On Innovation: What Makes People Creative

By Muzamil Farooq

KNOWING what motivates people to be creative is essential for any manager, teacher, or student concerned with creativity and, ultimately, innovation. So let's take a look at some extremely creative people. What about Leonardo da Vinci, for example, the well-known 15th-century artist and scientist? He created beautiful paintings as well as nice blueprints for various types of innovations, such as aeroplanes, long before they were built. He is regarded as one of the greatest minds that ever lived.  How about Thomas Edison? Among many of his novel inventions, he invented the light bulb and the motion picture camera, both of which were implemented in various products and found to be extremely useful. What about the well-known artist Salvador Dali? He was well-known not only for his beautiful surrealistic paintings, but also for his sculptures and jewellery. What do these individuals have in common? What inspires these creative geniuses? Some argue that creative geniuses are slightly insane, and that it is the madness that drives them to be creative.

Let's take a look at what inspires people to be creative. Teresa Amabile, a Harvard scientist, developed a model that specifies the factors that are important for people to become creative as early as the 1980s. She specified three variables. The first is expertise, which includes technical, procedural, and intellectual knowledge of the domain in which one works. The second factor is motivation, or the willingness to complete a task. Finally, the third factor is creative thinking abilities, which refer to how effectively and imaginatively people can approach problems. According to the Amabile arc, all three of these factors are required for creativity to emerge. So, rather than having just one of them, you need to have all three to some extent in order to be creative.

Let's take a closer look at these three components. When people consider expertise, they frequently believe that there is such a thing as too much knowledge. And perhaps this is true in the sense that some people have been working in a job for too long and have learned so much that they can no longer think outside the box. But, in all honesty, what is far more of a problem is a lack of knowledge. Why is a lack of knowledge such a problem? For example, if you don't know enough about a subject, you won't know what has been done before, so you might be working on something that isn't novel. You also have no idea where the boundaries in this area are because you have insufficient expertise. So you could be working on something spectacular and not even realise it, and then abandon it because you don't see the value of your idea. Or you're unsure what's feasible. Maybe you're working on a solution that simply doesn't work, and because you don't realise it, you keep working on it for far too long. Finally, you might not know what's useful and come up with ideas that are completely unrelated. It is therefore difficult to be creative unless you have sufficient knowledge and expertise to speak for these four elements.

Let's take a look at the second aspect of motivation. People frequently distinguish between two types of motivation when discussing motivation: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation refers to doing a task not because you enjoy it, but because of something you gain from it. Consider the carrot and the stick. Maybe you work because you want money or a promotion, or maybe you work to keep your house from being foreclosed on because you owe money on it. All of this is an example of extrinsic motivation. You engage in an activity, but you do so in exchange for a reward. There is also intrinsic motivation, which is when you do something simply because you enjoy it and would do it anyway if you didn't get anything out of it other than joy and satisfaction. And we know that intrinsic motivation has some advantages. For instance, if you are more intrinsically motivated, you are more likely to overcome obstacles that arise. You are more willing to overcome them and go the extra mile. You are more willing to continue after a failure, and this is an important aspect of creativity, failing, failing, failing before you can succeed. Intrinsic motivation increases your willingness to work hard and think about the problem continuously, and all of these factors combine to make intrinsic motivation such an important component of creativity. So, if you want to be creative, it helps to be intrinsically motivated.

Let's take a look at the final aspect of creativity. The final component is called creative thinking skills, and it is all about how adaptable and imaginative you can be when approaching problems. This is difficult because many people live their lives like robots, as if everything is pre-programmed for them, which makes sense because it is very efficient. For example, when we say goodbye to someone, we simply wave and say bye bye. This is something we do automatically. We don't have to consider it. This is also true for many of the things we do. We don't consider them; we just do them. While this is beneficial because it is efficient, it works against you if you want to come up with a creative solution. Being creative may be difficult if you behave like a robot. When you use automatic scripts and schemas from your head, you stop thinking too soon before you find the best solution. You also make far too many assumptions about what is going on. In some ways, it's better to think like a child, like someone who hasn't learned all of these assumptions, all of these automatic scripts and schemas, a person who sees a box and thinks it's more than just a box.

It's a fortress. It's a ship. That kind of thinking, thinking outside of the box, is exactly what it takes to create and be creative. So, let's sum it up. What inspires people to be creative? Is this insane? Perhaps for some, but for others, there are three critical elements. Having enough knowledge, being intrinsically motivated, and having creative thinking skills are all necessary for being creative. Creativity is the generation of novel and useful ideas, while innovation is the successful implementation of these ideas within a company. In other words, every innovation begins with a creative idea, and with the mentioned three elements of creativity, the good news is that everyone has the ability to be creative.


The author is a Student M.Sc. Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at NIT Srinagar 

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