Defining creativity

Creativity is a very popular word these days. It’s everywhere, so you imagine that we all know what we mean by it. When you try to pin the word down to a particular definition though, this is when things get tricky.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition is

the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”

That seem straightforward enough doesn’t it?

Here’s another one

“the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. Innovation is the production or implementation of an idea. If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative”. Linda Naiman

NACCCE (National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education) define creativity as

Imaginative activity fashioned to produce outcomes that are both original and of value. Creative processes have four characteristics. First, they always involve thinking or behaving imaginatively. Second, this imaginative activity is purposeful : that is, it is directed to achieve an objective. Third, these processes must generate something original . Fourth, the outcome must be of value in relation to the objective.

Hmm, so now we have innovation and creativity as two different elements of the process, creativity being the part when we produce something. I told you it wasn’t that simple!

I take issue with the ‘of value’ part, especially when it comes to work with children. Who is defining the value? And is every creative thought or act truly original? Does this put pressure on us to feel we can only be creative if we produce something never seen before?

Another aspect of defining creativity is that what people KNOW intellectually is the definition is often  different to their feelings about it. In training sessions I ask groups to define creativity and we get flip charts  full of wonderful words, processes, outcomes and emotions; I ask the same people if they think they are creative and a large proportion say ‘no’ then giggle and say ‘I’m rubbish at drawing’.  So people are mixing up ‘creative’ and ‘artistic’ even though we have just defined the word as encompassing  many aspects of life.

I prefer to think of creativity as something that permeates all parts of our lives and makes us who we are.

I think creativity is asking the questions, not just looking for the answers.

It’s thinking, analysing, connecting, expressing, coming up with a joke, a funny thought, looking at things from different angles, being able to see possibilities, being brave enough to go against the crowd, wearing clothes you like, exploring new places, making fab food, choosing colours for your living room and finding alternative ways to approach life’s challenges.

Obviously great innovation, scientific breakthroughs and ‘high’ arts all involve creativity, but if we see creativity as being only about new  ideas this prevents many people from embracing their own creativity and makes us think that every creative person is some kind of  genius.

When working with children we need to allow for all kinds of self-expression. At a young age it is more about encouraging them to have confidence in themselves, their fascinations, their own connections. Be careful not to mix up creative with ‘artistic’. 


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1 Response to Defining creativity

  1. Pingback: Play and creativity – separate things? | Playful Minds

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