What is creativity?

What is creativity?

Creativity has been discussed in various fields such as marketing, psychology, the arts, and education. We often conceptualize creativity in terms of products, creating new artifacts or ideas that are useful for a particular audience. Creativity can be a tough concept to think about. This post will provide as much context as possible.

Usefulness & novelty

Creativity has been thought to be solely based on novel ideas, however there is disagreement about whether creativity can exist without considering the usefulness of what is created (Runco & Jaeger, 2012). Csikszentmihalyi (1996, p. 314) argued that “creativity is a process that can be observed only at the intersection where individuals, domains, and fields intersect.” Runco and Jaeger (2012) advocate for a paired requirement of creativity to be both original and useful. This paired requirement may also provide fertile ground for the disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity found in STEM education (Rhoten, O’Connor, & Hackett, 2009). This suggests that a view of creativity that must include the creation of novel artifacts or ideas as well as true utility for the creation.

Creativity in society

As a fluid yet complex construct, creativity is considered a desirable quality in our society (Puryear, Kettler, & Rinn, 2017). Creativity has been associated with individuals gains in intelligence, emotional capacity, and academic performance (Henriksen, Mishra, & Fisser, 2016). Our society maintains a high regard for individuals with a creative yet efficient flare, or those that design inventive products that are advantageous of the profitable company or the busy family.

Creativity has been historically associated with the concept of change, propelling society into new periods based on the birth of inventions or fresh ideas (Henriksen et al., 2016). Without creativity, we could hypothesize that we all would still be living in the “caveman” days with a primary focus on our existence and survival. Perhaps this evolution of creativity has contributed with technological advances in the 21st century, to transform the ways in which we think, write, communicate, and exist.

While creativity has been handled in high regards in history, it should be clear that creativity is not an “all-or-nothing” ability. Previous beliefs about creativity hypothesized that creativity was gifted only to select individuals while others were born without any creative potential (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009). However, this theory has been challenged in a myriad of ways, evident today in our educational system as educators can observe students’ potential for creativity at one level or another across various subjects (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009).

Creativity in Education

While creativity appears to be a “staple” skill needed for students of the 21st century (e.g., advancement in technology), we have to question how creativity is being incorporated and cultivated in the educational system (Hunter-Doniger, 2016). With the push in our society to integrate technology in the classroom at volumes larger than previous decades, effects of learner creativity should be examined for any potential of change including those of positive or negative changes. Henriksen et al. (2016) connect creativity with the abundant amount of technological growth. These researchers also encourage that teaching can act as the connecting link between creativity and technology. This can be identified through the push of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) in education (Herro & Quigley, 2016). Originally designed as STEM, the “A” was added when educators identified a lack in creative expression from students (Herro & Quigley, 2016). The conversation of STEAM illuminates the innovation between divergent thinking and problem solving (Maguire, Kang, Hogan, & McCarthy, 2016).

For example, Kim and Park (2012) discuss how all facets of a STEAM education can be demonstrated by building a Rube Goldberg Machine, a complex contraption where different devices are linked together so that activating one of them moves the whole system. Rube Goldberg’s Invention not only combines science, technology, engineering, and mathematical concepts but also requires the builder to craft the design of the machine in an imaginative way. To design the Rube Goldberg Machine, individuals build the machine from the ground up after developing a design and determining the materials needed before construction begins (Kim & Park, 2012). The preparation aspect of the project alone promotes creativity and imagination, allowing the individual the creative freedom to draft a machine and establish their position as the designer. In the design and development, creative abilities are not limited to the initial design of the machine, the process as a whole requires creative potential. Through this example, we can see that creativity can be fostered through educational activities, particularly those encouraged in the STEAM curriculum.

Fostering Creativity in the Classroom

There is a persistent claim in the literature on creativity that suggests that there is a connection between culture, creativity, and innovation (Westwood & Low, 2003). Culture is essential to learning and in order for learning to be meaningful, the central facets of culture should be embraced (Ladson-Billings 1996). This can be accomplished through innovative and creative thought. A benefit of creativity is that it can take things out of the abstract and make it more relative to real life (Herring & Hunter-Doniger, 2018). However, according to Haught-Tromp (2017), people tend to have difficulty starting work or initiating creative thought when there is an absence of any instructions, materials, directions, or examples. A foundational understanding must be present, but engineering constraints can lead to creativity.

Research shows that constraint has two parts that include limiting one element and then the process of seeking another possible solution or something else in the problem solving behavior (Haught-Tromp & Stokes, 2017). For instance, in mathematics constraint is known as a problem space that has an initial stage (the problem), search space (exploring possibilities), and a goal state (using the most effective process to find the solution) (Newell & Simon, 1972; Haught-Tromp & Stokes, 2017). Within the search space step lies the process of substitution in which less effective strategies are replaced with more effective ones to reach the goal state. When more complex problems call for creativity, the search space is filled with multiple choices with various outcomes and organized in such a way that most effective strategies are often used first. Tablets, and more specifically the use of stop motion animation applications on these devices, allows for iteratively stopping, starting, and revising the work product while creating content. It is for these reasons we decided to use stop motion animation creation on tablets as a means to explore the intersections of creativity and divergent thinking.

Researchers in education have identified the need for creativity and opportunities for divergent thinking to be embedded within the classroom. However, we must extend this conversation beyond formal education and how students’ educational experiences can shape their futures. Kim and Park (2012) identified that a “knowledge-based society should focus more on developing individuals’ diversity and creative talents capable of producing unique, practical and intelligent values rather than merely growing technicians or intellectuals” (p.115). This point extends us to question what our society values in its young people. Should the focus be on the development of individuals that think in new, innovative ways or perhaps those individuals that give the correct answer without deviating from what is needed. By examining how divergent and convergent thinking are accepted in the classroom, we can better understand how students explore complex problems to find solutions to ill-formed problems now and in their futures.


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What to read

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Henriksen, D., Mishra, P., & Fisser, P. (2016). Infusing Creativity and Technology in 21st Century Education: A Systemic View for Change. Educational Technology & Society, 19(3), 27–37.

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Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. A. (2009). Beyond big and little: The Four C Model of Creativity. Review of General Psychology, 13, 1-12.

Kim, Y., & Park, N. (2012). The effect of STEAM education on elementary school student’s creativity improvement. Computer Applications For Security, Control & System Engineering, 115-121. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-35264-5_16

Kröper, M., Fay, D., Lindberg, T., & Meinel, C. (2010). Interrelations between motivation, creativity and emotions in design thinking processes – An Empirical study based on regulatory focus theory. In Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Design Creativity ICDC 2010, Kobe, Japan, November 2010.

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Wheeler, S., Waite, S. J., & Bromfield, C. (2002). Promoting creative thinking through the use of ICT. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18(3), 367-378.


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