Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Book Summary)

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Have you ever had any experience where thoughts and solutions flowed easily from your mind, where every action you took looked natural and perfect? That’s creative flow which is a state that the majority of creative people feel when they are doing their very best job.

Although you might be aware of what it feels like to be creative. However, it’s an entirely different challenge to explain creativity and where it really originates from.

These following chapters will explain the type of environment required to stimulate the establishment of new thoughts and concepts by looking at the lives and work of contemporary creatives. Also, you’ll learn the reason why humanity depends on creativity for its survival and what you have to do daily in order to improve your own creative flow.

1 – Creativity occurs within a system that is made up of a domain, a field, and a person.

Idea creativity is the process in which a person comes up with new ideas. However, where exactly did this creativity come from?

Some people believe that creativity is created somehow magically from within a person; however, it is definitely far more complex than this. Creativity is mostly gotten from our environments or surroundings.

Think about it. If creativity comes simply out of the blue, why was the Italian city of Florence a source of creativity during 1400?

It wasn’t a coincidence that between the years 1400 and 1425, Florence was the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance. The city was booming financially; artisans were encouraged by patrons of the arts to discover and form ever greater works of art.

During that time, some of Western civilization’s great artworks were formed like Lorenzo Ghiberti’s bronze doors of the Florence Baptistry and the massive dome of the Florence Cathedral which was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.

The Renaissance era shows the real nature of creativity, in which creativity mainly happens within a system that consists of a domain, a field, and a person.

The domain is a wide category where creativity happens like mathematics or music.

Within the domain, there is the field which comprises of individuals who are experts in the specific domain. These individuals function as the domain’s gatekeepers, and they are responsible for which new ideas should or should not be included in the domain.

In the domain of visual arts, for instance, the field comprises art teachers, museum curators, and government-run cultural agencies.

The last part of the system is the individual person. Therefore, creativity happens when an individual uses a domain’s approaches (like a mathematical formula or a minor key) to create something new (like a new hypothesis or piece of music), and the new product is acknowledged by the field’s gatekeepers.

2 – Certain personality traits enable creativity and creative people have the tendency of having complicated personalities.

What causes a person more likely to be creative? There’s no simple answer to this question. However, some personality traits do enable creativity more than others do.

Some people may be genetically susceptible or physically gifted in a way that supports interest in a specific domain early on in life, and early interest in a domain is important for creativity. For example, a person’s particularly sensitive to color and light may be more inclined to paint.

Also, a person requires access to a domain which is mostly a condition that is often dependent on luck.  People that tend to have more advantage are people that are born into wealth, with access to education and other creative personalities

Nevertheless, access to a field is likewise essential too. Even if a person creates something great, he may have a difficult time getting his work to be accepted if he doesn’t have the essential connections in his particular field.

For instance, this is why the music of composer Johann Sebastian Bach was not well known not until composer Felix Mendelssohn rediscovered his work and promoted it, which was a lot of decades after Bach’s death.

Also, creative people have the tendency of having complicated personalities which most times cause conflict among different personality traits. Overall, inner conflict is quite popular among creative individuals.

Some creatives have the tendency of being smart and naive at the same time. For example, Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who was a musical genius, however, he also had a playful, almost childish character.

Also, creative people are regularly simultaneously both introverts and extroverts. They require time alone just to practice their craft, however, they also feel the need to share their ideas with the world.

3 – Creativity has a few common threads that can assist in explaining how to get from creative problems to a solution.

Creativity is a complex process. For instance, a scientist doesn’t come up with an excellent discovery in the same manner as an artist who makes a memorable piece of art.

Although there isn’t a single formula that relates to the creative process across all domains, some common threads do exist. Generally, the creative process can be illustrated in five steps.

The first step is called preparation and this is where the creative becomes engrossed in a problem or idea.

The second step is incubation which is when ideas advance without the creative being completely conscious of the process. The third step is insight also known as the “aha!” moment, which is when the new idea springs to the front of the creative’s consciousness.

Afterward, the creative move into a period of evaluation and this is where he has to decide if his insight is valuable and worth pursuing. The last step is elaboration which is where the creative puts his insight into practice.

It’s still possible to create something creative without following these exact steps. However, creative insight regularly comes about in this way.

The three key sources of creative ideas are a personal experience, the creative’s domain, and the creative’s field.

Visual artists and writers mostly get their creativity from personal experience either from emotions such as love or anxiety; or life events such as a birth or a death. For instance, Poets Anthony Hecht and Hilde Domin, regularly write down their inspirations from everyday experiences.

The domain is a huge source of creative energy. Creative people mostly get ideas when they disagree with a prevailing idea in their domain’s mind-set, and strive to go against it.

Also, people in a creative field inspire creativity. For example, teachers, fellow students, coworkers, and mentors have a huge influence on creative’s thinking. For instance, scientists don’t only learn from books. They also get ideas and inspirations from seminars, meetings, and workshops.

4 – While working, creative people experience flow, which makes goals more clear and time appears to stop.

