by Carlene Harwick
This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in fall 2003.

I recently completed a research project and, in the process, discovered some very interesting books and information. Much of the following article is gleaned from a book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi entitled Creativity.

Creative people differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in one respect they are unanimous: They all love what they do. It is not the desire to achieve fame or make money that drives them: it is the opportunity to do the work that they enjoy doing. They love their work more than they love what it produces. They are dedicated to the work regardless of its consequences. Many people in many professions all say that they do what they do because it is fun. There are others in the same professions that don’t enjoy what they do. So, we have to assume that it is not what they people do that counts but how they do it.

When people are asked to describe how they feel when doing whatever they enjoy doing most – it is most often said that they “enjoy designing or discovering something new.”

The Creative Personality

Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. The energy of these people is internally generated and is due more to their focused minds than to the superiority of their genes. Their energy is under their control – it is not controlled by an external source.

Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time. It is obvious that low intelligence interferes with creative accomplishment, but being brilliant can also be detrimental to creativity. Some people with high IQs become complacent and secure in their mental superiority and lose the curiosity that is essential in creating anything new. Naiveté is the most important attribute of genius. A certain immaturity, both emotional and mental, may go hand in hand with the deepest insights. (An example is Mozart.)

A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. A playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals – exploring ideas. This playfulness doesn’t go far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, and perseverance. Much hard work is necessary to bring a novel idea to completion and to surmount the obstacles a creative person inevitably encounters.

Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other. Both are needed to break away from the present without losing touch with the past. Albert Einstein once wrote that art and science are two of the greatest forms of escape from reality that humans have devised. Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present. They both create a new reality.

Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion. Each of us tends to be one or the other – either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and than can be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to express both traits at the same time. This is generally true – one must generally be alone in order to write, paint, experiment. It requires some solitary time. Yet, the importance of seeing people, hearing people, exchanging ideas, and getting to know another person’s work and mind are stressed by creative individuals. “Nobody can be anybody without somebody being around.”

Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time. These individuals are well aware that they stand “on the shoulders of giants.” Their respect for the domain in which they work makes them aware of the long line of previous contributions to it, which puts their own into perspective. Second, they are aware of the role that luck played in their own achievements. Third, they are usually so focused on future projects and current challenges that their past accomplishments, no matter how outstanding, are no longer of interest to them. It is also seen as a contrast between ambition and selflessness – or competition and cooperation. It is necessary for creative individuals to be ambitious and aggressive; yet, they are often willing to subordinate their own personal comfort and advancement to the success of the project on which they are working.

In all cultures, men are brought up to be “masculine” and to disregard aspects of their temperament that culture regards as “feminine”; whereas, women are expected to do the opposite. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this type of rigid gender role. When tests of masculinity/ femininity are given to young people, one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tougher than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers. The psychological concept refers to a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturing, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. Therefore, this type of person doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities.

Generally, creative people are thought to be rebellious and independent. Yet, in order to be creative, one must first internalize a domain of culture – a person must believe in the importance of such a domain in order to learn its rules. So, one must be both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic. Being only traditional leaves the domain unchanged; constantly taking chances without regard to what has been valued in the past rarely leads to novelty that is accepted as an improvement. Being different for difference sake produces nothing. No creative thought or created thing grows out of a negative impulse. However, the willingness to take risks, and break with tradition is necessary.

Most creative people are very passionate about their work – yet they can be extremely objective about it also. Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it, our work is not good and lacks credibility.

Finally, the openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment. This great sensitivity can cause anxieties that are not usually felt by the rest of us. He/ she is so responsive to the world around them, so sensitive, so driven to respond to it that it is almost unbearable.

The Creative Environment

While beautiful surroundings might catalyze the moment of insight, the other phases of the creative process – such as preparation and evaluation – seem to benefit from familiar, comfortable surroundings. While a complex, stimulating environment is useful for providing new insights, a more placid setting is needed for pursuing the majority of creative endeavors – the much longer periods of preparations that must precede the flash of insight, and the equally long periods of evaluation that follow.

It also helps to be in an environment where creativity is encouraged – where others are also creating and creativity is nurtured.