Walking the Cat . . .

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The Theory of Creativity & The Creative Process (revised)

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Sometimes I think I must be the absolute least creative person on the planet. I mean if you were to devise a ‘creativity scale’ from 1 to 10, where 1 was the absolute least creative (meaning at some point during the day, I get out of bed) and 10 was the absolute most creative (meaning I came up with a cure for cancer and a solution to the global warming crisis and ended up saving the planet and everyone on it) I would most likely be a solid 2. I do manage to get out of bed (most days). The truth is I spend the greater part of my day finding new and interesting ways not to be creative.

For example, today, after getting out of bed, I dressed, consumed coffee (something I do several times a day) and went to my spare room/library/office. Once seated at my workstation, I casually sipped coffee and stared at a blank sheet of paper for several minutes before deciding now would be an opportune time to put my research files in some sort of order. It was during this rearranging process I came upon a folder entitled, CREATIVITY.

This folder was, as you might expect, filled with pages (actual pages, not computer images) of material on creativity. I have no idea why I bother to print, collate and staple all these pages; probably for no other reason than it provides an excellent opportunity to not actually write anything while creating the illusion of doing something useful. In any case, since I had the folder open on the floor, I decided to peruse its contents, and I came across two interesting and well-known bits of information.

The first was Graham Wallas’ 5 stage model of the creative process. You’re probably familiar with these 5 stages: preparation, incubation, intimation, illumination and verificationThey’re pretty much universally accepted as being representative of the creative process. That being said, I very much doubt any creative person spends any time ticking off these stages as they go about creating whatever it is they create. I know I don’t.

The other piece of notable information I gleaned from the folder’s contents was the “four-C” model of creativity. This model was developed by Kaufman and Beghetto (I have no idea who these guys are — probably psychologists) as a means of categorizing the various types of creativity. They are ‘mini-c’, ‘little-c’, ‘Pro-C’ and ‘Big-C’. I’m not going to detail which type of creativity fits which category; suffice it to say most of us fit into the ‘little-c’ category, some of us fit into ‘Pro-C’ and a few (very few) fit into the ‘Big-C’ category. I find these categories useful only to researchers. I can’t imagine anyone inclined to be creative sitting down to his or her desk and saying to themselves, “Today, I think I’ll do some ‘little-c’ work. Tomorrow maybe I’ll do some ‘Pro-C’, but for today, I think I’ll stick with ‘little-c’.”

Sitting there, with all those pages spread out in front of me on the floor, I got to thinking; there had to be a simpler way to describe creativity and the creative process. I mean, all these stages and categories were confusing and intimidating.

Given that I had only two options open to fill the remainder of my day; either get off the floor and face the blank page on my desk or devote more time to my files and, coincidentally, to the problem I had unwittingly presented to myself. I chose the latter (anything but a blank page!) and set about using my admittedly limited editorial skills to winnowing stages and categories. I started with the basic premise that everyone, regardless of who they were or what they did, was creative. You can’t help it, it’s in the genes.

Starting with this basic premise, I determined there were two types of creative individuals; those who were engaged in creative pursuits, and related fields, as a means of earning a living, and those who weren’t involved in creative pursuits but were, nonetheless, creative. The first group I labelled, ‘overt creative‘, the second, ‘covert creative‘. The first group, the ‘overt creative’ group, labor in fields where their creativity and the results of their creative endeavors were on public display (artists of all stripes, lawyers, doctors, architects, etc.). The second group, the ‘covert creative’ group, labor in fields which require no special creative talents but who are, nevertheless, creative in their private lives or in the pursuit of personal interests (hobbies, social groups, etc.). So far, so good. I managed to compress four categories of creativity into two categories.

As far as the creative process was concerned, this proved a bit more difficult. How do you pare down 5 stages of creativity to a more manageable, less obtuse formula? It took a while but after some intense thought (and several more cups of coffee), I managed to whittle the five down to what I believe are the ‘bare bones’ of creativity.

These ‘bare bones’ are three in number. Intent. Expression. Outcome. In my revised model, these are the 3 basic stages of the creative process. In order to give an example of this model ‘in action’ so to speak, I’ll use myself as an example.

As a writer, my intent is to write a post for this blog. The actual writing of the post (with all the accompanying research — names, numbers, etc.) forms the expression of my intent. The outcome of my expression of intent is (or will be) the finished post.

So, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. That’s my theory of the creativity and the creative process, ‘in a nutshell’. Well, not exactly a nutshell; more like five handwritten pages, or something just shy of 1,000 words. But you get the idea.

Until next time. . .