What motivates creative people to continue working? From interviews with creatives like writers, musicians, and scientists, the author found out that the majority of creative people do creative work because they enjoy doing it.

Flow is the joy a creative person feels when he works. The author says there are nine elements within the flow experience; let’s looks at three of them in depth.

Firstly, the flow has clear goals at every step. When you’re in flow, you know what you have to do. A musician knows which notes to play and a rock climber knows the steps to take, virtually without thinking.

Likewise, a scientist who has made huge contributions to her domain has clear goals on how to solve specific problems. She is aware of the gaps in her field of knowledge and she wants to close them.

Second, a creative get instant feedback on his actions when he’s inflow. A musician hears with all his senses if his notes are true, and a climber feels instinctive when his moves are right.

Also, creative people know how to give themselves effective feedback. The scientist known as Linus Pauling who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry said that the difference between being creatively productive and nonproductive is the ability to assess your ideas and separate the good from the bad.

Third, flow alters a creative person’s sense of time. An hour of violin practice may feel like only five minutes to an artist inflow.

Poet Mark Strand once said that of the creative process, “The idea is to be so saturated with it that there’s no future or past, it’s just an extended present…”

5 – A creative person’s environments can have a positive or negative influence on his creative output.

In the creative process, being in the right place at the right time makes a difference. But,  selecting the right creative place is challenging.

A person’s social, cultural and institutional background all play a role in the creativity he can produce. Therefore, it makes sense for creative people to move to the centers of information and action within their individual domain.

For instance, New York is a good place for aspiring artists as it’s a place where they can follow trends and events first hand. Likewise, scientists equally enticed to institutions where they can work with other great thinkers in their field.

An institution like the Bell Laboratories offers a perfect location for theorists and experimentalists to work together, as offices are close to one another, which permits easy sharing of ideas and inspirations.

Also, a person is more creative when his surrounding is inspiring. A lot of cultures since ancient eras have believed that your physical surroundings can have a huge influence on your thoughts. Chinese sages wrote poetry on Small Island pavilions, however, Hindu Brahmins roamed in the forest, looking for the divine; Christian monks select beautiful places in nature to build monasteries.

When the composer Franz Liszt went to the Italian village of Bellagio on Lake Como, he wrote, “I feel that all the different features of Nature around me…triggered an emotional reaction in the depth of my soul, which I have tried to transcribe in music.” New and beautiful surroundings can definitely inspire creative understanding.

However, new environments aren’t essentially always important to the creative process. The other creative steps such as preparation and evaluation frequently play out more effectively in familiar and comfortable settings.

Maybe that’s the reason why the composer Johann Sebastian Bach never traveled far from his native Thuringia in Germany, and France’s Marcel Proust wrote his masterpiece in a dark study. Even Albert Einstein wrote the theory of relativity while writing at his kitchen table.

6 – The myth of the child prodigy is just that; not all creative genius is formed at birth.

People have a tendency to assume that creative people are born with their talent. The story that Italian Renaissance painter Giotto could draw a perfect freehand circle at an early age is only one of the examples of how society expects a genius to be born, not made.

Granted, a lot of creative people exhibit their talent at an early age; an example is composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who did show exceptional musical skills when he was just a child. However, not every adult creative geniuses were once child prodigies.

As a matter of fact, a lot of stories about child geniuses are only myths. Giotto’s origin story is mostly told like a fairy tale, with an introduction like, “Nothing is known about his youth – only legends.”

A lot of creative adults definitely didn’t display early signs of unusual talent. Examples are Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin who weren’t child prodigies. Winston Churchill’s skill as a statesman only showed in his middle age.  Writers Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, and Marcel Proust also failed to impress their mentors when they were young.

In a nutshell, when observing the childhoods of creative people, it’s hard to find consistent patterns.

However, one of the few patterns that do occur is that schooling appears to have little effect on a creative person’s life. In the research that was conducted by the author, he was surprised to discover how few creative people labeled special relationships with teachers in school or cited school at all as a foundation of inspiration.

Prominent biologist George Klein said that all except one of his teachers were mediocre. He learned more about philosophy and literature from his friends than his classes while he was a teenager.

Also, other prominent creative like Albert Einstein, artist Pablo Picasso, and writer T. S. Eliot, said that their time in school contributed just little to their later accomplishments.

7 – Creative people don’t have traditional careers after college; most times, they create their own career path.

A person’s experiences during early adulthood regularly have a huge influence on who he or she later becomes in life. This is also the same for creative people.

This is why college or graduate school is normally high points in a creative person’s life. Creative people regularly move out of provincial areas where they might have felt out of place. For some of them, college might be the first place and time when they have mentors and peers who appreciate them.

College is the place where creative people regularly find their voice or calling. For instance, as a teenager American poet Anthony Hecht loved math and music; however, when he got to college, he discovered his love for literature only then to become a poet.

Also, college enables many people to be independent for the first time, which is very essential for creativity to blossom. David Riesman, who is the famous American social scientist, finally had the liberty to study law instead of medicine during college, regardless of his father’s wishes.

