November 2, 2010

Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention.

[IMO, this is a very good book in this topic; the book is based on series of discussion on creativity with many very successful persons who excel in this field - many of them are Nobel winners]

This books is about what makes the life worth living. His best selling book is 'Flow' followed by another book ' The evolving Self'.

Evolution in Biology and in Culture:

Creativity results from the interaction of a system composed of three elements

1. A culture that contains symbolic rules,

2. A person who brings novelty in to the symbolic domain

3. A field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation.

For instance, in Vera Rubin's account of her astronomical discovery, it is impossible to imagine it without access to the large amount of information about celestial motions that has been collecting for centuries., without access to the institutions that control modern telescopes, without the critical skepticism and eventual support of other astronomers.

Instructions for how to use fire, or the wheel, or atomic energy are not built into the nervous system of the children after such discoveries. Each child has to learn them again from the start. The analogy to genes that we must learn if culture are memes or units of information that we must learn if culture is to continue.

To say that the theory of relativity was created by Einstein is like saying that is the spark that is responsible for fire. The spark is necessary, but without air and tinder there would be no fire.

Attention and Creativity:

Creativity as I deal with it in this book, is a process by which a symbolic domain in the culture is changed. Memes needs to be learned before they can be changed. If we want to learn anything, we must pay attention to the information to the learned. And attention is a limited resources. Great deal of our limited supply of attention is committed to the tasks of surviving from one day to the next. Over the entire lifetime, the amount of attention left over for learning a symbolic domain - such as music or physics- is a fraction of this already small amount.

As culture evolve, it becomes increasingly difficult to master more than one domain of knowledge. Whereas in the past, an artist typically painted, sculpted cast gold and designed building (e.g. Leonardo da Vinci), now all of these special skills tend to be acquired by different people.

Another consequence of limited attention is that creative individuals are often considered odd - or even arrogant selfish and ruthless. It is important to keep in mind that these are not traits of creative people, but traits that the rest of us attribute to them on the basis of perception. When we meet a person who focuses all of his attention on physics or music and ignores us and forgets our names.

Each of us born with two contradictory sets of instructions, self conservative tendency, made of instincts for self-preservation and an expanding tendency made up of exploring, for enjoying novelty , risk etc. The first one require little encouragement or support from outside to motivate the behaviour and the second can wilt, if it is not cultivated. If too few opportunities for curiosity are available, if too many obstacles are places in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behaviour is easily extinguished.

Basic scientific research is minimized in favor of immediate practical applications.Students generally find the basic academic subjects threatening or dull, their chance of using their minds in creative ways comes from working on the student paper, the drama club or the orchestra. So if the next generation is to face the future with zest and self-confidence, we must educate them to be original as well as competent.

the reigning stereotypes of the tortured genius is to a large extent a myth created by Romantic ideology and supported by evidence from isolated and atypical historical periods. Many American poets and playwrights ended up addicted to drugs and alcohol, it was not their creativity that did it but an artistic scene that promised much, gave few rewards and left nine out of ten artists neglected if not ignored.

What is creativity?:

Creativity does not happen inside people's heads, but in the interaction between a person's thoughts and a sociocultural context, It is a systematic rather than an individual phenomenon.

Who is right to declare on creative? the individual who believes in his/her own creative or the social milieu that denies it? if we take the side with the individual, then creativity is very subjective. On the other hand, if we decide that social confirmation is necessary for something to be called creative, the definition mush encompass more than the individual . What counts, then is whether the inner certitude is validated buy the appropriate experts. It is not possible to take a middle ground.

Creativity is used in many places without its due credit. Following are the three such cases where creativity used commonly.

1. Some artists are very good is playing a music. Unless they also contribute something of permanent significance, I refer to people of this sort as brilliant rather than creative.

