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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 subject.  For instance, one person sees creativity as the activity of merely coming up with ideas; therefore, the more ideas, the more creativity.  In 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 organization. 

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 creative idea.

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 “innovation.”  I 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.

©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.