Common Traits of the Creative Personality
Jack Kerouac once said, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently; they change things; they push the human race forward . . . because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do” (Seldes, 1995).
Kerouac could very well have been describing the creative personality, for research has demonstrated that highly creative individuals don’t think or act like the rest of us. They are indeed different, and in quite a few ways.
Link between Creativity and Eccentric Behavior
Do you think that most creative people are a bit “strange”? If so, you’re probably not alone, and, what’s more, you’re right. In fact, according to Shellye Carson, in an article for Scientific American (2011), “People who are highly creative often have odd thoughts and behaviors, and both creativity and eccentricity may be the result of genetic variations that increase cognitive disinhibition—the brain’s failure to filter out extraneous information.” For example, “people who score high for creative achievement in the arts are more likely to believe in telepathic communication, dreams that foretell the future, and past lives” (Carson, 2011).
Creative Individuals Think Differently
In Understanding Creativity: The Interplay of Biological, Psychological, and Social Factors (1998), John Dacey and Kathleen Lennon discuss Edward deBono’s concept of “lateral thinking” and “vertical thinking” (p. 177). As deBono maintains, according to Dacey and Lennon, there is “a distinction between vertical thinking (which means mental operations that move in a straight line back and forth between lower and higher level concepts) and lateral thinking (which means looking for alternative ways of defining and interpreting a problem)” (1998, p. 177).
As per Dacey and Lennon, deBono contrasts lateral and vertical thinking in this manner:
Vertical thinking is selective, whereas lateral thinking is generative. Vertical thinking is aimed at finding the right solution by following one path, but lateral thinking is more concerned with richness than with rightness, and is therefore more likely to generate numerous pathways of thought.
Vertical thinking is analytical, whereas lateral thinking is provocative. Lateral thinkers seek information not for its own sake but for its ability to provoke or shock them. It does not even have to be true, as long as it is effective. (Dacey & Lennon, 1998, p. 177)
While there are other dissimilarities between lateral and vertical thinking, according to deBono, space doesn’t permit discussion of them all, but suffice it to say that it isn’t surprising that research shows that most highly creative individuals tend to be lateral, not vertical, thinkers.
Creative Personalities Explore and Experiment
Dr. Willis Harman and Harold Rheingold, coauthors of Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights (1994) maintain that one of the traits of the creative personality is the ability to toy with elements and concepts. For example, according to Harman and Rheingold, creative individuals tend to look at colors and shapes, as well as relationships, ideas, and problems, and then form hypotheses. They might ask, “What if I look at this from a different angle? What if I try this instead of doing it the way it’s always been done?” And through this process of exploration, they find novel and innovative ways to make things, accomplish tasks, solve problems, express ideas, or adapt to situations, etc.
Relatedly, Dacey and Lennon cite a study by Guilford demonstrating how of the five operations of the structure of intellect (cognition, memory, divergent and convergent thinking, and evaluation), divergent and convergent thinking are most important in relation to creativity. Why? Because when people employ divergent thinking, they are able to generate a wide variety of ideas and possible solutions, and when they employ convergent thinking, they are able to identify the ideas and solutions that are most viable out of all possible ideas and solutions (Dacey & Lennon, 1998).
Additional Traits of Highly Creative People
According to Dacey and Lennon, of all traits shared by creative people, “tolerance of ambiguity” is a “consistent hallmark,” for it takes “a greater degree of strangeness or ambiguity to cause fear or terror” in such people than in others (1998, p.99). In fact, creative people tend to “find strangeness interesting or exciting rather than frightening,” which fosters within them “the ability to react creatively” (Dacey & Lennon, 1998, p. 99).
Another common trait is “freedom from sex-role stereotyping.” A study by Roe, as cited by Dacey and Lennon, concluded that “. . . high creativity requires that individuals have some of the qualities usually ascribed to the opposite sex.” Creative males, for example, say Dacey and Lennon, might possess “sensitivity to the feelings of others,” normally viewed as a feminine trait, while females might possess assertiveness, normally viewed as a masculine trait (1998, p. 109).
A third commonality is “flexibility.” Citing Smith and Amner (1997), Dacey and Lennon say, “. . . the creative person is flexible in being open to the world, open to change, and prepared to bring about such change” (p. 104).
Lastly, individuals who are extremely imaginative tend to have superior memories, yet they not only possess “the ability to remember large quantities of information but also the uncanny capacity to recognize what is worth remembering and what to avoid storing in the first place” (Dacey & Lennon, 1998, p. 194).
In closing, creativity researcher Frank Barron says, “The creative person is more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, crazier and saner than the average person” (Harman & Rheingold, 1994, p. 23). Yet, perhaps the best way to describe highly creative individuals is to compare them to the late Steve Jobs, because they, too, perhaps invariably long “to put a ding in the universe” (Heller, 2011), and although most never achieve that goal on the same grand scale as the founder of one of the largest technology companies on Earth, they yet manage to alter the universe in their own unique way.
Carson, S. (2011) The Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People Are Eccentric. April 14, 2011. Retrieved from scientificamerican.com
Dacey, J. & Lennon, K. (1998) Understanding Creativity: The Interplay of Biological, Psychological, and Social Factors. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Company
Harman, W. & Rheingold, H. (1994) Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights. New York: St. Martin’s Press
Heller, S. (2011) The Job Jobs Did. New York Times. August 25. Retrieved from nytimes.com
Seldes, G, ed. (1995) The Great Thoughts. New York: Ballantine Books