After college, creative people don’t pursue “careers”, however, in the traditional sense of the term.

Most graduates find an entry-level job immediately after college and work for a time until they move on to higher corporate positions. On the other hand, creative people frequently need to invent their career paths and even their own jobs. For instance, there weren’t any psychoanalysts before Sigmund Freud or any electricians before Thomas Edison!

Therefore, creative people don’t just develop new ways of thinking, most time they’re the first practitioners of the new domains they make. They make a way for others to follow.

8 – Creativity doesn’t drop with an increase in age; as a matter of fact, elderly creatives are mostly more energized.

What’s the association between age and creativity? Various studies have proposed that a person’s creativity increases in his 30s and that people who are above 60 hardly create great creative works.

But, more recent studies suggest otherwise. They show that a person’s creative output isn’t reduced by advanced age.

As a matter of fact, many creative people assert that their mental abilities don’t decrease with age. Elderly creative people might complain that their energy decreases; however that’s different than weaker mental skills.

A prominent physicist named Heinz Maier-Leibnitz in his 80s said that his need to work has increased as he’s gotten older, however, his energy no longer keeps up with what he wants to do.

A lot of creative people say that their mental abilities have remained the same or even enhanced as they’ve gotten older. They gain more experience and understand the world better as time goes on, therefore, they just keep improving at what they do.

Isabella Karle a crystallographer in her 90s believes her life experience has developed her knowledge and enabled her thinking to become more difficult. Physicist Linus Pauling had his most creative publishing period between the ages of 70 and 90.

A lot of the elderly creatives that the author interviewed were still very passionate about their work, and they described their current projects in great detail. Old age has enabled them to explore the world even more and it has extended their interests by reaching out to other fields like politics, human welfare or environmental studies, adding more depth to their work.

Not a single creative feared death. Also, they were content to continue doing what they loved.

9 – Our survival as a species depends on creativity, and we have to take certain steps in order to nurture it.

There are a lot of world problems like overpopulation, dwindling energy sources and global warming which are just a few examples. Our future is determined by the development of innovative new solutions.

Meaning our survival as a species depends on creativity.

Although our genetic makeup as humans has remained basically the same, society has changed a lot over the past centuries. Cultural change has come from memes or the notions that we as individuals and groups learn and pass on to the other people and groups. Memes determine what we know, what we believe in and what we do.

Memes don’t originate from external influences such as natural predators or climate change. We make them ourselves as humans and as such, memes have a huge influence on our future. Most importantly, we have to make sure that we’re being led by the right memes and that these memes work to nurture more creativity in the future.

There are different methods in which we can boost creativity in society. We have to assist children to get early access to a lot of domains as possible in order for them to have the opportunity to discover their passions early on.

Also, children need better access to educational resources. Opening up the worlds of scientific articles, newsgathering, and the arts will inspire a lot of new voices in a lot of different domains.

Significantly, we need domain materials that any person can easily understand in order not discourage those people who may be interested however as yet unskilled. If a domain seems closed or inaccessible, only a few of the young people will put in the effort to go into it, which stymies creativity. Therefore, it is essential to have clear and transparent communication within all domains.

10 – Connect with your own creativity every day, by taking the time to stop and observe the world around you.

What lessons can we learn from the lives of creative people? Let’s look at some practical advice from the information we’ve talked about so far.

The first step toward becoming more creative is to develop a passion for curiosity. A lot of time we lose our sense of wonder as we age, as life becomes routine. While creative people stay curious late till their old age, even into their 90s!

Therefore stay curious! Try to look for something that surprises you every day. Take time to stop and attempt the new meal on the restaurant menu or listen to your colleagues at the office. You can always learn something new it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. Everything and anything can be possibly interesting.

Most times when something catches our attention like a song or a curious flower, we think about it for a minute before we move on. However, making a good effort to learn is an important part of the creative process. Therefore, pursuit your interests down and don’t let them get away! You never can tell where a new interest might lead you to.

After you have awakened your creativity, it’s essential to protect your creative from distractions. Creative people develop habits that enable them to concentrate their attention and avoid things that distract them.

Try to take charge of your personal schedule. What you do during the day might not be assisting your creative goals. Find out when you’re most productive maybe early in the morning or late at night? Give yourself time to concentrate when you have the most energy to do so.

Do everything you can to nurture your own unique way of thinking, and creativity will become a habit and a way of life.

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Book Review

 Creativity may look like a mysterious concept; however, as a process, it can be divided into certain steps. Creativity usually occurs in a system that contains a domain, a field, and a person. Creative people get inspiration and ideas from life; they work in a “flow” state and even remain creative even at old age. Essentially, the survival of the human race is determined by creativity. Therefore, we as a society have to encourage their growth. Therefore, work to nurture creativity every day!

Improve your creativity by personalizing your workspace.

Make a space that provides to your particular creative needs. What type of space are you most productive? Think about it and practice with different conditions, then put in the effort to create the perfect creative space for yourself.

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