Thanks to advances in neuroscience, we are closer to a true definition of creativity — those seemingly inexplicable moments of clarity and invention — than ever before. Creativity is a quality of the mind, not an inherent characteristic or specific activity. Put differently, there are some very creative accountants just as there are some very uncreative painters — it all depends on the person doing the work. So what does it take to be creative? At the very least, it takes an openness to overcoming popular notions of creativity which are too restrictive, says Scott Barry Kaufman.
Indeed, being open to new experiences and ideas is an essential quality of creative individuals. This is because in order to arrive at new conclusions and new ways of doing things, we must learn new things. But how we learn new things isn’t entirely straightforward, and integrating them into the field of things we already know is a complicated process requiring both the conscious and subconscious mind. A great deal of information processing happens in the subconscious mind, says Kaufman, and to emphasize conscious thinking at the expense of subconscious processing is a mistake.
In the conscious mind, we typically divide activity into intuitive thinking (emotions and subjective truth) and rational thinking (logic and objective truth). But this distinction is a false one, argues Kaufman, and we need to embrace what he calls “the middle way.”
Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the measurement and development of intelligence, imagination, and creativity. He has written or edited six previous books, including Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. He is also co-founder of The Creativity Post, host of The Psychology Podcast, and he writes the blog Beautiful Minds for Scientific American. Kaufman lives in Philadelphia and completed his doctorate in cognitive psychology from Yale University in 2009 and received his masters degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University in 2005, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.