The key work on Systems Theory in Creativity was done by Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi (1988, 1999) in providing a model with which to explain how creative artifacts emerge from the system, which is a confluence model. Csikszentmihalyi's model incorporates three entities, the Individual, The Field and the Domain.
Creativity is a multidisciplinary, multifaceted concept that has held the interest of both theorists and practitioners over many years. It is perhaps more important today than ever before (Runco, 2004) because of the fast and complex changes that characterize the environment in which we live and operate. Some of the more fundamental changes are: a) globalization which, among other things, has introduced diversity in cultures and markets and exposed organizations to increased competitive pressure; b) technology advancements, particularly in communication, that have changed the means and the pace of information flow; c) organizational structures that are leaner and flatter, sometimes with part of the operations physically located on other continents; d) shift from manufacturing dominated to service dominated economies; e) markets that are more informed about products, available choices and civil rights.
All these changes make obsolete the traditional ways of going about business and pose new challenges for decision makers. Individuals, firms and governments alike are must seek novel solutions to the challenges posed by the increasing dynamism and complexity of their environment. Creativity is the first step in the formulation of the novel solutions needed to counter these equally new situations. Indeed since the times of Graham Wallas and his work – Art of Thought - published in 1926, creativity has been recognized as a useful and effective response to evolutionary changes.
Meaning and Scope
Being a multidisciplinary concept, creativity means different things to, and is expressed in different ways by different people. Organizational creativity is different from artistic creativity and both are different from clinical creativity. Emphases will also differ from one discipline to another. A psychiatrist’s interest in creativity will be different from that of a mathematician and both will differ from that of an organizational behaviorist. Consequently, debates abound as to the origins, boundaries, processes and importance of creativity. For organizations and businesses however, the debates are only academic because of the role that creativity plays in innovation and entrepreneurship.
In organizations and businesses, creativity is the process through which new ideas that make innovation possible are developed (Paulus & Nijstad, 2003). Additionally, at least for business organizations, creative ideas must have utility. They must constitute an appropriate response to a gap in the production, marketing or administrative processes of the organization. In this sense, creativity may be defined as the development of original ideas that have functional utility. The generation and development of original ideas is a complex process that has attracted research interest in several disciplines. The model first developed by Wallas in 1926 seems to have gained general acceptance, albeit with modifications over time. Without going into details, the model breaks down the creativity process into five stages namely: idea germination (or problem perception), knowledge accumulation (also called preparation or immersion), incubation, illumination (also called revelation or the Eureka stage) and verification (or evaluation).
There are other interesting perspectives about the meaning and scope of creativity. Only a few of them are mentioned here. First, understanding creativity as an aspect of problem solving seems to suggest that creativity is reactive. While this is true – creativity responds to new demands occasioned by changes that have become part of organizational life – creativity is also proactive (Heinzen, 1994). Understanding creativity as the development of new ideas that have utility pits the concept in a dual role of problem solving and problem finding (Runco, 2004). As developments in the communication industry demonstrate, creativity has a role to play in initiating change and evolution in organizations. Second, whereas originality is necessary, it is not sufficient for creativity. Unless an idea is useful to someone and can be replicated, it is only just that – a bright idea (Drucker, 1994). In addition, originality does not imply that creative ideas are always radical deviations of present day applications. Inventions are momentous when they are introduced on the market but there are very few radical inventions and far between. In many cases creative ideas that result in innovations are a reformulation of existing ideas that makes them more versatile, user-friendlier or just less costly to produce and dispense. Third, creativity is intricately linked to innovation and entrepreneurship (Kao, 1989). Creativity envisions what is possible and is more conceptual than practical. Innovation and entrepreneurship complete the cycle by applying the results of the creative process to economic or social advantage. Fourth, a distinction needs to be made between talent creativity – like that possessed by artists and performers – and self-actualizing creativity (Maslow, 1971) that is deliberately developed for problem solving and competence enhancing. The point here is that creative ability is a process of nature and nurture. Some may have a natural flair for creative thinking while for others it lies latent and must de deliberately developed. Fifth, apart from the categorization along the disciplinary divide, creativity may also be discussed under an alliterative scheme adopted by Runco from Rhodes (1987). The scheme distinguishes between the creative person, process, product and pressures (press) on creative persons or creative processes.
Factors that enhance creativity in individuals or organizations may be divided into two categories - personal and environmental. Personal characteristics that enhance creative ability include high evaluation of aesthetic qualities, having broad interests, curiosity and a penchant for discovery, openness to suggestion, attraction to complexity, having independence of judgment thought and action, a love for autonomy, intuition, self-confidence, ability to accommodate ambiguity and to resolve antinomies, intrinsic motivation and a firm belief in self as a creative person.
Environmental factors examine the context in which creative ability is nurtured and in which creative action is required. In an individual’s formative stages, family background and structure (Sulloway, 1996), societal norms and values, social institutions such as schools, religion, role models and peer groups all play a role in the nurturing of creative ability. Contexts that are flexible about rules and regulations, permitting experimentation and independent choices will enhance creativity. Those that are rigid will inhibit it. In the organizational context, situations that avail time to think, resources to spend, encouragement and reward for original solutions, freedom from criticism and that have good role models and norms in which innovation is prized and failure is not fatal, will enhance creativity.
Among the factors that inhibit creative ability in individuals and organizations are a population that is not curious or inquisitive and unwilling or unable to question assumptions, resistance to change and tendency to conform, fear of failure and criticism, red tape, time pressure (time is important for new ideas to incubate), lack of feedback, inappropriate norms and values, strict adherence to rules, regulations and budgets, an atmosphere characterized by constraint and lack of autonomy, blinked thinking and unrealistic expectations, over analysis of phenomenon (resulting in paralysis), organizational structures that constrain the flow of ideas, lack of recognition and reward for successful ideas, short term orientation and departmental actions that fail to take into account the bigger picture (functional myopia).
There are also a number of factors that may work both ways - that may stimulate or inhibit creativity. Among these are: lack of resources – ideas require extensive resources to be developed but paucity may in itself be an incentive for creativity (Runco, 2004); competition may also act in both directions – it may stimulate creativity to maintain a competitive edge but it may also discourage creative effort by making obsolete innovations before they are able to recoup expenditure on their development.
The Dark Side
While creativity has been associated with problem solving and value enhancing through proactive actions, it has also been linked with potential costs to the individual and to the society at large. For example, creative geniuses have been associated with various disorders including madness and eccentricity (Ludwig 1995), alcoholism (Noble et al 1993) and stress (Carson and Runco, 1999). Runco (1999) suggested that because creativity is strongly linked to originality it is a kind of social deviance. Plucker & Runco (1999) and Runco (1999) observed that there is frequent stigma attached to creativity. Before these, McLaren (1993) made the observation that it is the dark side of creativity has given the world weapons of mass destruction and other evil inventions and techniques. It would of course be naïve to conclude that creative persons are mad, social deviants or terrorists from such correlations.
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