Creativity Defined

Creativity means different things to different people. Many define it as the ability to create works of art, perform as an actor or musician, design buildings, or write literature. This arts-based definition implies that creativity is the domain of a small group of gifted individuals, and that most of us lack it.

Unfortunately, society too often puts creativity into a narrow niche, comprised of quirky, idiosyncratic artists with a bohemian bent. In fact, research indicates that we are all born with the potential for creativity, and that outlets for it exist in virtually every profession, not just the arts. A creative teacher knows how to capture her students’ attention and can present complex topics clearly; a creative retailer can display products in a compelling way; a creative investment banker can foresee trends in various industries and create unique, successful funds.

Philosophers, educators and writers have long sought to define creativity, and no single definition has emerged. There are, however, common threads, captured well in the definition proposed by the MacArthur Foundation:

“The expression of human endeavor as individuals actively make or find something new, or connect the seemingly unconnected in significant ways.”

Deconstructing this definition, the important points are “make or find something new” (i.e. the willingness or ability to think differently); and “connect the seemingly unconnected” (i.e. combining or synthesizing existing data to arrive at new conclusions). This last point is often summarized as “connecting the dots,” as in “we should have seen the home loan debacle coming, but we didn’t connect the dots.”

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