Future of Work

This is what makes us creative, according to research

Artists carry their creations on an escalator in Consolacao subway near Paulista avenue during a mobile exhibition named "Walking Gallery", in Sao Paulo May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

“Some of the blocks are important whatever domain you work in.” Image: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Ephrat Livni
Senior Reporter - Law and Politics, Quartz
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Turns out there’s a science behind being creative. According to new research, the creative process actually involves 14 components, which both work together and build on each other.

In a study published in Plos One on Oct. 5, computational scientist Anna Jordanous of Kent University in England and linguist Bill Keller of Sussex University analyzed 90 creativity-related papers over nearly six decades, searching for recurring terms used to describe creative processes across different fields. They landed on 14 of them:

1. Active involvement and persistence

2. Dealing with uncertainty

3. Domain competence

4. General intellect

5. Generating results

6. Independence and freedom

7. Innovation and emotional involvement

8. Originality

9. Progression and development

10. Social interaction and communication

11. Spontaneity and subconscious process

12. Thinking and evaluation

13. Value

14. Variety, divergence, and experimentation

As Keller described it to Quartz, these combined components don’t equal a definition of creativity, so much as elements of the process. The 14 building blocks can be assembled in different combinations or proportions depending on the demands of a creative activity, and the study doesn’t attempt to rank any component against another.

“Some of the blocks are important whatever domain you work in,” Keller wrote. “Others have more or less importance depending on the domain. And undoubtedly, some of those building blocks can be cultivated and developed with exercise and practice.”

For example, the “persistence” component suggests that creativity involves “more than just sparks of genius;” it calls for effort and engagement as well. “Sometimes it takes persistence to be original,” Jordanous told Quartz.

Breaking creativity down to its component parts has the potential for wide application. Jordanous and Keller, for example, are both musicians, and their musical efforts are informed by their academic research.

In a 2012 study, the duo found three creative components critical in music improvisation: social interaction and communication, domain competence, and intention and emotional involvement. Based on those findings, they adjusted their approach to playing. Jordanous and Keller began focusing on listening and interacting with other musicians, becoming more technically skilled, and being more dramatic and confident about musical choices. Writes Jordanous, “Already, Bill and I have been able to use the components to help make ourselves more creative when we improvise music!”

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