The Creative Personality:
Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality
By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
makes us different from apes--our language, values, artistic
expression, scientific understanding, and technology--is the
result of individual ingenuity that was recognized, rewarded,
and transmitted through learning.
only sex, sports, music, and religious ecstasy--even when
these experiences remain fleeting and leave no trace--provide
a profound sense of being part of an entity greater than
creativity also leaves an outcome that adds to the richness
and complexity of the future.
are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any
situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach
had to express in one word what makes their personalities
different from others, it's complexity.
show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are
segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of
being an "individual," each of them is a "multitude."
work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an
aura of freshness and enthusiasm.
suggests a superior physical endowment, a genetic advantage.
Yet it is surprising how often individuals who in their
seventies and eighties exude energy and health remember
childhoods plagued by illness.
seems that their energy is internally generated, due more to
their focused minds than to the superiority of their genes.
important thing is that they control their energy; it's not
ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When
necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not,
creative types immediately recharge their batteries.
consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or
reflection very important for the success of their work. This
is not a bio-rhythm inherited with their genes; it was learned
by trial and error as a strategy for achieving their goals.
same time, a certain spartan celibacy is also a part of their
makeup; continence tends to accompany superior achievement.
Without eros, it would be difficult to take life on with
vigor; without restraint, the energy could easily dissipate.
smart they actually are is open to question. It is probably
true that what psychologists call the "g factor," meaning a
core of general intelligence, is high among people who make
important creative contributions.
studies suggest that the cutoff point is around 120; it might
be difficult to do creative work with a lower IQ, but an IQ
beyond 120 does not necessarily imply higher creativity
is measured by IQ tests, and it involves solving well-defined,
rational problems that have one correct answer.
leads to no agreed-upon solution. It involves fluency, or the
ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or
the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and
originality in picking unusual associations of ideas.
are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests
measure and that most workshops try to enhance.
often claimed to have had only two or three good ideas in
their entire career, but each idea was so generative that it
kept them busy for a lifetime of testing, filling out,
elaborating, and applying.
is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of
creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn't go very far
without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance,
they don't wish to hear that because they really only imagine
the first part, the exciting part. But, as Khrushchev once
said, that doesn't fry pancakes, you see.
germ of an idea does not make a sculpture which stands up. It
just sits there. So the next stage is the hard work. Can you
really translate it into a piece of sculpture?"
other words, if it takes a week to cut this, it'll take a
week. What else have I got to do? I'm going to be here for
twenty years. See? This is a kind of mental trick. Otherwise
you say, 'My God, it's not working,' and then you make
mistakes. My way, you say time is of absolutely no
wrote in 1550 that when Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello was
working out the laws of visual perspective, he would walk back
and forth all night, muttering to himself: "What a beautiful
thing is this perspective!" while his wife called him back to
bed with no success.
art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a
world that is different from the present. The rest of society
often views these new ideas. as fantasies without relevance to
they are right. But the whole point of art and science is to
go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality
At the same time, this "escape" is not into a never-never
makes a novel idea creative is that once we see it, sooner or
later we recognize that, strange as it is, it is true.
may be true in terms of day-to-day routine activities. But
when a person begins to work creatively, all bets are off.
usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick
of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the
fact, in current psychological research, extroversion and
introversion are considered the most stable personality traits
that differentiate people from each other and that can be
on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.
remarkable to meet a famous person who you expect to be
arrogant or supercilious, only to encounter self-deprecation
and shyness instead. Yet there are good reasons why this
should be so.
individuals are well aware that they stand, in Newton's words,
"on the shoulders of giants." Their respect for the area in
which they work makes them aware of the long line of previous
contributions to it, putting their own in perspective.
also aware of the role that luck played in their own
achievements. And they're usually so focused on future
projects and current challenges that past accomplishments, no
matter how outstanding, are no longer very interesting to
same time, they know that in comparison with others, they have
accomplished a great deal. And this knowledge provides a sense
of security, even pride.
tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people,
over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are
more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys
are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.
psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or
her repertoire of responses. Creative individuals are more
likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but
those of the other one, too.
impossible to be creative without having first internalized an
area of culture. So it's difficult to see how a person can be
creative without being both traditional and conservative and
at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.
only traditional leaves an area unchanged; constantly taking
chances without regard to what has been valued in the past
rarely leads to novelty that is accepted as an improvement.
artist Eva Zeisel, who says that the folk tradition in which
she works is "her home," nevertheless produces ceramics that
were recognized by the Museum of Modern Art as masterpieces of
what she says about innovation for its own sake:
be different means 'not like this' and 'not like that.' And
the 'not like'--that's why postmodernism, with the prefix of
'post,' couldn't work. No negative impulse can work, can
produce any happy creation. Only a positive one."
economist George Stigler is very emphatic in this regard: "I'd
say one of the most common failures of able people is a lack
of nerve. They'll play safe games. In innovation, you have to
play a less safe game, if it's going to be interesting. It's
not predictable that it'll go well."
the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet
without being objective about it, our work is not very good
and lacks credibility. Here is how the historian Natalie Davis
am aware of that and of when I think it is particularly
important to detach oneself from the work, and that is
something where age really does help."
would agree with Rabinow's words: "Inventors have a low
threshold of pain. Things bother them." A badly designed
machine causes pain to an inventive engineer, just as the
creative writer is hurt when reading bad prose.
the most important quality, the one that is most consistently
present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy
the process of creation for its own sake.
Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.
From book: Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, published by HarperCollins, 1996, retitled as:
and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.
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Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, (pronounced me-high
chick-sent-me-high) is a psychology professor at Claremont
Graduate University in Claremont, California and former head
of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago.
He is noted for his work in the study of creativity and
subjective well-being, and is best known for his research and
writing on the notion of flow. [From Wikipedia bio.]
photo is psychologist Jeanne Nakamura appreciating the joking
scowling of her colleague Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of Claremont
Graduate University. They are co-leaders of the world’s first
positive psychology doctoral program.
Related Talent Development Resources pages:
Books: creativity / innovation
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