Opening the Creative Mind

By Potter, Rollin R. | National Forum, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Opening the Creative Mind


Potter, Rollin R., National Forum


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Howard Gardner, both highly regarded for their research and writings about creativity, have contributed two landmark works within the last few years. Their findings will be of special interest to readers who are artists, teachers, and creators of art forms.

Csikszentmihalyi's Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention is a compilation and in-depth reporting from interviews with over ninety individuals, who, in the author's opinion, have demonstrated unusual capacities for creativity. With the assistance of doctoral students, Csikszentmihalyi has brought together convincing information about what makes for a creative mind and what kinds of lives such individuals lead, from childhood through their final years. The list of respondents interviewed include philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, actor Edward Asner, composer Easley Blackwood, psychologist John W. Gardner, paleontologist-geologist and science historian Stephen Jay Gould, politician Eugene McCarthy, chemist Linus Pauling, and Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.

Responding to nearly thirty detailed and complex questions, individuals revealed to the author or his assistants what qualities from childhood, parental relationships, academic preparations, and their personal and professional relationships influenced creativity and brought them to understand that they were capable of leadership roles in the arts, humanities, politics, the sciences, or business. Similar in some ways to Howard Gardner's Creating Minds, Csikszentmihalyi's Creativity includes observations about lives of individuals and outlines ingredients that brought about successes as well as frustrations.

For sure, there are similarities and patterns in the lives of creative individuals. Creativity is often influenced by the culture into which an individual is immersed. Encouraging parents, dedicated teachers, and opportunities to gain knowledge and understanding before receiving formal training are all factors. In some instances, a specific project or undertaking triggers a level of creativity and flow of talent that becomes an individual's life work. Needs or changes in specific fields also draw gifted individuals to the fore, who become leaders in their professions through unusual talents and abilities.

Creativity often results from talent and chance, but long-term successful use of it requires much more. Many of the individuals that Csikszentmihalyi interviewed indicated that natural abilities and luck were factors in first realizing a capability, but that dedication and perseverance were also of major importance. Becoming comfortable within a domain, which may include a profession, laboratory, university, or city all can contribute to the flow of creative ideas and processes. Stable family relationships and support from peers in one's profession are also factors.

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