Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Two Dimensions of Creativity: Level and Style

Two Dimensions of Creativity: Level and Style

Gerard J. Puccio, 1999

As compared to other areas of inquiry the study of creativity is a recent scientific endeavor. In fact, in Guilford's 1950 presidental address to the American Psychological Asssociation, he cited the paucity of research on creativity. Guilford reviewed the index of Psychological Abstracts for the preceding 23 years and discovered that only 186 of 121,000 articles dealt with the subject of creativity. Guilford pointed to the imporatance of studying creativity and charged his colleagues with discovering and promoting creativity.

Many consider Guilford's address to be the landmark event which promoted systematic inquiry into creativity. Since 1950, many researchers began to closely examine the characteristics of creativity and develop theoretical ideas about the nature of creative thinking (Treffinger, Renzulli, and Feldhusen, 1971). The myraid of research which followed Guilford's presidental address focused on both identifying creativity and enhancing creativity through formal training.

Unfortunately, most researchers that set out to examine creativity developed their own definitions of this concept. The inability of researchers to identify a single definition led critics to argue that the concept of creativity is too large to study. In response to this criticism, Rhodes (1961) attempted to find one unifying definition of creativity. He reviewed the numerous studies, which followed Guilford's address and found an excess of 40 different definitions of creativity. After close examination of these definitions Rhodes reported: . . . as I inspected my collection I observed that the definitions are not mutually exclusive. They overlap and intertwine. When analyzed as through a prism, the content of the definitions form four strands. Each strand has unique identity academically, but only in unity do the four strands operate functionally. Rhodes' examination of the broad array of creative research revealed four fundamental areas of inquiry. One area of creativity research focused on the identification of the characteristics of the creative PERSON. Another area of inquiry has examined the components of the creative PROCESS. Researchers have also studied the aspects of the creative PRODUCT, and the qualities of the environment (PRESS) which nurture creativity.

Although Rhodes failed to find a single definition of creativity, he has developed a system (which he calls the four P's of creativity) that enables researchers to study smaller managable components of the larger complex concept of creativity. In discussing the desirability of having a single unifying definition of creativity, Isaksen (1987) reports: Although the concept of creativity is considered to be universally important, any single definition seems to be limited in its breadth of application. Since there appear to be many productive avenues within which to conduct productive inquiry, the creativity researcher must tolerate a certain degree of ambiguity.

Since Guilford's presidental address, researchers have been able to successfully identify the nature of creativity, and successfully nuture creative talent. This research has helped to demystify the myths which are often associated with the study of creativity. In spite of the numerous studies on creativity, there are a number of misconceptions about the nature of this concept that plague creativity researchers and practicioners.

Isaksen has identified several creative mythologies that are counter productive to the systematic examination of creativity. The first myth Isaksen identifies is the belief that creativity is a magical phenomenon. This myth maintains that creativity is a gift that few possess, and therefore should not be closely scrutinized. Those who support this myth believe that if creativity is too closely examined, it will lose all its magical power. The second myth reported by Isaksen assumes that to be creative, one must be mad or psychologically unbalanced. For example, the popular image of the creative scientist is that of an elderly white haired gentleman, who is somewhat eccentric.

Those that subscribe to this myth believe creativity should be avoided like a disease, after all you would not want any of that stuff to rub off. Isaksen states, "This mythology provides the basis for the word 'creative' being applied to finance (especially that which is of interest to the Internal Revenue Service), divorce, or any behavior seen as unacceptable, neurotic, or asocial" (in press).

The early studies which set out to identify and nurture creative talent had to combat such myths as those mentioned above. The most prevalent myth researchers had to overcome was the conception that creativity is possessed by only a gifted few. Much like the myths, the early researchers approaches creativity from a 'level' construct. In fact, one of the first challenges for researchers was to identify the level of creative ability possessed by an individual. For this reason, several researchers developed measures of creative ability (Guilford, 1977; Torrance, 1974).

Once the level of creativity could be identified, consistantly and reliably, the next wave of research examined whether or not levels of creativity could be enhanced. Torrance (1972), and Torrance and Presbury (1984) identified a total of 384 studies which examined the effectiveness of creativity training. The majority of these studies have concluded that creativity can be enhanced through formal training. Perhaps one of the most extensive studies on the effects of creativity training was conducted by Parnes and Noller (1972).

