An Analytical Approach to Creativity

By Kelly Murphy

Throughout my entire life I have never considered myself to be creative by any stretch of the imagination.  I have never excelled in the activities that are traditionally described as creative activities, such as arts and crafts, drawing, music, and don’t have the wild imagination that so many creative individuals do.  I received my undergraduate degree in computer information systems and accounting, and I am currently receiving my master’s degree in business analytics.  I am sharing this information because it provides a pretty good sense of my personality and how my brain operates.  I am very analytically minded, and make a lot of decisions in my life using facts and logic.  I’m the type of person who likes a lot of structure and order in my life.  I’m more likely to do things by the book rather than try to change something just for the sake of trying something new.

These are definitely not the qualities of a creative individual.  I, like so many others who share these qualities, have always just accepted that I’m not creative, and never will be creative; however, after further studying creativity, I’ve learned that this is not necessarily true.  There are, in fact, many different ways that anybody can be creative.

Most people have heard that the human brain is split into two hemispheres: the left side and the right side.  The left side of the brain is the analytical side and is responsible for things like facts, logic, and organization.  The right side of the brain is responsible for things like imagination, arts, and feelings. The right-brain is almost universally described as being the creative side of the brain.  This means that for people who have a dominant left-brain, the perception is that their brains just aren’t hard wired to be as creative as people who have a dominant right-brain.

I disagree with this idea.  I don’t think that analytical people means are any less creative, or that artists are any more creative.  Creativity can be viewed as having a unique way of thinking. I don’t believe that any one person is necessarily more creative than somebody else.  Everybody has their own way of thinking, which leads them to be creative in a unique way.  In fact, creativity can take on many different forms.  For example, creativity can be seen in an artist that is creating work that is completely different from anything anybody has ever done.  Creativity can be seen in a scientist who is so analytical that they are able to approach a problem, and solution, different from anybody else.  Creativity can even be an athlete who is always finding unique ways to get a defender out of position.  The scientist can be just as creative as the artist, and the athlete can be just as creative as well.

Creativity has more to do with personality than which hemisphere of the brain is dominant, and I believe that efforts to measure creativity quantitatively are flawed due to the fact that everybody has a unique creative style.  The best that we approach to categorize these different styles of creativity is similar to the tests that categorize an individual’s personality.

A study by Umed Singh and Jagdish Kumar, from December 2017, attempted to find a correlation between personality and creativity.  Their paper expresses my views on creativity.  The authors do not feel that creativity is this singular thing that can be measured.  Like me, the authors believe there are different categories of creativity, just like there are categories of personality, and they attempt to assess the relationship between creativity type and personality type.  The study looks at four different categories of creativity: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.

  • Fluency is an individual’s ability to generate numerous ideas.
  • Flexibility is one’s ability to come up with a range of ideas that are all very different from each other.
  • Originality is the ability to produce original ideas that wouldn’t be thought of by most people.
  • Elaboration is the ability to create a plan of action and implement it.

Personalities were tested using a NEO-FFI test, which looks at five scales of an individual’s personality.  These scales include neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.  Lastly, the survey tests respondents to determine their extrinsic or intrinsic motivation.  Ultimately, the tests of creativity and personality yielded 16 statistically significant results out of the 20 relationships.  The findings from this study support my original hypothesis that creativity has more to do with personality than anything else.

In addition to questioning whether there is one universal way to approach creativity, I have more questions that I’m interested in.  One major question I have is whether or not creativity differs across geographic regions.  The Singh & Kumar study was done in India, so I would be curious to see if the relationships between creativity type and personality type may be different in the United States.  As a United States citizen, I have taken a creativity test that measured on these same creative categories, and a Myers Briggs personality test.  My results from each test do not match the correlations discovered in this study.  My creative strengths, identified in the creativity test, are originality and elaboration; and the Myers Briggs test confirms I’m very much an introvert.  However, in the Indian study extroversion had positive correlation with both originality and elaboration.  Obviously, there can always be outliers, and I may happen to be one of them; however, maybe there actually is a difference between the personality and creativity relationship in the United States compared to India.

I’m also curious as to whether or not these results would differ by gender.  This study sampled only male students to avoid gender being a confound variable.  It would be worthwhile to run this same study on females to assess any difference in the relationships between creativity and personality.

So why does all of this matter?  Organizations constantly need to innovate in order to remain competitive.  A culture of creativity helps spur innovation in many organizations.  I suspect that hiring ‘creative’ individuals isn’t the most effective way for an organization to increase creativity and innovation.  This is because by seeking out traditionally creative individuals only, an organization may be missing out on individuals who think differently.

If an organization really wants to get the most out of their creative culture, then the key is to hire many people with different personalities who excel in each of the four categories of creativity: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.  If a company is looking only for people that they see as creative, then there won’t be enough diversity of thought to reach their full innovative potential.  For example, if the core of the creativity within an organization comes from individuals who excel in fluency, then there will be a long string of ideas, but the ideas will not have much variety.  This means that innovative ideas will be lacking within the organization.  If instead, there were a combination of fluent creative individuals and flexible creative individuals, then they would be able to build off of each other’s strengths, and get a high quantity of many different ideas.  The same can be said for when adding creative individuals who excel in originality and elaboration.  The more diversity that is available during the creative process, the more creativity that will result from the process.  Firms also need to ensure that they have people with different ways of thinking to ensure that you will have people who will consider all of the necessary questions.  Asking lots of questions, and asking the right questions, is a very important part of creativity.  For example, if all of the right questions are asked, then potential problems will be able to be addressed early on in the process.

My hope is that my blog has offered a new perspective of creativity.  So many of us have been convinced that we just weren’t meant to ever be creative, when, in fact, this isn’t the case at all.  There are many different ways for individuals to be creative, and everybody has their own creative strengths.  Each of the different personality types are creative in their own unique way; in fact, personality is strongly correlated with creativity.  Even if an individual doesn’t have the traditional traits of creativity, odds are they are still creative in some way.  With this new understanding of creativity, I hope that you’re able to fully utilize your own creative potential.

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