The Five Colleges of Ohio
Teagle Foundation

Creative Thinking: Context & Definitions

Creativity Working Group

The Teagle Creativity Working Group of the Five College of Ohio is investigating the following issues:

  1. Definitions of Creativity
  2. Our students and colleagues’ understandings of the nature and function of creativity in the liberal arts setting.
  3. Processes and products within the liberal arts setting that stimulate or hinder creativity.
  4. Explanations for how creative and critical thinking, the latter in practice long the sentry of liberal arts, complement and support each other.
  5. Methods to evaluate the liberal arts setting as a venue for nurturing creativity across the curriculum.

Stage One of our project focuses on various definitions of creativity, identification of human qualities and other factors associated with creativity, the construction of indirect and direct measures to evaluate student creativity within the classroom, and personal narratives about how our Stage One work has affected our teaching, our attitude toward our students, and our scholarly pursuits.

Theoretical Context for the Project

Enhancing one’s creative abilities has long been a tacit assumption underlying liberal education in the western world, bit little research exists to help students and educators determine exactly what is meant by creative thinking in the classroom – let alone methods by which we can promote and evaluate the success of such thinking. Some even hypothesize that general and field specific undergraduate education ironically works most effectively to quash creativity.

Yet there remains something in all post-secondary teachers that recognizes the reality of creative thinking in our own research and teaching – and values that same reality for our students.

The field of psychology has only embraced the serious study of creativity since the mid-twentieth century, and much of the literature prior to that date situated the study of creativity as the provenance of philosophy, mysticism, and spirituality. As a result, creativity research has been beset with the belief that the source of creativity resides in the divine, the “mad,” the specially gifted – that “Ah-Hah” or “Eureka” moment generated from the unknowable or bizarre.

Within the last fifty years, however, psychology has focused creativity research on systems theories that identify stages of unilinear development and on readily identifiable criteria or variables of creativity across and within specific domains.  While still hampered by problems defining creativity and creative thinking as well as narrow visions of creativity that inappropriately generalize human behavior outside the sociocultural context (Sternberg 1999, 12), this redirection has foregrounded cognitive, affective, and environmental factors that demythify and demystify creativity. Psychometrics has not yet provided a reliable standardized test for creativity – and perhaps never will, but  nonetheless creativity is no longer the sole property of the Einsteins, Van Goghs, and Dickinsons of the world. It is a quality inherent in greater or less degrees in all humans, one necessary for a successful life.

Consequently, educators now have a small yet powerful body of literature with which to move creativity studies onto the campus and into the classroom – to determine how to amplify an individual’s creativity to position our students for the dynamics of the 21st century.

Creativity, Creative Thinking – Definitions (A Sample)

  1. Creative thinking is a cognitive activity that may result in a creative production that groups or individuals perceive as useful and new. The products may be pieces of writing such as books, essays, poems, or short stories; physical creations such as new robots, works of art, buildings, or miniature representations; new systems, theories, or conceptualizations such as quality circles, managements by objective, the wave theory of light, the self-concept theory in psychology, or the periodic theory of elements in chemistry; performances in drama, music, dance, or speech; or inventions such as automobiles, the airplane, or the automatic can opener. We call the products creative if they represent a transformation or a reconceptualization, have aesthetic coherence and appeal, represent a new configuration or connection of ideas, or serve some functional or explanatory purpose. Problem solutions have have all these critical elements, plus relevance or resolution to the original problem. ( Isaksen et at, 1993, p. 31-32)
  2. Creative intelligence is involved when skills are used to create, invent, discover, imagine, suppose, or hypothesize. Creativity is one of three sets of abilities (the other are practical and analytical) that are integrated “to attain success in life, however an individual defines it, within his or her sociocultural context” (Sternberg and Grigorenko).
  3. Creating involves the realization of an analogy between previously unassociated mental elements (Martindale in Sternberg 1999).
  4. “Creativity is among the most complex of human behaviors. It seems to be influenced by a wide array of developmental, social, and educational experiences, and it manifests itself in different ways in a variety of domains. The highest achievements in the arts are characterized by their creativity, as are those in the sciences. Creativity is also quite common in a wide range of everyday activities. . . Theories of creativity have attempted to recognize the inherent complexity by defining creativity as a syndrome . . . or even a complex. . . “ (Runco and Sakamoto in Sternberg 1999).
  5. Creativity is a novel and useful idea or product.
  6. Creativity is “the confluence of intrinsic motivation, domain-relevant knowledge and abilities, and creativity-relevant skills”; the latter includes coping with complexities, knowledge of problem-solving heuristics, concentration, ability to set aside problems, and high energy (Amabile 1983; Sternberg 1999).
  7. Creativity is the result of “an anomaly with a system . . . or moderate asynchronies between the individual, domain, and field . . ..” (Gardner 1993).
  8. Creativity is produced by  “a confluence of six distinct but interrelated resources: intellectual abilities, knowledge, styles of thinking, personality, motivation, and environment” (Sternberg and Lubart in Sternberg 1999).
  9. Creativity is “a creative product produced by a creative person engaged in a creative process within a creative environment” (Kleinman 2005).
  10. Creativity is an essential life skill through which people can develop their potential to use their imagination to express themselves, and make original and valued choices in their lives.
  11. Creativity is the exploration and transformation of conceptual spaces -Margaret Boden (A conceptual space is smaller than a domain)
  12. Creativity arises out of the tension between the rules and imagination -Ian Hodder