2. People who experience the world in novel and original ways. but only they knew about it. They should be called personally creative. But given the subjective nature of this form of creativity, it is difficult to deal with it no matter how important it is for those who experience it. These people never leave any accomplishment, any trace of their existence - except in the memories of those who have known them.

3. People who have changed our culture in some important respect. They are creative ones (e.g. Edison, Leonardo di Vinci, Picasso, etc..). Because their achievements are by definition public it is easier to write about them

It is perfectly possible to make a creative contribution without being brilliant or personally creative, just as possible that someone is personally creative will never contribute thing to the culture.

Talent people may not be creative; majority achieved creative results without any exceptional talent being evident. Genius people are both brilliant and creative.

System model:

To have any effect on the creativity, the idea must be couched in terms that are understandable to others, it must pass muster with the experts in the field, and finally it must be included in the cultural domain to which it belongs. It makes sense is that creativity can be observed i=only in the interrelations of a system made up of three main parts.

In this definition, a child cannot be creative as child has be to exposed to a domain before domain can be changed.

Creativity in the Renaissance:

A good example is the sudden spurt in artistic creativity that took place in Florence between 1400 and 1425. These were the golden years of the Renaissance and it is generally agreed that some of the most influential new works of art in Europe were created during that quarter century. - Dome of the cathedral built by Brunelleschi, the gates of paradise crafted for baptistery by Ghilberti (this art changed the Western world's conception of decorative art).

The reason is the following. In Rome and elsewhere, by the end of the thirteen hundreds, eager scholars were excavating classical ruins, copying down and analysing the styles and techniques of the ancients. This slow preparatory work bore fruit at the turn of the 15th century - opening up long-forgotten knowledge to the artisan and craftsman of the time.

The cathedral of Florence - Santa Maria Novella - had been left open to the skies for 80 years because no one could find a way to build a dome over its huge apse. The pantheon had been rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian in the second century. Nothing of that has been built well over 1000 years and the methods that allowed Romans to build such a structure that would stand up had been long forgotten in the dark centuries of barbarian invasion.

The Creative personality:

Without a good dose of curiosity, wonder and interest in what things are like and in how they work, it is difficult to recognize an interesting problem. Openness to experience, a fluid attention that constantly process events in the environment is a great advantage for recognizing potential novelty.

A person also needs access to domains. This depends to a great extend on luck. Being born to affluent family or close to good schools , mentors, and coaches obviously is a great advantage.

Access to the field is also very important. Some people are terribly knowledgeable, but are so unable to communicate with those who matter among their peers that they are ignored or shunned in the formative years of their careers. Access to field is usually severely restricted. There are many gates to pass, and bottlenecks form in front of them.

If I had to express in one word what makes these creative persons personalities different from others, it would be 'complexity'. By this I mean, that they show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. they contain contradictory extremes - instead of being an 'individual', each of them is a 'multitude'.

The Ten Dimensions of complexity:

1. 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. Hans Bethe mentioned, " two things are required for creativity. One is brain and the second is the willingness to spend long time in thinking with a definite possibility that you come out with nothing".

2. Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time. General intelligence is high among people who make important creative contributions. As Howard Gardner remarked in his study of major creative geniuses, a certain immaturity, both emotional and mental can go hand in hand with deepest insights.

3. A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playful light attitude is typical of creative individuals.

4. 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.

5. Creative individuals seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.

6. Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time. There are good reasons why this should be so. In the first place, these individuals are well aware they stand 'on the shoulders of giants'. Second, they also are aware the role of luck in their own achievements.

7. Creative girls are more dominant and tough than other girls and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

8. Creative individuals are both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.

9. Creative individuals are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well. The energy generated by this conflict between attachment and detachment has been mentioned by many as being an important part of their work.

10. The openness and sensitivity of creative people often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.

The work of creativity:

Is there a single creative process? Creative individuals usually have their own theories.

Robert Galvin says that creativity consists of anticipation and commitment. Anticipation involves having a vision of something that will become important in the future before anybody else has it; commitment is the belief that keeps one working to realize the vision despite doubt and discouragement.

