Many misconceptions still linger about the essence of creativity, what it means to be creative and what the output of creative work is like.
When used in popular parlance, creativity is at times loosely linked to acts of flamboyance or randomness – if someone does something unusual, absurd or unexpected, they may get called creative because they would have defied the mundane way of doing things.
While creativity may be perceived in this way by the uninitiated, practitioners are very clear that this is not the way academia regards and defines creative ability.
Another popular (albeit mistaken) belief on creativity is the exclusive association of creative ability with the arts, almost as if creative work could only be performed by musicians, painters, sculptors etc.
This common association implies that a person cannot be creative if his/her job does not fall within the definition of what is considered artistic – thereby assuming that a surgeon, a scientist, a teacher or a fire-fighter, amongst others, cannot be creative.
Robinson (2001:113) insists that “creativity is not exclusive to particular activities”, while Craft et al (2001:8) emphasised that considering creativity “as only an arts-based phenomenon” results in a severe narrowing of the much wider value of creativity.
In line with previous research by de Bono, Robinson also highlights that creativity “is not a separate faculty that some people have and others do not”.
He insists that creativity is a function of intelligence and that it is possible to experience creative ability in all areas in which human intelligence is “actively engaged” (Robinson, 2001:11).
Eysenck (1995:36) agrees that “creativity as a psychological trait is apparent in all people”, while conceding that very few people will be able to make the quantum leap and turn their creativity into “great achievement”.
Relevance as a central determinant
While it is widely acknowledged that novelty is a major component in creative endeavours, producing work that is new, singular or unconventional is not enough for the effort to be termed creative.
Many practitioners agree that an important characteristic of creative work is that what is produced is also relevant and valuable in its wider context (Amabile, 1983; Robinson, 2001:116; Smith & Yang, 2004; Kaufman, 2009:9).
Following this agreement, Cropley (1999:512) concludes that creativity can be defined as “the production of relevant and effective solutions”.
Bernbach (n.d., as cited in Moriarty & Robbs, 1999:27) is quoted to have said that:
“Merely to let your imagination run riot, to dream unrelated dreams, to indulge in graphic acrobatics and verbal gymnastics is not being creative.”
Kaufman (2009:20) in particular recounts a story of how in a class where students were asked what they wanted to become when they grew older, one student said he wanted to be “a sandwich”. He argues that such a response is certainly original – in that most children may want to eat sandwiches but not be ones themselves – but it fails to meet the conditions of appropriateness and relevance.
Stressing the importance of relevance, and not just that of originality, Eysenck (1995:36) commented that
“Originality in itself is not enough to be considered creative. A psychotic person’s responses are original, in the sense of unusual, but they are hardly ever creative; they lack relevance.”