7 Responses

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  1. I have a real hard time with the idea of categorizing creativity. It seems that doing so puts a very “gray area” of the human condition into black and white. It simply isn’t. I consider myself about a 5 on a 1-10 “creativity scale” (I’m not artist, but I can pull off some pretty nifty stuff, think on the fly and make something out of nothing fairly efficiently), but I don’t really consider myself overt or covert in my creativity. My “job” in and of itself is rather fluid; a hybrid of mundane and off-the-cuff-get-through-the-chaos mentality. In my “professional” (using that term in the loosest of vernacular) life, I did not feel that even when I was the right hand of an attorney, that there was any real creativity involved because one works within a specific construct and is limited by the dimensions of that construct. Yes, you create—-papers, arguments, blah, blah, blah….but they are not an expression of the inner Self. They aren’t “you”. They are really a means to an end and are honestly a royal pain in the arse! Creativity in the artistic vein, is supposed to be a release; another way to express the Self. Perhaps creating ways to “look busy” and “accomplish something” is, in itself, creative——-it takes great skill to come up with new ways to accomplish doing not much.


    July 16, 2015 at 9:20 am

    • My Darling Daughter, I’m afraid you (and probably everyone else who reads this post) misunderstand my intent with writing it; it’s more an attempt to deal with my own understanding of ‘creativity’ than any descriptor of what ‘creativity’ is. I don’t believe creativity can be self-assessed. It’s more of an assigned (by others) designation of a perceived way or style of living. This is why even ‘overt creatives’ rarely view themselves as creative. I do agree with you in that being creative has more to do with how you deal with the reality you create rather than any external judgement. To say one is ‘creative’ is to say only that they are human. Having said that, I also have to say that you are more, much more than a “5”. We could spend hours, if not days, in this discussion; here both space and time are limited (how’s that for an “Einsteinian” segue?) Give all my love to your beautiful daughters. Love, Dad.


      July 16, 2015 at 11:20 am

  2. What a great breakdown of your thoughts…


    July 31, 2015 at 6:50 am

  3. I’d like to think that creativity comes in fits and starts, that I’m not always a 3, but have the capability of achieving sevenness now and again. I feel a bit ignorant in not knowing about the five stages of creativity, but I am inclined to agree with you that no one in the midst of their creative efforts goes about ticking them off some checklist. I agree with your Darling Daughter that creativity is often a way to express the inner Self. Also, I wonder if maybe it is easier to be creative without the intent. Does the intent get in the way and stall us somehow? Does it add pressure? In any event, Steve, congrats on the outcome. It feels good to post something, doesn’t it?


    August 5, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    • “Intent” is one of those nebulous things that very rarely – if ever – takes place on a conscious level. Think of performing the most mundane task, like picking up a pencil; we don’t consciously decide to pick it up, we simply do it. We don’t think of all the steps necessary to accomplish the task (go ahead, try it. It’s a great deal more involved than it sounds). It would be nigh on impossible to accomplish anything if we were to consciously tick off all the steps necessary to do just about anything; most of the “creative’ things we do occur on a subconscious level (in my case, that’s unconscious). As I said in my reply to my darling daughter, we could debate the nuts and bolts of creativity for hours, if not days, It’s kind of like debating the nature of the soul. Everyone (or nearly everyone) is sure they have one, but no one really knows what it is. Your idea of it’s nature is as valid as anyone else’s (probably moreso than some). Thanks so much for the comment, Regan, and for the time it took you to read my post and formulate your response. (You’re right in saying, “It feels good to post something”. It feels even better when people read what you post and make a comment!). -S-


      August 6, 2015 at 12:38 am

  4. Great post. However, I think that in the three stages of creativity the blog post itself would still fall under the “Expression” phase and the “Outcome” phase would entail any and all reaction to your post in the form of comments or shares on other sites. I imagine this would also explain the exasperation felt by most when their work doesn’t merit the outcome they desire.

    Joshua Stephen Thomas Sr.

    September 1, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    • I’ll have to disagree with you on this one, Joshua. One intends to write a post which, of necessity, involves a good amount of revision, re-revision and extended periods of editing, proofreading, etc. which all combined form the expression of the intent. The finished post is, indeed, the outcome associated with the previous two stages, However, the resulting impact (for good or ill) of the post is an “unknown” to the writer and his or her creative process. What you describe as an “outcome” is actually the expression of the intent of the writer; to have an impact on his readership. Comments, shares, etc. . .would, in this instance, fall under the heading of “expression” of the intent to have an impact on the readers, and the ensuing exchanges (like the one we are presently engaged in) would form an “outcome”. The three stages of creativity I outlined then another cycle of intent, expression and outcome. It turns out creativity can be a “deliciously vicious” cycle of self-perpetuating creativity,constantly (or near constantly) feeding on itself. Thanks for the read & comment. -S-


      September 1, 2015 at 6:35 pm

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