Peter Drucker on the other hand lists four reasons that account for his accomplishment.

1. I have been able to product because I have always been a loser and have not had to spend time on keeping subordinates, assistants, secretaries and other time wasters.

'Born to see, my task is to watch (Goethe's Faust II)'

2. I never set foot in my university office

3. I have been workaholic since I was 20

4. Because I thrive on stress and begin to pine if there is no deadline.

The creative process has traditionally been described as taking five steps.

1. Period of preparation, becoming immersed, consciously or not, in a set of problematic issues that are interesting and arouse curiosity.

2. Period of incubation; during which ideas churn around below the threshold of consciousness. It is during this time that unusual connections are likely to be made.

3. Insight (sometimes called Aha moment), e.g: Archimedes cried out 'Eureka. This is the creative moment (moment of truth).

4. Evaluation - when the person must decide whether the insight is valuable and worth pursuing.

5. Elaboration. it is probably the one that takes up the most time and involves the hardest work.

The flow of creativity:

When people are asked to choose from a list the best description of how they feel when during whatever they enjoy during most? The answer most frequently chosen is, ' designing or discovering something new'.

What is enjoyment?

Americans and Japanese seem to experience enjoyment in the same way, even though they may be doing very different things to attain it. Nine main elements were mentioned over and over again to describe it feels when an experience is enjoyable.

1. There are clear goals every step of the way. Knowing what you are trying to achieve gives your actions a sense of purpose and meaning.

2. There is immediate feedback to your actions. Not only do you know what you are trying to achieve, you are also clear about how well you are doing it. This makes it easier to adjust for optimum performance. It also means that by definition flow only occurs when you are performing well.

3. There is a balance between challenges and skills. If the challenge is too difficult we get frustrated; if it is too easy, we get bored. Flow occurs when we reach an optimum balance between our abilities and the task in hand, keeping us alert, focused and effective.

4. Action and awareness are merged. We have all had experiences of being in one place physically, but with our minds elsewhere and often out of boredom or frustration. In flow, we are completely focused on what we are doing in the moment.

5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness. When we are not distracted by worries or conflicting priorities, we are free to become fully absorbed in the task.

6. There is no worry of failure. A single-minded focus of attention means that we are not simultaneously judging our performance or worrying about things going wrong.

7. Self-consciousness disappears.In everyday life, we are always monitoring how we appear to to other people. When we are fully absorbed in the activity itself, we are not concerned with our self-image, or how we look to others. While flow lasts, we can even identify with something outside or larger than our sense of self such as the painting or writing we are engaged in, or the team we are playing in.

8. The sense of time becomes distorted. In flow we forget time, and hours may pass by inn what seems like a few minutes or the opposite happens.

9. The activity becomes 'autotelic' – meaning it is an end in itself. Whenever most of the elements of flow are occurring, the activity becomes enjoyable and rewarding for its own sake. This is why so many artists and creators report that their greatest satisfaction comes through their work. As Noel Coward put it, Work is more fun than fun.

If work and family life become autotelic, then there is nothing wasted in life and everything we do is worth doing for its own sake.

What is the relationship between flow and happiness. While we are in the flow, we usually does not feel happy. It is only after we get out of flow, at the end of session or in moments of distraction within it, that we might indulge in feeling happy.

Twenty five centuries ago, Plato wrote that most important for a society was to teach young to find pleasure in the right objects. The problem is that it is easier to find pleasure in things that are easier, in activities like sex and violence that are already programmed in our genes. Children grow up believing that football players and rock singers must be happy and envy the stars of the entrainment world for what they think must be fabulous, fulfilling lives. They don't realize until much later, if at all that they glamour of those lives is vulgar tinsel that to be like them leads anywhere but to happiness. Neither parents nor teachers are very effective at teaching the young to find pleasure in the right things.

