Defining Creativity

We begin with a working definition of creativity and how this construct differs from related ones, including imagination, prospection, originality, and innovation. We clarify our working definitions of each to yield a framework for understanding creativity.

The first and the core skill is imagination, which consists of mental representations (visual, verbal, and auditory) of things that are not present to the senses. Imagination is about some alternative to present perception (Markman, Klein, & Suhr, 2009) and includes all of the following: mental imagery of things that may or may not exist, counterfactual conjecture, alternative pasts, daydreaming, fantasizing, pretending, mental simulation of other minds, mental rehearsal, and aspects of night dreaming. Although the term "imaginative" has positive connotations in everyday speech (e.g., an imaginative movie script), imagination itself is neutral. Imagination includes adaptive activities (like effective scenario planning in a business setting) and maladaptive activities (like frightening imagery that fuels phobic avoidance). Similarly, imagination implies novelty to the layperson, but imagination need not be original. Mentally rehearsing one's golf swing or repetitively worrying about leaving the oven on are examples of banal imagination. Imagination need not be about the future: The ancient cave painting of animals being hunted represents absent events, but in this case likely past events.

Prospection, the central topic of this book, is imagination about possible futures. By definition, these possibilities contain elements that are not present to the senses now. Prospecting can have visual, verbal, kinesthetic, and auditory representations (Buckner & Carroll, 2007; Gilbert & Wilson, 2007; Seligman, Railton, Baumeister, & Sripada, 2013; Taylor, Pham, Rivkind, & Armor, 1998).

Originality is prospecting that introduces novelty. One can prospect without originality by taking the past and merely projecting it into the future. Originality, conversely, introduces new variables, perspectives, and possibilities (Sawyer, 2012).

Creativity requires originality, which in turn requires prospection, which in turn requires imagination. Creativity, crucially, also requires usefulness and a good sense of the audience who will make use of the idea (Amabile, 1983; Sternberg & Lubart, 1999). "Audience" can refer to a literal audience, but at the highest levels of creativity, it is often the gatekeeping members of the discipline to which the original idea applies (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). Importantly a sense of audience requires enough knowledge of the discipline to accurately evaluate the worth of one's novel idea and the likelihood of its success. Researchers have also argued that creativity requires that an idea or product is "surprising" or "nonobvious" (Boden, 2004; Bruner, 1962; Simonton, 2012), and we agree.

ii.i. Creativity and Allied Terms

figure ii.i. Creativity and Allied Terms

Finally, innovation refers to bringing a creative idea to scale by successfully implementing it on a large scale within an organization or society at large (Amabile, 1988; Sawyer, 2012). Figure 11.1 depicts the interconnected terms we use to describe creativity.

Because creativity consists of the generation of ideas or products that are both original and useful, it means that a wide array of separate but related cognitive processes are at play to satisfy both criteria. Thus, researchers have suggested that the creative process may best be characterized by a generation phase, in which original ideas are freely invented without scrutiny, followed by an evaluation or exploration phase, during which the value of ideas is examined, and ideas are elaborated and refined as needed (Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1992). When asked by a student how he was able to come up with so many good ideas, Linus Pauling famously replied, "You have a lot of ideas and throw out the bad ones" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p. 116).

The creative process, of course, does not happen in such a clean sequence, as generative and evaluative processes often take place in an iterative and almost simultaneous fashion. Nevertheless, this framework suggests that a review of the factors at play in creativity should consider the relative contribution of each cognitive process to generative and/or evaluative processes. Some of the factors reviewed in the following sections may primarily influence generative processes, whereas others may primarily shape evaluative ones. Many probably contribute to both.

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