Now you may not know this but Ellis Paul Torrance (1915 – 2003) was a psychologist from Georgia. In creativity circles (do we have a circle? I must find out so I can get to meetings) he is known for his research in creativity and specifically the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (or TTCT), which have become a standard test for creativity in children, mostly. Some say they are the creativity equivalent of an IQ test. Some say they are baseless tosh. Either way I find his work fascinating, and he did come up with some very interesting theories about what defines creativity in human beings.
The tests stimulated “divergent thinking” and other problem-solving skills, which were then scored on four scales:
- Fluency. The total of “interpretable, meaningful, and relevant” ideas generated.
- Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.
- Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses.
- Elaboration. The amount of detail in the responses.
Now that all sounds very dry, and there’s a good reason for that… it kind of is. But what I draw from these arguably arbitrary tests is the following:
Creative people are fluent, flexible, original and elaborate.
That sounds right to me. Creative people are “in flow” as I call it, a state of heightened awareness where they are able to flexibly make connections which are authentic to them, and then extrapolate or elaborate on them, in other words improvise.
Creative people have gotten used to being in a state of flow, where ideas come to them seemingly from nowhere. They have what you’d call a facility for ideas.
Like all things to do with the human body, and the brain is part of the body, it’s a supply on demand scenario. You need stamina, you get stamina, you don’t demand it by sitting around on your butt all day playing XBox, you don’t get it. Same is true of creative thought. If you demand ideas all the time you get ideas all the time, the gate is open and the ideas flow.
One thing that creative people do not do is strain. They make it seem effortless, and you know why? Because it is effortless. People who aspire to be creative try so hard to be creative, they make random connections which don’t work, they sweat and strive and try… and nothing comes. Because they are forcing it. Creativity is a natural process and you have to unclench.
You don’t get creative leaps by forcing the issue, you get creative leaps in the same way you get good at bench pressing weights or running or using parkour to leap from one building to another; you practise. You get used to how it feels and you know the feeling when you have it. What creative people do is get themselves into a mindset of creativity, because they’ve done it lots before and they know where to go.
If you want to be creative, you don’t need to force it out, you just need to learn how to let it go.
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