Creative Surroundings:

The place where one lives is important for three main reasons.

1. One must be in a position to access the domain in which one plans to work. Information is not evenly distributed but clumped in different geographical nodes.

2. Novel stimulation is not evenly distributed. Certain environment have a greater density of interaction and provide more excitement and a greater effervescence of ideas; therefore they prompt the person who is already inclined to break away from conventions to experiment with novelty more readily than if the person had stayed in a more conservative more repressive setting.

3. Access to the field is not distributed in space. The centers that facilitates the realization of novel ideas are not necessarily the ones where the information is stored or where the stimulation is greatest. Often sudden availability of money at a certain place attracts artists or scientists. Likewise in real-estate, location is important here too. The closer to the major research labs, journals, depts., institutes and conference centers, the easier it is for a new voice to be heard and appreciated.

The belief that physical environments deeply affects our thoughts and feelings is helped in many cultures. The Chinese sages chose to write their poetry on dainty island pavilions; Hindu Brahmans retreated to the forest to discover the reality hidden behind illusory experience. Christian monks were so good at selecting the most beautiful natural sports that in many European countries it is a foregone conclusion that a hill or plain particularly worth seeing must have a convent or monastery built upon it.

Creating creative environment:

The centers of creativity - Athens in its heyday, the Arab cities in the 10th century, Florence in the Renaissance, Venice in the 15th century, Paris, London and Vienna in the 19th Century and New York in the 20th century were affluent and cosmopolitan they tended to be at the crossroads of cultures, where information from different traditions was exchanged and synthesized.

Patterning Activities:

Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating and working and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise. It is not only through personalizing the material environment that we are able to enhance creative thought.

The Lives:

Many respondents mentioned how important a parent had been teaching them certain values. Probably the most important of them was honesty. An astonishing number of respondents said, that one of the main reason they had become successful was because they were truthful or honest and these were virtues they had acquired from a mother's or father's example.

Why is honesty considered so important? The physical scientists said that unless they were truthful to their observations of empirical facts, they could not do science, let alone be creative.

The Accessibility of Information:

For many centuries, European science and knowledge in general was recorded in Latin. very few individuals in the intellectual discourses of the times. Moreover, few people had access to books which were handwritten, scarce and expensive. The great explosion of scientific creativity in Europe was certainly helped by the sudden spread of information brought about by Gutenberg's use of movable type in printing and by the legitimation of everyday languages which rapidly replaced Latin as the medium of discourse. In 16th century Europe it become much easier to make a creative contribution not necessarily because information became more widely accessible and easier to add to.

This historical example is just one of many that have influenced the rate of creativity at different times (another example is World War I where people started to look for different view point due to tragedy of the war and hence they accepted or welcomed different opinions or ideas).

Often intellectual or power elites hide their knowledge on purpose, to keep to themselves the advantage that go with the information. To accomplish this they develop arcane languages, mysterious symbols and secret codes that are meaningless to those not initiated into the guild. The priestly castes of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the Chinese bureaucrats, the clerical hierarchies of Europe were not particularly interested in sharing their knowledge with all comers. Thus they were not motivated to make the representation of their knowledge transparent.

It is easier to tell whether a new way of doing things is better than the old in mathematics which is extremely coherent domain; it would be slightly more difficult in Physics, and even more in biology and economics; it would be most difficult in other social science and philosophy which are not as tightly connected by an internal network of laws. When a domain is not strictly integrated by logical rules, it is difficult for the field to judge whether novelty is valuable and whether it should be included in the domain.

Enhancing Personal Creativity:

The acquisition of creative energy: All brains are extremely alike and the limits on how many bits of information we can process at any given time are also similar. In principle, because of the similarity in cerebral hardware, most people could share the same knowledge and perform mental operations at similar levels. yet what enormous difference there are in how people think and what they think about

In terms of using mental energy creatively, perhaps the most fundamental difference between people consists in how much uncommitted attention they have left over to deal with novelty. In too many cases, attention is restricted by external necessity. We cannot expect a person who works for two jobs or a working woman with children to have much mental energy left over to learn a domain.