Parnes and Noller discovered that students enrolled in a four semester sequence of college courses which focused on awareness-developement, creative problem-solving, synectics, and creative analysis processes showed a significant difference between subjects in the control group on both quanitative and qualitative measures. Significant differences were found on a myraid of measures which focused on the following areas: mental ability, creative application of academic subject matter, non-academic achievement in areas calling for creative performance, and certain personality characteristics associated with creativity. In fact, the overwhelming results of this experimental program eventually led to establishment of a permanent program at the State University College at Buffalo.

The first generation of creativity research demonstrated that creative ability could be identified and nurtured. Recently, researchers have discovered that individuals not only differ in the amount or level of the creative ability that they possess, but they also differ in their 'style' of creativity. In other words, two individuals that possess an equal level of creativity may exhibit their creativity in two very different ways.

Only recently have researchers examined the relationship between creativity and cognitive styles. Many researchers (Guilford, 1980; Kirton, 1976; Messick, 1984; Witkin and Goodenough, 1981) believe that cognitive styles have an impact upon thinking, problem solving, decision making and creating.

This avenue of research appears to be a productive one for several reasons. First, examining styles in relationship to creativity will assist researchers in discovering what kinds of creativity techniques work best with what kinds of people and under what kinds of circumstances (Stein, 1975). Secondly, understanding style may help an individual to appreciate why someone else approaches or solves problems differently than oneself. Finally, understanding style may be very important for those that rely on group creativity.

Research has demonstrated that individuals of various styles will possess different creative strenghts and weaknesses (Bloomberg, 1967; Kirton, 1976; Spotts and Mackler, 1967; and Zilewicz, 1986). Utilizing the styles and strengths, which various individuals bring to a group, will empower the group to function more effectively and efficiently.

Before discussing a specific cognitive style theory, it is important to review the characteristics of cognitive style. Style is concerened with form rather than content. Style refers to the manner in which we characteristically process information (Witkin and Goodenough, 1981). Styles are pervasive. Styles cut across diverse spheres of behavior (Messick, 1976). In other words, the style that you possess at work you will most likely possess at home or play.

Cognitive styles are stable over time. Measured over a period of time an individual's cognitive style will remain relatively the same (Witkin, Moore, Goodenough, and Cox, 1977). Style is not an either-or situation. Individuals possess some of each style, however each of us prefers one style over the other (Gregorc, 1979). Styles are value neutral. Messick, (1976) states that each style has adaptive value depending on the situation. No one style is consistantly more adaptive than another. Each style possesses its own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, all styles are valuable and useful.

One of the most promising cognitive style theories to impact the field of creativity is Kirton's (1976) adaptation-innovation distinction. Through his observations of managers, Kirton (1961) noted that some managers were able to initiate change that improved the current system, but were unable to identify oppurtunities outside of the framework of the system. Kirton calls this style "adaptive. " Other managers were fluent at generating ideas that led to more radical change, but failed in getting their radical ideas accepted.

Kirton termed this style "innovative. " These observations gave rise to Kirton's (1976) hypothesis that there is a personality continuum called adaptor-innovator, which presumes two very different appraoches to change. The adpator prefers to improve things while working within the given paradigm or structure. The adaptor is characterized by precision, reliability, efficiency, discipline, and conformity. He/she is seen as both safe and dependable in his/her work. The adaptor reduces problems by improvement and greater efficiency. (Table 1).

The innovator prefers to do things differently, to challenge the paradigm or structure. He/she sometimes is seen as undisciplined, thinking tangentially, and as approaching tasks from unexpected angles. The innovator solves problems by breaking down patterns and doing things differently. The descriptions of adaptors and innovators shown in Table 1 present the characteristics of the extreme ends of the style continuum.

It is important to recall that style is not an "either-or" situation. Individuals possess varying degrees of both styles. Some individuals will show a strong preference for either adaptiveness or innovativeness, and will exhibit many behaviors consistent with their preferred style. Others possess only a slight preference for either style, and exhibit characteristics of both the adaptive and innovative style.

