Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Are YOU Creative?

May 5th, 2011

What is creativity? I've been researching this subject for Science House.

This afternoon I've been reading Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, by R. Keith Sawyer. While the book makes some compelling points, the author belabors his perception that no person alone can be creative alone. His goal is to destroy what he calls "creativity myths."

Sawyer contends that inspiration doesn't just happen in a flash, but rather in micro-increments that are then doggedly pursued, edited and developed through the prism of the individual's entire sociocultural dynamic, with little if no original thought. Instead, the best we can hope for is to add novelty, to make a tiny improvement in everything that ever came in our domain before us.

Artists from individualistic societies, Sawyer says, have completely different values from those who come from group-first cultures. Basically what he seems to be saying is that in the United States, artists are more focused on the mythological belief that the individual might actually be creative, while in group-based cultures there's no glamour at all associated with being novel.

It's a pretty binary view, and I would point out that the Ai Weiwei* situation subtly undermines Sawyer's point, but the author repeatedly makes it clear that drawing upon one's own epistemological impressions of reality (including any examples that undermine Sawyer's contentions) only reinforces the myths of creativity. Those examples, he believes, are so statistically improbable and even then, still provide no proof of individual creativity.

He's right on one level, in that creativity isn't just a magic moment but rather a very structured process that can be designed to result in maximum benefit for the participants in the creative system. A creative result always comes from the entire evolution of a domain and field. The great beauty of the Imagination Age is that new domains are arising at the edges of older domains, and new fields of experts are being formed. The new fields of experts have access to a much richer and more diverse talent pool from which to choose the memes that will enter the cultural memory. Here's to creating the future together!

*Want to help get the story of Ai Weiwei's life out there? Check out this Kickstarter project.

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Categories: ai weiwei, creativity, science house

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