Creativity Research Review: Some Lessons for Higher Education

By Haring-Smith, Tori | Peer Review, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Creativity Research Review: Some Lessons for Higher Education


Haring-Smith, Tori, Peer Review


The publication of Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class delivered a clarion call to American higher education. Members of the "creative class," in Florida's description, are like those students we all love to teach: intelligent, open-minded risk-takers who have self-confidence, enjoy tackling challenges, value domestic and global diversity, and engage in synthetic, flexible, and creative problem solving. When these students graduate, they will earn on average twice as much as members of the other two dominant American classes: the service class and the working class. Florida's description of the kind of place the members of the creative class seek sounds remarkably like the ideal college campus: "environments that let them be creative-that value their input, challenge them, have mechanisms for mobilizing resources around ideas and are receptive to both small changes and the occasional big idea" (2002, 40). In short, the fusion of Puritan work ethic and bohemianisin that characterizes the creative class sums up the ideal college experience that allows the nonconformity of the 1960s to be transformed into an economic manifesto for the 1990s.

Florida's subsequent hook The Flight of the Creative Class (2005)-along with other studies like Joel Mokyr's Lever of Riches (1990), which links creativity to technological innovation and American global economic superiority-provide a strong mandate for colleges and universities to nurture creativity in their students. What college or university would not want to recruit and graduate "the natural-indeed the only possible-leaders of twenty-first-century society" (Florida 2002, 315)?

As Steven Tepper (2004) has pointed out, many colleges and universities are taking up the gauntlet thrown down by Florida, Mokyr, and others by creating centers and programs designed to foster creativity among their students. He has suggested, in fact, that colleges should be encouraged to create these centers by the institution of a national "creativity index" to rank schools by how well they foster innovation among faculty and students.

Given this mandate, how can research into creativity help guide college and university initiatives of the kind Tepper wants to see? There was relatively little research into creativity until the 1950s, largely, one suspects, because popular descriptions of the creative act as a visitation of the muse or serendipitous inspiration removed the topic from scientific consideration. Think of Archimedes jumping from his bath to shout "Eureka!" or Coleridge writing "Kubla Khan" in an opium-induced reverie. It would be hard enough to investigate scientifically, much less to teach, creativity conceived of in this way.

Early Research on Creativity

Only in the past fifty years have scholars begun to study the act of creativity rigorously, first in the realm of psychology and later more broadly in areas like sociology and economics. This research, most scholars agree, was initiated by J. P. Guilford in his 1950 American Psychological Association presidential address, which challenged his colleagues to study the neglected but important field of creativity. Before 1950, by Guilford s count, only 0.2 percent of the entries in Psychological Abstracts pertained to creativity.

Early research focused mostly on identifying individuals who were exceptionally promising as creative leaders (Guilford 1950; Torrance 1962; Barron 1955). This approach to creativity, treating it as distinct from but analogous to intellectual ability, produced attempts to identify personalitytraits that enhanced creativity or to measure creativity in the way that intelligence was being measured with an IQ test. Although such research advanced the scientific exploration of creativity, it did little to encourage educators to attend to creativity research since it emphasized nature rather than nurture.

But in the last quarter of the twentieth century, creativity research began to demystify the creative act by exploring the cognitive processes that constitute creativity and by examining how creative individuals are stimulated or restricted by their environments. …

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