from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 4
of Creative People
Davis, professor of educational psychology at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, is author of Creativity
is Forever (3rd ed., 1992), Kendall/Hunt Publishers, Dubuque,
an R&D manager, your job is to get the most from the people
with creative potential. That's
never simple, but the more you know about the abilities and
personality traits of creative people, the easier it will be.
people are typically at least above average in intelligence, but
not necessarily extraordinarily so; other factors are as important
as their IQ—especially the ability to visualize, imagine, and make mental transformations.
A creative person looks at one thing, and sees
modifications, new combinations, or new applications.
For example, a creative product developer for a candy
company, wandering through a supermarket's fruit aisle, will
visualize new candy flavors, sizes, shapes and even audiences.
A designer of educational software strolling through a
video arcade might imagine combining two or three games into an
effective drill-and-practice spelling game.
thinking is central to creativity.
The creative person "makes connections" between
one situation and another, between the problem at hand and similar
important talent for creative problem solving is the ability
to think logically while evaluating facts and implementing
it is even necessary to “find order in chaos.”
For example, a creative supervisor grappling with high
absenteeism and turnover might go beyond employees' superficial
excuses to discover that the true problem is repetitious,
meaningless work, and that the best cure is job rotations, modest
profit-sharing, or giving workers a greater understanding of how
the task fits into the company and the community.
is not just a collection of intellectual abilities.
It is also a personality type, a way of thinking and
living. Although creative people tend to be unconventional, they
share common traits. For
example, creative thinkers are confident, independent, and
risk-taking. They are perceptive and have good intuition.
They display flexible, original thinking.
They dare to differ, make waves, challenge traditions, and
bend a few rules.
all of us, creative people make mistakes, and they subject
themselves to embarrassment and humiliation. They must be willing to fail. Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, even recommended that one route
to success was to "double your failure rate."
particularly common trait of creative people is enthusiasm. The phrases "driving absorption," "high
commitment," "passionate interest," and
"unwilling to give up" describe most creative people.
The high energy also appears in adventurous and thrill-seeking
some of your most creative colleagues ride motorcycles, fly
airplanes, sky dive, climb cliffs, or downhill ski?
and wide interests are related traits, whether the creative person is a
research scientist, entrepreneur, artist, or professional
entertainer. A good
sense of humor is common. Creative
people tend to have a childlike sense of wonder and intrigue, and
an experimental nature. They
may take things apart to see how they work, explore old attics or
odd museums, or explore unusual hobbies and collections.
In other words, "the creative adult is essentially a
perpetual child—the tragedy is that most of us grow up."
interesting combination some creative people display is a tolerance
for complexity and ambiguity and an attraction
to the mysterious. Creative
thinking requires working with incomplete ideas: relevant facts
are missing, rules are cloudy, "correct" procedures
most ideas evolve through a series of modifications,
approximations, and improvements, creators must cope with
creative people seem to couple their interest in complexity and
ambiguity with their lively imaginations and open-mindedness, and
some are strong believers in flying saucers, extra-sensory
perception, or other dubious phenomena.
far the creative personality looks pretty good.
However, exasperated parents, teachers, colleagues, and
supervisors are all familiar with some negative traits of creative
people. They can be
stubborn, uncooperative, indifferent to conventions and
courtesies, and they are likely to argue that the rest of the
parade is out of step. Creative people can be careless and disorganized, especially
with matters they consider trivial.
Absentmindedness and forgetfulness are common.
are temperamental and moody; a few cynical, sarcastic, or
creative people realize there is a time to conform and a time to
be creative. In any
case, managers must learn to control negative traits to maximize
creative output while maintaining the company's standards.
The key is patience and understanding, founded on the
knowledge that such traits are common among people who are
naturally independent, unconventional, and bored by trivialities.
Because rigid enforcement of rules will alienate creative
people and squelch their creativeness, flexibility and
rule-bending are necessary on occasion.
is a management technique that can effectively convey your message
without arousing negative emotions: "How's the new plan coming?
Any chance you'll get it to me by Friday? It'll give me the excuse to be busy this weekend.
With my in-laws visiting and all…."
of my favorite conceptions of creative personality is psychologist
Abraham Maslow's distinction between the self-actualized and the special-talent
creative person. In
your organization, you will likely see each type, as well as some
fortunate individuals who combine these traits.
self-actualized creative person approaches all aspects of life
creatively: he or she is well-adjusted, mentally healthy,
democratic-minded and "forward growing."
contrast, the special-talent creative person has great ability in
a particular area, but may not be psychologically adjusted.
History is full of neurotic and psychotic creative geniuses
(like Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Howard Hughes and Judy
self-actualized person, by virtue of his or her general
creativeness and healthy mental adjustment, is comparatively easy
to work with, yet is energetic and productive in all areas.
The challenge lies in managing special-talent creative
people, who are much more likely to show the negative traits
some suggestions to help develop your own creativity.
Watch your rigidity. Be
open to innovative, even far-fetched ideas.
Foster flexibility by looking at problems from new
for ideas in analogous situations.
important, accept the risk-taking and ambiguity that's inherent in
creative problem solving.