To free up creative energy we need to let go and divert some attention from the pursuit of the predictable goals that genes and memes have programmed in our minds and use it instead to explore the world around us on its own terms.

So how can interest and curiosity be cultivated, assuming that you feel the desire to do so? Following are some of the specific advice

1. Try to be surprised by something every day: It could be something you see, hear or read about. Stop to look at the unusual car parked at the curb , taste the new item on the cafeteria menu, actually listen to your colleague at the office. How the car is different from other cars? what is its essence? Don't assume that you already know what these things are all about or that even if you knew them, they wouldn't matte any way. Be open to what the world is telling you. Life is nothing more than a stream of experiences - the more widely and deeply you swim in it, the richer you life will be.

2. Try to surprise at least one person every day. Instead of being your predictable self, say something unexpected, express an opinion that you have not dated to reveal, ask a question you wouldn't ordinarily ask. Or break routine of your activities. Invite a person to go with you to a show, a restaurant that you never visited before. Experiment with your new appearance. Comfortable routines are great when they save energy for doing what you really care about; but if you are still searching, they restrict and limit the future.

3. Write down each day what surprised you and how you surprised others: Most creative people keep a diary or notes or lab records to make their experience more concrete and enduring. If you don't do so already, it might help to start with a very specific task; to record each evening the most surprising even that happened that day and your most surprising action. This is simple enough assignment and one you will find is fun to do. After few days, you can reread what you have written and reflect on those past experiences. One of the surest ways to enrich life is to make experiences less fleeing so that the most memorable interesting and important events are not lost forever a few hours after they occurred.

4. When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it. Usually when something captures our attention - an idea, a song, a flower - the impression is brief. We are too busy to explore the idea, song or flower further. Or we feel that it is none of our business. After all, we are not thinkers, singers or botanist, so these things lie outside out grasp. Of course that is nonsense. The world is our business and we can't know which part of it is best suited to our selves to our potentialities unless we make a serious effort to learn about an many aspect of it possible.

Cultivating flow in every day life:

The rebirth of curiosity does not last long, however unless we learn to enjoy being curious. When there is nothing specific to do, our thoughts soon return to the most predictable state which is randomness or confusion. We pay attention and concentrate when we must - when dressing, driving cars, staying awake at work. But when there is no external force demanding that we concentrate, the mind begins to lose focus. It falls to the lowest energetic state, where the least amount of effort is required. When this happens, a sort of mental chaos takes over, unpleasant thoughts flash into awareness, forgotten regret resurface and we become depressed.

On the other hand, when we learn to enjoy using our latent creative energy so that it generates its own internal force to keep concentration focused, we not only avoid depression but also increase the complexity of our capacities4s to relate to the world.

How can we relearn to enjoy curiosity so that the pursuit of new experiences and new knowledge becomes self-sustaining?

1. Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. Creative individuals don't have to be dragged out of bed; they are eager to start the day. This is not because they are cheerful, but they believe that there is something meaningful to accomplish each day and they can't wait to get started on it.

2. If you do anything well, it becomes enjoyable. The more activities that we do with excellence and style, the more of life becomes intrinsically rewarding.

3. To keep enjoying something, you need to increase its complexity. Most domains are so complexity that they cannot be exhausted in a lifetime, not even the lifetime of the human race. It is always possible to learn a new song or write one. It is always possible to find a new better way to do anything. that is why creativity - the attempt to expand the boundaries of a domain - makes a life time of enjoyment possible.

Habits of Strength:

After creative energy is awakened, it is necessary to protect it. if we don't, entropy is sure to break down the concentration that the pursuit of an interest require. Then thought return to baseline state - vague, unfocused, constantly distracted condition of the normal mind.

