A task for the creative visionary


Heroes never come in hordes.  The people who can rise above their environment and transform it creatively and positively are very rare.  Rising above the environment alone requires a lot of vision.  Transforming it is a great challenge.  Both the processes are basically acts of what psychology calls creativity.

Psychology defines creativity as goal-directed thinking which is unusual, novel and useful. While psychologists like Beghetto and Kaufman speak about simple creativity which is an attribute of most people who can make novel and personally meaningful interpretation of experiences, actions and events, this essay is about historical creativity which influences the whole human civilisation.  The theory of relativity is an example of historical creativity.  Mona Lisa and the Taj Mahal are examples.  Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha is another example, more relevant to this essay.

According to Newell, Shaw and Simon, the characteristics of creativity are:

  • novelty and usefulness
  • rejection of previously accepted ideas
  • intense motivation and persistence
  • organisation of the unclear situation in a coherent, clear and new way

Robert Sternberg identifies 5 aspects common to all creative processes:

  1. Creativity involves thinking that aims at producing ideas or products that are relatively novel and, in some respect, compelling
  2. Creativity has some domain-specific and domain-general elements.  In simpler words, creativity demands some specific knowledge as well as a lot of general knowledge.
  3. Creativity is measurable to some extent.
  4. Creativity can be developed and promoted.
  5. Creativity is not highly rewarded in practice, though it is supposed to be in theory.   People do not accept radical changes easily.

A high intelligence quotient (IQ) does not ensure creativity.  Lewis Terman conducted an experiment that lasted many years and became famous for various reasons.  “There is nothing about an individual as important as his IQ, except possibly his morals,” was Terman’s hypothesis.  He believed that “we must look for the production of leaders who advance science, art, government, education and social welfare generally.”

In 1921, Terman decided to make a study of the gifted his life work.  Armed with a large grant from the Commonwealth Foundation, he set out to study 1528 students whose IQs averaged over 140 and ranged as high as 200.  He studied their progress over the years.  By the time Terman’s geniuses reached adulthood, it became clear that his hypothesis was wrong.  Some of his child geniuses had grown up to publish books and scholarly articles.  Some thrived in business.  Several ran for public offices and a few became successful.  But few of his geniuses were nationally known figures.  They all tended to earn good incomes – but not exceptionally good.  The majority had careers that could only be considered ordinary, and a surprising number ended up with careers that even Terman considered failures.  None of them won any Nobel Prize.

“We have seen,” Terman concluded years after he had begun his research, “that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.”

A high IQ may guarantee occupational success, but not any noteworthy sign of creativity.  Psychology says that a creative person must have an IQ that is slightly above the average.  Guilford puts it at 120.  But IQ alone is not enough.  Hayes even went to the extent of saying that IQ has little to do with creativity.  Even less intelligent people may be highly creative, but the society does not usually give such people the opportunities to express their talent. 

Sternberg is of the opinion that creativity is the confluence of 6 distinct but interrelated resources.  They are: intellectual skills, knowledge, thinking style, personality, motivation and the environment.

The intellectual skill is not merely a matter of IQ, according to Sternberg.  Rather, it is blend of all the three dimensions: synthetic, analytic and practical-contextual skills.  The synthetic skill helps one to see problems in new ways, to stand outside conventions.  The analytic skill helps in identifying which of one’s ideas are worth pursuing.  The practical-contextual skill helps to persuade others of the value of one’s ideas.  We can easily see how all these three dimensions were highly active in people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. 

Knowledge is essential in helping one move forward in any field.  Sternberg, however, warns of a danger: knowledge can make one’s mind closed to new ideas.  A visionary can never afford to have a closed perspective.

The creative visionary must have a preference for thinking.  Actions without the solid backing of well thought-out concepts can create havocs.  The thinking style of a visionary must be marked by a decision to think in new ways.

A willingness to face and overcome obstacles, take risks, and tolerate ambiguity must be an integral part of the visionary’s personality.

What motivates a visionary should be his/her love for what is being done and not any rewards.  Sternberg says that motivation is not inborn, it is chosen.  Motivation is a decision, a choice.

Finally, the environment also plays a great role in the making of a visionary.  An environment such as ours, which places undue emphasis on wealth and wealth-creation, on manipulation and duplicity, on commodification of everything including love, may find it extremely hard to give birth to creative visionaries.  There is too much material weight bogging down the rather abstract vision.  If it is history that makes heroes and not vice-versa [Felipe Fernandez-Armesto], then our potential creative visionaries do have an arduous task ahead.  They have to redefine history first.


About matheikal

My more regular blog can be accessed at www.matheikal.blogspot.com
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