Characteristics of Adaptors and Innovators (table 1):

* Characterized by precision, reliability, efficiency, methodicalness, prudence, discipline, and conformity
* Concerned with resolving problems rather than finding them
* Seeks solutions to problems in tried and understood ways
* Reduces problems by improvement and greater efficiency, with maximum of continuity and stability
* Seen as sound, conforming, safe, dependable
* Liable to make goals a means
* Seems impervious to boredom, seems able to maintain high accuracy in long spells of detailed work
* Is an authority within given structures
* Challenges rules rarely, cautiously, when assured of strong support
* Tends to have high self-doubt; reacts to criticism by closer outward conformity; vulnerable to social pressure and authority; compliant
* Is essential to the funcitoning of the institution all the time, but occasionally needs to be "dug out" of is or her systems


* Seen as undisciplined, thinking tangentially, approaching tasks from unsuspected angles
* Could be said to discover problems and discover avenues of solution. omanipulates problems by questioning existing assumptions
* Is catalyst to settled groups, irreverent of their consensual views; seen as abrasive, creating dissonance
* Seen as unsound, impractical; often shocks his or her opposite
* In pursuit of goals treats accepted means with little regard
* Capable of detailed routine work (system maintenance) for only short bursts; quick to delegate routine tasks
* Tends to take control in unstructured situations
* Often challenges rules, has little respect for past custom
* Appears to have low self-doubt when generating ideas, not needing consensus to maintain confidence in face of opposition
* Is at his or her best in unscheduled institutional crises; can even help to avoid them if he or she can channel efforts.


* Supplies stability, order and continuity
* Maintains group cohesion and cooperation- is sensitive to people
* Provides a safe base for riskier operations.


* Supplies task orientation by breaking with the accepted theories of the past
* Often threatens group cohesion and cooperation- is insensitive to people
* Provides the dynamics to bring about periodic radical change

For further information see: Kirton, M. J. (1976) Adaptors and innovators: A description and measure. Joumal of Applied Psychology, 61, 622-629.

Kirton (1976) believes these cognitive stlyes are found in everyone and that they play a role in creativity, problem solving, and decision making. Kirton maintains that adaptors and innovators possess equal levels of creative potential. However, Kirton states, "Although both adaptors and innovators create in their own way, the literature on creativity has concentrated on describing the innovators. " Both styles of creativity are important and necessary for the development and growth of our society.

For example, innovative creativity gave us the first airplane, and adaptive creativity enables us to fly the Atlantic Ocean in less than four hours. Innovative creativity breaks down paradigms and establishes new ones, while adaptive creativity can improve upon the current paradigm. Organizations require the service of both styles.

Kirton (1977) believes a team that is heterogeneous, in terms of styles, will be better prepared to meet all contingencies, than a team that is homogeneous. Understanding and appreciating individual differences can be very beneficial for all organizations. Instead of valuing one style, the organization should respect and value the adaptive and innovative styles of creativity. Individuals within an organization can work more effectively together by capitalizing on each others' strengths, rather than punishing each other because of individual differences. If an atmosphere of openess and trust prevails in the organization, then the adaptors and innovators will be able to join their creative talents to propel the organization to succcess.

People are creative in varying degrees and styles. Past research has demonstrated that an individual's level of creative potential can be increased through formal training. Current research is examining the relationship between cognitive style and creative behavior. This new frontier in creativity research has already produced a number of positive outcomes for both individuals and organizations interested in creativity (Gryskiewicz, 1982). One of the most beneficial outcomes is the awareness that individuals will manifest their creativity in different ways, and that both styles of creativity are valuable.

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Isaksen, S. G. (in press). A new dimension for creativity research: Examining style and level of creativity. In M. J. Kirton (Ed. ), Proceedings of the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Conference. London, England: Occupational Research Centre.

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Witkin, H. A. and Goodenough, D. R. (1981). Cognitive Styles: Essence and Origin (Psychological Issues Monograph NO. 51). NY: International University Press, Inc.

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(Zilewicz, E. P. (1986). Cognitive styles: strengths weaknesses when using creative problem solving. Unpublished master's thesis, State University College at Buffalo.

*Table 1 of text was part of the presentation on the development of creativity as a discipline. "Conceptions of Creativity was developed by Dr. Scott I saksen, Director of the Center for Studies in Creativity.


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