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Creativity Comments by Winston J. Brill, Ph.D.
06/01 Creativity Comment
What Is Creativity?
It’s important that we share (at least in this Creativity
Comments series) a common definition of “creativity.” I’ve gone to many creativity-focused meetings where no one
ever defines the topic. Attendees
usually come away with even greater “fuzziness” about the
instance, one person sees creativity as the activity of merely
coming up with ideas; therefore, the more ideas, the more
contrast, another individual may look upon creativity as the
result of a “wild” imagination.
In this case, the odder the ideas, the more creative they
are. And yet someone
else may think of creativity in a more practical manner, and
define a creative idea as one that has actual application.
To underline this confusion is the publication of a book by
Andrei G. Aleinkov, Sharon Kackmeister and Ron Koenig, “Creating
Creativity: 101 Definitions” (McKay Press, Midland,
Michigan, 2000). Various
creativity experts offer their definitions, some several hundred
words long. Mine was
one of the shortest: having
a new and useful idea.
That’s the definition I’ll be using throughout these
Creativity Comments. In
my mind, a creative thought is one that is useful.
I want to point out that none of the other definitions are
“wrong.” But to
make sense of my opinions and conclusions, we require a common
ground. I will, in
later Comments, present opinions relating to having lots of ideas
and also relating to one’s imaginative abilities.
To whom should the creative idea be useful? In the workplace, your ideas should be useful to your
Sometimes, the idea leads to immediate use.
More often, the idea won’t be useful to the organization
until days, weeks, months, or years after the initial breakthrough
thought. And, in most
cases, to achieve its use, the idea requires many more ideas, from
many individuals. Obviously,
an idea that isn’t pursued, by my definition, cannot be a
An idea that made a policy manual slightly easier to use is a
creative idea, and an idea that led to a blockbuster product also
is creative. Creativity
ought to be active at every level in an organization.
There’s another ramification to accepting the above
definition. Only an
individual can be creative, can have an idea.
A group can never be creative.
Groups don’t have ideas; individuals do.
However, the group usually plays a key role in helping
someone come up with a creative idea.
Other people supply information, critique an idea, politic
for the idea, support the idea, or pursue the idea.
Usefulness is mostly defined, not by the person who had the
idea, but by other people—many times, the customer.
Frequently, “creativity” is used interchangeably with
define innovation as bringing something into use.
For instance, someone may have an idea for a new product.
But, to bring that idea into use, many more ideas are
essential—ideas for producing the product, for packaging the
product, for financing the product, and for selling the product.
These ideas usually come from many people and at different
times. Ideas, then,
are the sparks that drive the innovation process.
Without creativity, there will be no innovation.