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Creativity Theories Relevant to Innovation

Tomorrow's Research

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"For one to lead a corporation or a school district into a changing environment infused with creativity, more is needed than a dynamic personality and gift of gab.  What is needed is an in depth knowledge of the decades of relevant creativity research that is based upon theories such as those presented below."


The posting below looks at various creativity theories and how they relate to educational leadership. It is from Chapter 3 - Creativity Theories Relevant to Innovation, in the book,Creativity as a Bridge Between Education and Industry: Fostering New Innovations by David Tanner, Ph.D., and Fredricka Reisman, Ph.D. Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition (29 May 2014). Copyright 2014 by David Tanner and Fredricka Reisman. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
UP NEXT: Why Are You Teaching That?


Tomorrow's Research

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Creativity Theories Relevant to Innovation (Ref. 43)

Integrating creativity within industry management and education must first begin with an awareness of key theoretical models most closely associated with the development and application of creativity in real world situations.  These theories form the intellectual foundation of creativity - the body of knowledge that underlies instilling creative thinking and creativity application into innovation.  This is not a chicken-egg issue - the knowledge base comes first.  This sequence of knowledge preceding application is most evident when corporations hire creativity consultants, often for large sums of money, and do not receive the guidance they expected.

For one to lead a corporation or a school district into a changing environment infused with creativity, more is needed than a dynamic personality and gift of gab.  What is needed is an in depth knowledge of the decades of relevant creativity research that is based upon theories such as those presented below.  Just as a teacher must know about learning and teaching theories as well as having skill in diagnosing and assessing their students' gaps in knowledge, those who are creativity leaders also must diagnose their clients' goals and, like teachers, either have or be able to create relevant creativity instructional tools and techniques to reach these goals.

This chapter summarizes the contributions of bedrock creativity theorists and the relevance of their main ideas to innovation. The chapter deals with two questions: 1. What are the creative processes used by creative people, and 2. What does a creative person look like.

What Are the Creative Processes Used by Creative People?

Graham Wallas. Wallas' model contains five stages for creative thinking (Ref. 59):

1.      Preparation - focuses on the problem and explores the problem's dimensions.
2.      Incubation - subconscious mulling of the problem.
3.      Intimation - inkling that a solution is on its way.
4.      Illumination - discovery; "Eureka!"
5.      Verification - focus on practicality, effectiveness, appropriateness.

Wallas' theory provides a structured approach to creative problem solving. Understanding this is essential especially when considering the development of a creativity and innovation structure or process in one's firm. The structure needs to provide time and involve a variety of employees.

Sid Parnes & Alex Osborn.  Their approach is a 4-step creative problem solving model that focused on using creativity in advertising. Component stages include both divergent and convergent processes (Ref. 60):

1.      Understanding the problem
2.      Generating ideas
3.      Planning for Action
4.      Acceptance finding

This model provides another look at the creative problem solving process - (  A solid understanding of the difference between divergent and convergent processes is important.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  The focus here is on the interplay among the creative person (the individual), the domain (the discipline) and the field (the experts/gatekeepers).  The individual is the innovation manager, the domain is the discipline of creativity, and the field is comprised of the gatekeepers, e.g., CEOs whose decisions either allow or inhibit individual and/or group innovation.  This may help you influence change in your organization.

Czikszentmihalyi (Ref. 61) also introduced 'flow' experiences that are applied here in the context of innovation management.  Flow involves energy that focuses attention and motivates action.

Teresa Amabile.  Motivation is central to Aamabile's research, finding that intrinsic motivation is more apt to generate creativity than extrinsic motivation (Ref. 62).  Establish diverse teams, perhaps from different company departments, to foster different perspectives, exploration and debate.  Teams should comprise variety in expertise, creative-thinking styles, and cognitive abilities.  This leads to divergent ideas and innovative solutions.

What Does a Creative Person Look Like?

Ellis Paul Torrance. Building on Guilford's work, Torrance developed the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (Ref. 47) that is a psychometric approach to measuring creativity.  It is still the most widely used creativity assessment world-wide. Managers of creativity and innovation are in a position to facilitate original thinking, fluency and flexibility of ideas, elaboration, smart risk taking, tolerance of ambiguity, and resistance to premature closure, when exposed to these concepts.

