to the person who thought of it. But history and empirical research show more evidence that new ideas are actually combinations of older ideas and that sharing those helps generate more innovation.

Myth 5: Expert myth

Companies often rely on experts or a team of experts to generate a stream of creative ideas, however research suggests that particularly tough problems often require the perspective of an outsider or someone not limited by the knowledge of why something can’t be done.

The Four C Model of Creativity

One of the biggest misconceptions about creativity is that one needs to reach the level of ‘genius’ such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein or Mozart to be creative. “The truth is creativity is not just for geniuses” (Millar, 2001, p. 11). Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner talks about “small c” creativity or daily creative activities, and “Big C” creativity, world influencing creative contributions. Creativity scholars Kaufman and Beghetto (2009) further defined big and little c by adding “mini c”, learning process, and “Pro c”, professional level expertise, creating the Four C Model of Creativity. This framework provides a conceptual model that is helpful in understanding that one can deliberately work toward either a small, mini, pro, or big C creative level.

4C model

What Creativity IS!

As stated already, creativity is a complex topic which has about as many definitions as there are people who offer their opinions.
Let’s take a look at definitions of creativity that exist – see what resonates most with you!

“Creativity = Novelty that’s useful.”
Novelty: newness, originality, a fresh approach, Useful: serves a purpose, has value

“Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being…”– Rollo May

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks,

“Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being…”– Mary Cook

“Creativity is an ‘imaginative process with outcomes that are original and of value.” – Ken Robinson

Let’s Look at it Another Way

In the 1960s Mel Rhodes set off on a personal quest to find an all-encompassing definition of creativity. He researched all the literature and collected definitions from myriad sources. One definition eluded him. Rhodes provided a more holistic approach to defining an all-encompassing definition of creativity. He settled for describing creativity with the “Four P’s.”


Ruth Noller’s Creativity Formula

The most comprehensive and solid definition that I have come across is Noller’s creativity formula:

C = f a (K, I, E)

Creativity is the function of an individuals Attitude, driving his or her Knowledge, Imagination, and ability to Evaluate ideas (Puccio et al., 2012). It is important to be clear that creativity is not exclusive to artists, musicians and writers but instead it is an attitude that people can develop when they open their minds to all the possibilities in life.  Without an open mind and the intention to create, knowledge, imagination and evaluation exist without purpose. For this reason, I respect the notion that attitude affects everything else.

How does attitude impact creativity?

To aid in understanding the impact of attitude, let’s look to Puccio, Mance, Switalski & Reali’s (2012) formula to explicate the meaning of attitude:

 a = V, DP, IM

“A productive and positive attitude, one that fully engages an individual’s creative potential, is a combination of Vision (V), Deliberate Practice (DP), and Intrinsic Motivation (IM)” (p. 29). The articulation of the key elements of creativity described by Noller’s formula and further defined by Puccio et al. is the basis and inspiration of my philosophy of creativity.


Beghetto, R. A & Kaufman, J. C. (2009). Beyond Big and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity. Review of General Psychology, 13(1): 1-12.
Davis, G. A. (1983). Creativity is forever. Fifth edition. Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Millar, G. W. (2001). The Torrance kids at mid-life: selected case studies of creative behavior. Westpot, Conn: Ablex Pub.
Poutanen, P. (2013). Creativity as seen through the complex systems perspective. Interdisciplinary Studies Journal, 2(3).
Puccio, Mance, Switalski & Reali. (2012). Creativity rising. New York: ICSC Press.


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