“One of the most powerful wellsprings of creative energy, outstanding accomplishment and self-fulfillment seems to be falling in love with something— your dream, your image of the future.”
-E. Paul Torrance
According to a recent survey of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, “creativity” was deemed to be the most important leadership skill for the enterprise of the future. So what are the characteristics and traits of creative people? What sort of folks do they tend to be, if any, and how can they be identified, if at all?
Paul Torrance was the creator of the eponymous Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, a validated instrument that does a good job of measuring divergent cognition, serves as an additional tool for gifted program placement (beyond IQ tests), and has shown to have predictive ability in measuring future creative achievement and output, as I have blogged about in the past.
Near the end of his career, he re-examined his data and also his decades of interviews with students, and ended up with what he called the Beyonders Checklist that described traits of creative individuals. These are:
- Love of work
- Tolerance of mistakes
- Feeling comfortable as a minority of one
- Purpose in life
- Diversity of experience
- High energy
- Creative self-concept
- Risk taker
- Open to change
- Deep thinking
A fifty year follow up analysis by Mark Runco et al. found that the first four traits in particular showed significant correlation to either professional or personal creative achievement.
- Creativity tends to run in families, with both a possible nature and nurture component. (e.g. she found half of her subjects came from very high-achieving backgrounds, with at least one parent who has a doctoral degree, and the majority grew up in an environment where learning and education were highly valued.)
- These subjects are adventuresome and exploratory. They take risks and must confront doubt. Creative people tend to be very persistent, even when confronted with skepticism or rejection.
- Many creative people are polymaths (people with broad interests in many fields). The classic example is Da Vinci.
- They tend to be autodidacts. She wrote, “Because their thinking is different, my subjects often express the idea that standard ways of learning and teaching are not always helpful and may even be distracting, and that they prefer to learn on their own.”
- Her creative subjects and their relatives have a higher rate of mental illness (the most-common diagnoses include bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or panic disorder, and alcoholism.)
It strikes me, that taken together, both Torrance’s “checklist” and Andreason’s observations give a very similar sketch of creative archetypes, and allows for a heuristic of sorts to help identify them:
Creative Heuristic #1
These are passionate and intensely curious individuals, self-motivated and taught, that often come from a family of “creatives” (and, unfortunately, may suffer disproportionately from some forms of mental illness.) Furthermore, I would posit that these characteristics are also those found typically in Generalists, as discussed previously.
Given the importance of creativity and innovation to organizations today, using this heuristic as part of a broad strategy of hiring and recruitment should be helpful.
-Mark HT Ridinger