Confluence Approaches to the Study of Creativity

Many more recent works on creativity hypothesize that multiple components must converge for creativity to occur (Amabile, 1983; Csikszentmihalyi, 1988; Gardner, 1993; Gruber, 1989; Gruber & Wallace, 1999; Lubart, 1994, 1999; Lubart, Mouchi-roud, Tordjman, &Zenasni, 2003; Mumford &Gustafson, 1988; Perkins, 1981; Simonton, 1988; Sternberg, 1985 b; Sternberg & Lubart, 1991, 1995, 1996; Weisberg, 1993; Woodman & Schoenfeldt, 1989). Sternberg (1985b), for example, examined laypersons' and experts' conceptions of the creative person. People's implicit theories contain a combination of cognitive and personality elements, such as "connects ideas," "sees similarities and differences," "has flexibility," "has aesthetic taste," "is unorthodox," "is motivated," "is inquisitive," and "questions societal norms."

At the level of explicit theories, Amabile (1983, 1996; Collins & Amabile, 1999) described creativity as the confluence of intrinsic motivation, domain-relevant knowledge and abilities, and creativity-relevant skills. The creativity-relevant skills include

1. a cognitive style that involves coping with complexities and breaking one's mental set during problem solving;

2. knowledge of heuristics for generating novel ideas, such as trying a counterintuitive approach; and

3 . a work style characterized by concentrated effort, an ability to set aside problems, and high energy.

Gruber (1981, 1989) and Gruber and Davis (1988) proposed a developmental evolving-systems model for understanding creativity. A person's knowledge, purpose, and affect grow over time, amplify deviations that an individual encounters, and lead to creative products. Developmental changes in the knowledge system have been documented in cases such as Charles Darwin's thoughts on evolution. Purpose refers to a set of interrelated goals, which also develop and guide an individual's behavior. Finally, the affect or mood system notes the influence of joy or frustration on the projects undertaken.

Csikszentmihalyi (1988, 1996; Feldman, Csikszentmihalyi, & Gardner, 1 994) took a different "systems" approach and highlighted the interaction of the individual, domain, and field. An individual draws upon information in a domain and transforms or extends it via cognitive processes, personality traits, and motivation. The field, consisting of people who control or influence a domain (e.g., art critics and gallery owners), evaluates and selects new ideas. The domain, a culturally defined symbol system such as alphabetic writing, mathematical notation, or musical notation, preserves and transmits creative products to other individuals and future generations. Gardner (1 993; see also Policastro & Gardner, 1999) conducted case studies that suggest that the development of creative projects may stem from an anomaly within a system (e.g., tension between competing critics in a field) or moderate asyn-chronies between the individual, domain, and field (e.g., unusual individual talent for a domain). In particular, Gardner (1993) analyzed the lives of seven individuals who made highly creative contributions in the twentieth century with each specializing in one of the multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983): Sigmund Freud (intrapersonal), Albert Einstein (logical-mathematical), Pablo Picasso (spatial), Igor Stravinsky (musical), T. S. Eliot (linguistic), Martha Graham (bodily-kinesthetic), and Mohandas Gandhi (interpersonal). Charles Darwin would be an example of someone with extremely high naturalist intelligence. Gardner pointed out, however, that most of these individuals actually had strengths in more than one intelligence and that they also had notable weaknesses in others (e.g., Freud's weaknesses may have been in spatial and musical intelligences).

Although creativity can be understood in terms of uses of the multiple intelligences to generate new and even revolutionary ideas, Gardner's (1993) analysis goes well beyond the intellectual. For example, Gardner pointed out two major themes in the behavior of these creative giants. First, they tended to have a matrix of support at the time of their creative breakthroughs. Second, they tended to drive a "Faustian bargain," whereby they gave up many of the pleasures people typically enjoy in life to attain extraordinary success in their careers. However, it is not clear that these attributes are intrinsic to creativity, per se; rather, they seem to be associated with those who have been driven to exploit their creative gifts in a way that leads them to attain eminence.

Gardner (1993) further followed Csik-szentmihalyi (1988, 1996) in distinguishing between the importance of the domain (the body of knowledge about a particular subject area) and the field (the context in which this body of knowledge is studied and elaborated, including the persons working with the domain, such as critics, publishers, and other "gatekeepers"). Both are important to the development, and, ultimately, the recognition of creativity.

A final confluence theory considered here is Sternberg and Lubart's (1991,1995) investment theory of creativity. According to this theory, creative people are ones who are willing and able to "buy low and sell high" in the realm of ideas (see also Lubart & Runco, 1999; Rubenson & Runco, 1992, for use of concepts from economic theory). Buying low means pursuing ideas that are unknown or out of favor but that have growth potential. Often, when these ideas are first presented, they encounter resistance. The creative individual persists in the face of this resistance, and eventually sells high, moving on to the next new or unpopular idea.

Preliminary research within the investment framework has yielded support for this model (Lubart & Sternberg, 1995). This research has used tasks such as

1. writing short stories using unusual titles (e.g., "the octopus' sneakers"),

2. drawing pictures with unusual themes (e.g., "the earth from an insect's point of view"),

3. devising creative advertisements for boring products (e.g., cufflinks), and

4. solving unusual scientific problems (e.g., how we could tell if someone had been on the moon within the past month?).

This research showed creative performance to be moderately domain specific and to be predicted by a combination of six distinct but interrelated resources: intellectual abili ties, knowledge, styles of thinking, personality, motivation, and environment.

Concerning the confluence of components, creativity is hypothesized to involve more than a simple sum of a person's level on each component. First, there may be thresholds for some components (e.g., knowledge), below which creativity is not possible regardless of the levels on other components. Second, partial compensation may occur in which a strength on one component (e.g., motivation) counteracts a weakness on another component (e.g., environment). Third, interactions may also occur between components, such as intelligence and motivation, in which high levels on both components could multiplicatively enhance creativity.

In general, confluence theories of creativity offer the possibility of accounting for diverse aspects of creativity (Lubart, 1994). For example, analyses of scientific and artistic achievements suggest that the median-rated creativity of work in a domain tends to fall toward the lower end of the distribution and the upper - high creativity - tail extends quite far. This pattern can be explained through the need for multiple components of creativity to co-occur in order for the highest levels of creativity to be achieved. As another example, the partial domain specificity of creativity that is often observed can be explained through the mixture of some relatively domain-specific components for creativity, such as knowledge, and other more domain-general components, such as, perhaps, the personality trait of perseverance. Creativity, then, is largely something that people show in a particular domain.

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