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Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper.  All rights reserved.

TARA K. HARPER
WRITER'S WORKSHOP
The Six Common Traits of Creative People

What is successful creativity?

1.  Strong commitment to a personal aesthetic
2.  Ability to excel in finding problems
3.  Mental mobility
4.  Willingness to take risks
5.  Objectivity
6.  Inner motivation


What is Successful Creativity?

There are six common traits of creative people.  These six traits, referred to as the snowflake model (developed by David Perkins of Harvard University), are present to varying degrees in all creative people.  The differences between people who are creative but unsuccessful as artists, creative and moderately successful as artists, creative and successful, or genius, depend on the degree to which those people have and develop each of the six traits.

For example, a man might excel at having a personal aesthetic, being able to make new connections between ideas, and being objective, but unless he is also motivated enough to produce in a concrete medium what he creates in his head, he will never be able to share his vision with others.  He may be creative in himself, but he will not be a successful artist.  On the other hand, a man who has the vision and a strong motivation to re-create that vision in a medium other than his own mind, has the potential to be a much more successful scientist or artist.

"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work."

                                   - Emile Zola (1840-1902)

The six common traits of creative people, according to the snowflake model are as follows.

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1.  Strong commitment to a personal aesthetic

According to a 1989 article in Omni magazine, this is "The drive to wrest order, simplicity, meaning, richness, or powerful expression from what is seemingly chaos."  Creative people have a need to express the world in different terms, to re-create the world, thus simplifying or focusing what they see.  Successful artists are also willing to spend the time to make that re-created vision as perfect as possible, to wrestle with and manipulate the ambiguities until they are stated the right way (to the artist) for the expression of the vision.

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2.  Ability to excel in finding problems

By asking the right question and finding the right problem, creators can define and "see" the boundaries of their fields that can be extended or broken.  Being able to find a solution isn't the first step; the first step is being able to ask the question that focuses the vision and the potential that vision creates.

         There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be a time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate.

          - T. S. Eliot

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3.  Mental mobility

This trait allows creative people to find new perspectives on and approaches to problems.  The assertion here is that creative people think in terms of  opposites and contraries while seeking synthesis of new ideas.  That they think in metaphors and analogies and automatically challenge assumptions.  A June, 1993 article in Newsweek magazine overviewed several researchers and geniuses to discuss where great minds come from.  One of the article's statements was beautifully concise:  "In genius there is a tolerance for ambiguity, a patience with unpredictable avenues of thought."

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4.  Willingness to take risks

This is also called being a Type-T personality, or having the "Big Trait".  According to the snowflake model, "By working at the edge of their competence, where the possibility of failure lurks, mental risk-takers are more likely to produce creative results."

The willingness to take risks is also not a single trait, but one with three different aspects, each of which is required for successful creativity:
     - constant seeking of excitement and stimulation (including mental stimulation)
     - acceptance of failure as part of the creative quest
     - ability to learn from failure

Some psychologists see genius as inseparable from failure.  This is contrary to the popular impression in our society that great creative artists were always successful.  The reality is that creative geniuses tend to produce great quantities of mediocre work, and only some work that is great.  What they do do is produce and keep producing work without giving up until they have achieved their vision.  There are many, many creative people in our world, but most of them lack the drive or risk-taking ability to follow their visions or ideas out of mediocrity and into greatness.  They simply give up too soon.  Many of these creative (but not "genius") people assume that "geniuses" are successful all the time, rather than that geniuses are simply willing to try and fail as many times as they must in order to learn how to or gain the skills to achieve their visions.

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5.  Objectivity

Creative people without objectivity make a private world that has no reality.  Creative people with objectivity are able to examine and judge their own ideas/projects, and seek criticism.  The keys here are the abilities to:
     - put aside your ego in order to honestly self-evaluate your ideas and projects.
     - seek advice from trusted peers /colleagues, who help you analyze and reassess your ideas.
     - test your ideas.

         Imagination, which, in truth,
Is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind
And Reason in her most exalted mood.

          - William Wordsworth

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6.  Inner motivation

This is the driving force to create, not for reward but for its own sake.  For the enjoyment, satisfaction, challenge.  Research has consistently shown that work evaluation, supervision, competition for prizes, and restricted choices in how to perform an activity -- all these undermine intrinsic motivation and inhibit creativity in workers . Research on children has also supported these results.  A June 25, 1994 summary article in Science News magazine (which summarizes papers and publications in various science fields) reported that, in studies with children, creativity in artwork and written stories drops significantly for children who receive or expect to receive prizes or other rewards.


Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper

All rights reserved.  It is illegal to reproduce or transmit in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, any part of this copyrighted file without permission in writing from Tara K. Harper.  Permission to download this file for personal use only is hereby granted by Tara K. Harper.


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