“The only way to stay creative is to oppose the wear and tear of existence with techniques that organize time, space, and activity to your advantage. It means developing schedules to protect your time and avoid distraction, arranging your surroundings to heighten concentration, cutting out meaningless chores that soak up psychic energy, and devoting the energy thus saved to what you really care about.”
Like his previous book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi attempts here to get at what it means to spend your life in a meaningful way. This time, his focus is on creativity: what it is, how it works, and what we can do to live a more satisfying and creative life. A daunting and ambiguous task, to be sure.
To study creativity, Csikszentmihalyi starts by defining what ‘creativity’ is: to be sure, many people are brilliant and interesting, but leave no lasting impact on their culture or society. Many are personally creative in our everyday lives. Perhaps we build a custom headboard for our bedroom or think of a faster way to do the dishes. Both of these forms of creativity are important, but the type of creativity that this book is primarily concerned with is the type that pushes a person to advance a domain, whether it be science or the arts, and has a lasting impact on the culture.The Leonardos, Edisons, Picassos, or Einsteins of any given field.
With the help of a team of graduate research assistants, Csikszentmihalyi conducted extensive interviews with a wide range of creative people. The men and women he interviewed are from all types of different professions, from sculptors and businessmen to scientists and social reformers. Each participant was at least 60 years old coming to so coming to the end of their distinguished career. A few that were asked declined to participate, citing the ability to turn down frivolous research studies as the key to their continued success.
What follows is a nuanced study of what creativity is and how it feels to practice it. Some of the people who I felt had the most interesting quotations were Madeline L’Engel, Hilde Domin, and Jonas Salk. Each came from a less than optimal background and in the beginning showed no evidence of their later eminence but nonetheless eventually reached the pinnacle of their respective professions. In the end, there is no ‘secret’ formula to creativity, but the book ends with a few simple suggestions that mostly work to cultivate a sense of curiosity and critical thinking.
My review of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s previous book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
A summary of the Creative Personality, written by the author for Psychology Today.
A 15 page abstract of the author’s research: “In order to want to introduce novelty into a domain, a person should first of all be dissatisfied with the status quo. It has been said that Einstein explained why he spent so much time developing a new physics by saying that he could not understand the old physics. Greater sensitivity, naivety, arrogance, impatience, and higher intellectual standards have all been adduced as reasons why some people are unable to accept the conventional wisdom in a domain and feel the need to break out of it.”
Quotes and Anecdotes: The Process of Cultural Evolution ; A Definition of Creativity ; Anticipation and Commitment: The Story of Motorola ; Being a Good Ancestor ; and The Axemaker’s Gift.
Buy on Amazon: Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention
Stuff of Interest:
perpetual motion machine–a physical impossibilty “Oh ye seekers after perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you pursued? Go and take your place with the alchemists.”— Leonardo da Vinci, 1494
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Gates of Paradise
convergent and divergent thinking–Convergent thinking is measured by IQ tests, and it involves solving well-defined, rational problems that have one correct answer. Divergent thinking leads to no agreed-upon solution. It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas.
the poetry of Anthony Hedcht and Hilde Domin
deficit motives–“Wilson has been a ceaseless worker all his life. A painful childhood instilled a certain amount of insecurity in him, which he decided to overcome with a relentless drive modeled on an idealized Southern heritage long on pride, sacrifice, and discipline. These were what the current psychological jargon calls deficit motives, based on efforts to compensate for undesirable early experiences.
Road to Damascus–An important point in someone’s life where a great change, or reversal, of ideas or beliefs occurs. Based on the conversion of St. Paul to Christianity.
centrifugal and centripetal forces–centrifugal forces move away from a center while centripetal forces move toward a center.