Robert J. Sternberg.  Sternberg presented two ideas: His Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence (Ref. 63, 64) proposes that creativity is a balance among three forms of thinking: analytical, creative, and practical.  Innovation Managers often deal with training on analytical thinking that includes having to analyze, critique, judge, compare/contrast, evaluate, assess. Creative tasks deal with the ability to invent, discover, imagine, suppose, predict; and practical intelligence is involved in everyday problem solving.

Sternberg further compared creativity to investment activities of buying low and selling high.  Investment theory highlights perseverance in selling one's creative idea(s).  Innovation Managers need to do this both within their discipline and also in the context of the field (see Csikszentmihalyi previously).

Abraham Maslow (Ref. 65). Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs, pictured below, presents a ladder of needs beginning with the most basic physiological needs (e.g., food, water, shelter, clothing), the security needs, both physiological and safety, the need for love and belonging, the esteem level that deals with self-confidence (self-assurance) and self-efficacy (believing in your abilities), both of which are important for innovation managers to persevere and champion their ideas. Success results in confidence, and those lacking confidence may not be able to produce creative ideas.  Thus, it is important for the manager to view making mistakes as an opportunity for learning and encourage sensible risk taking.  Finally, there is self-actualization level, which involves peak experiences realizing all inner potential.


Carl Rogers (Ref.66).  Rogers avers that significant learning takes place when the task is perceived by the manager as having relevance for his or her own purposes.  A role of an Innovation Manager is to facilitate innovation by: setting a positive climate for creative thinking, clarifying the purposes of team member roles, organizing and making available creativity resources, balancing intellectual and emotional components of creative endeavors, and sharing feelings and thoughts with colleagues but not dominating.

Howard Gardner (Ref. 67). Gardner developed a theory of 'multiple intelligence' (MI) which states that individuals have creative strength(s) that are domain-specific.  When innovation managers become aware of Gardner's theory, they can reflect upon where they fall in the MI theory, and then coach others to become aware of their creative strengths.  Gardner initially proposed eight intelligences: linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. He further stated a ninth, existential intelligence defined as the ability to use intuition to understand one's environment.

In summation, different perspectives of investigating creativity include a psychometric approach which focuses on assessing one's creative strengths (Torrance); a systems approach to understanding creativity (Csikszentmihalyi) which focuses on the individual, the domain (discipline), and the field (gatekeepers of the industry); the role of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Amabile) which states that intrinsic motivation yields more creative products; comparison with intelligence (Guilford, Sternberg); multiple intelligences (Gardner); humanistic psychology (Rogers, Maslow); and creative problem solving models (Wallas, Parnes).  Mayer (Ref 54) provides an excellent discussion of many assessment models and their proponents including psychometric methods, experimental methods, biographical methods, biological methods, computational methods and contextual methods.


43. Reisman, F.K., and Hartz, T.A. (2010). Talent Management Handbook. 2nd Edition. Edited by Lance A. Berger & Dorothy Berger. NY: McGraw Hill.

47. Torrance, E.P. (1966). The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking-Norms-Technical Manual Research Edition - Verbal Tests, Forms A and B - Figural Tests, Forms A and B. Princeton, NJ: Personnel Press.

54. Mayer, R.E. (1999). Fifty Years of Creativity Research. In R.J. Sternberg (1999). Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.

60. Parnes, S.J. & Meadow, A. Osborn Parnes Model of Creative Problem Solving. Journal of Educational Psychology, 1959 -

61. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. HarperCollins Publishers: New York, NY.

62. Amabile, T.M. The Social Psychology of Creativity. A Componential Conceptualization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 45(2), Aug. 1983, 357-376.

63. Sternberg, R.J. (1986). Beyond IQ: Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

64. Sternberg, R.J. (1998). Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

65. Maslow, A.H. (1974). Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

66. Rogers, C.R. (1995). On Becoming a Person: a Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

67. Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelegences, Basic Books