Creative – or Not? Characteristics to Consider

Innovation and intrapreneurship rely on creativity. How do you know whether you or others in your organization are creative? We’re not talking only about artists when the term “creative” is used. By examining behavior and thoughts, it is possible to get a feel for what a broad audience my agree constitutes creative talent. Jeffrey Baumgartnerauthor of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master, believes that two behavio(u)rs are predictive of creativity:

Behaviour One: Make More Use of Their Mental Raw Material

It seems that when highly creative people are trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal, particularly when the goal is related to their area of creative strength, they use much more of their brains than do ordinary people or, indeed, even themselves when not focused on a creative task. If the average person is asked to draw a picture of a cat, she will most likely think about the physical appearance of a cat and replicate it as best she can with pen and paper. The creative artist, on the other hand, will think in much more depth. She’ll think not only about the cat, but the placement of the cat; what the cat is doing; the lighting; the kind of lines to use and much more. She may decide to humanize the cat and give it emotions. Perhaps she’ll decide to draw a sexy cat with a human body wearing an evening gown. Maybe she’ll simply draw a blur representing a cat in motion.

By using much more of her brain to achieve her goal, the highly creative person in effect provides herself with more raw material from which to construct ideas than the average person. The average person thinks only about drawings of cats and the basic characteristics of cats. This limits the level of creativity she can achieve. The highly creative person thinks about much more — all the while retaining some connection to cats. It is not surprising that, with so much raw material, she is able to be more creative in the realization of her ideas.

They Think Before They Act
It takes time to run through all that raw material in the brain. This is why creative people tend to think before they act. The play with the issue in their minds for a time, looking at a range of possibilities before choosing a direction. I see this when I work with creative people. When you give an average person a creative challenge, she tends immediately to try and come up with ideas. But because her mind is too focused on the issues of the challenge, her ideas are limited in scope as well. 

Incidentally, the highly creative person does not focus on her left brain or right brain for a simple reason: it’s a myth (Christian Jarrett (June 2012) “Why the Left-Brain Right-Brain Myth Will Probably Never Die”; Psychology Today.) Creative people use a lot of their brains, not one hemisphere or the other!

Curiosity Is Creative Play
Rather than simply collect information, their brains play with it. One person might see a horse standing in a field and think it is a magnificent looking animal. Another, more curiously creative person, might wonder what the horse thinks about all day in the field. She might wonder how the horse can cope for long hours of inactivity without a book to read. 

Spontaneous Ideas
For instance, it is by asking what use could be made of not very sticky glue that some people discovered Post-Its. Pablo Picasso wondered how he could depict three dimensional reality, as viewed from different perspectives, on a two dimensional canvas and came up with cubism.

Creative mind
Behaviour Two: Less Intellectual Regulation

The dorsolateral prefrontal region of the brain is responsible for, among other things, intellectual regulation (Simon Ross (2008) “Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex”; Psychlopedia). It includes the brain’s censorship bureau; the bit of the brain that prevents us from saying or doing inappropriate things. It seems that in highly creative people, this part of the brain becomes much less active than normal during the period of creation. It is not that highly creative people are not afraid of ridicule or criticism (indeed, many artists are highly sensitive). Rather, it never occurs to them that others might ridicule their ideas.

Creative People Are Not as Rebellious as You Think
Instead, they follow their own rules or systems for evaluating ideas and deciding whether to move forward with those ideas. These rule systems are often logical, at least to the creative thinker. An artist, for example, will not make a name for herself by studiously copying current trends. Rather, she will become famous by being unique. 

Creative People Are Logical
That logic may be based in part on emotions and feelings — especially in some artists. If anything, by not feeling compelled to fit the demands of popular culture, the creative artist needs to be even more logical than the average person who assumes that if everyone wears and buys a particular style jacket, then it is safe to buy and wear such a jacket.

Creative People Tend to Be Less Honest
Research by Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely (Francesca Gino, Dan Ariely (2011) “The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can be More Dishonest”; Harvard Business School Working Paper) confirms that, in general, highly creative people are less honest than averagely creative people. The reason for this seems to be that creative people can use their creativity to justify their actions in ways that less creative people cannot do.

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