What can you do to build up habits that will make it possible to control attention so that it can be open and receptive or focused and directed, depending on what your overall goal require?

1. Take charge of your schedule. Our circadian rhythms are to a large extent controlled by outside factors: rising sun, the commuter train schedule, a project deadline, lunch time, client's needs. The schedule that you are following is not the best for your purpose. The best time for using your creative energies could be early in the morning or late night. The important thing to remember is that creative energy like any other form of psychic energy, only works over time.

2. Make time for reflection and relaxation. Constant busyness is not good prescription for creativity. It is important to schedule times in the day, the week and the year to take stock of your life and review what you have accomplished and what remains to be done.

3. Shape your pace. It is not what the environment is like that matters but the extent to which you are in harmony with it. The house of Hindu Brahman or a traditional Japanese family is likely to be bare of almost all furniture and decorations. The idea is to provide a neutral environment that does not disturb the flow of consciousness with distraction.

'A place for everything and everything in its place'

4. Find out what you like and what you hate about life. Creative people are in touch with their emotions. They always know the reason for what they are doing and they are very sensitivity to pain, to boredom, to joy to interest and to other emotions. They are very quick to pack up and leave if they are bored and to get involved if they are interested. The basis of ancient Greek philosophy was the injection to know thyself.

Internal Traits:

If we go through life with habits that are very rigid or inappropriate to the kind of job we do, the creative energy gets dammed up or wasted. Thus it helps to consider how to apply what we learned about the personalities of creative individuals to the traits that may be useful in everyday life.

1. Develop what you lack. All of us end up specializing in some traits which usually means that we neglect traits that are complementary to the ones we developed. What should keep you trying is the knowledge that by experiencing the world from a very different perspective, you will enrich your life considerably.

2. Shift often from openness to closure. Perhaps the most important duality that creative persons are able to integrate is being open and receptive on the one hand and focused and hard-driving on the other.

3. Aim for complexity: The ability to move from one trait to its opposite is part of the more general condition of psychic complexity. Complexity is a feature of every system, from the simplest amoeba to the most sophisticated human culture. Creative individuals relatively complex personalities.

The application of creative energy:

If you learn to be creative in everyday life you may not change how future generations will see the world, but you will change the way you experience it. Problem finding is important in the daily domain because it helps us focus on issues that will affect out experiences but otherwise may go unnoticed. To practice this skill you might try the following suggestions.

1. Find a way to express what moves you. Creative problems generally emerge from areas of life that are personally important. There are many problems that we face in our life - money, bad boss, etc - which is likely interfere with the quality of life. But you will not know what ails you unless you can attach a name to it. The first step in solving a problem is to find it, to formulate the vague unease into a concerte problem amenable to solution.

2. Look at problems from as many viewpoints as possible. When you know that you have a problem, consider it from many different perspective. How you define a problem usually carries with it an explanation of what caused it. Creative individuals do not rush to define the nature of problems; they look at the situation from various angles first and leave the formulation undermined for a long time. Instead of quickly identifying that boss does not like me and hence this issue, try to find another few reasons for the same problem by thinking differnelty.

3. Figure out the implications of the problem. Once you have created a formulation, you can begin to entertain possible solutions. Solution might include finding interests outside the job, or learning to understand and to like the boss or catch up on job skills 0 or a little of each.

4. Implement the solution. Solving problems creatively involves continuous experimentation and revision. The longer you can keep options open, the more likely it is that the solution will be original and appropriate.

Divergent thinking:

Produce as many ideas as possible

have as many different ideas as possible

Try to produce unlikely ideas

The competition among new memes is fierce; few survive by being noticed, selected and added to the culture. Luck has a huge hand in deciding whose c is capitalized. But if you don't learn to be creative in your personal life, the chances of contributing to the culture drop even close to zero. And what really matters, in the last account, is not whether your name has been attached to a recognised discovery, but whether you have lived a full and creative life.

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