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10/01 Creativity Comment

Identifying Potential Creativity
by Edgar N. Jaynes, Jr., Ph.D.
Director, Global Competitive Intelligence
Banner Pharmacaps Inc.

I firmly believe that every single human being holds the potential to be creative. At a previous employer, I was part of a committee that studied creativity within the framework of the company and its mission. Our chartering authority believed in the 80/20 rule, and expected that only 20%
of our population was creative. I never accepted that premise. Our definition of creativity turned out to be highly situational and elusive. We did, however, come up with some ideas about stimulating creativity that were institutionalized with measurable results.

My personal experience with creativity is that it assaults one at inopportune times, often not on subjects related to the immediate need (see Creativity Comment 04/01).  I have had many good ideas that I later saw commercialized by someone else, so under the definition that a creative idea is one that someone will pay to obtain, I can be said to be creative. A short fantasy story entitled “Mute, Inglorious Tam” (Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year 1974, Lester del Rey, ed., E.P. Dutton, 1975) explores the thought that having an idea is only the first step, and that many, many people have been "creative" in a vacuum that led nowhere. The actualization of the idea with subsequent recognition of it (sometimes years to centuries later) completes the creativity cycle. Recall poor Semmelweiss, who knew that he had the right idea about what later turned out to be pathogenic bacteria. No one at the time was interested, and the deaths of women in childbirth continued. Look at the movies that have become cult classics, but were panned roundly by critics of the day. Recall that Mozart was a musical revolutionary in his lifetime, but is considered to be an old fogy by most of today's youth.

Defining creativity as having an outcome that is somehow measurable (more than just recalling the events of a dream, for instance) shortens any debate. Some people can be creative on a regular basis, while others seem to have been creative only once, by this definition. All people are creative, and creativity can be amplified. There is a limit, however, that is best illustrated by comic-strip writers, several of whom have reached the limit of their particular vision and retired or gone on sabbatical. Some people become more creative as they age (as Einstein), or less creative (Hemingway). The age is probably not the factor of most importance, but it tracks the development of a thought process that results in creativity. Once a person has developed a process, are they trapped within it? Leonardo da Vinci did not seem to be limited in any such way, but many others apparently are. For the few truly driven by creativity, even rejection of their work will not stop its continuance.

To stimulate continued creativity, satisfaction to the individual must result from the development of the formed ideas. Action must proceed from thought. Resources and support must be available for most people to actualize their full creative potential. The more our living conditions improve worldwide, with attendant resources and the lack of distractions such as starvation, the stronger the wave of creativity that will result. The outcome is bound to be fascinating.

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