• Winston Peng

What is Creativity?

Updated: Apr 22, 2019


Creativity is the ability to find associations between different fields of knowledge.

(Arthur Koestler, 1964)


The more knowledge in multiple fields, the more likely one can juxtapose an idea against the other to find associations of previously unknown relationships between those fields.


Creativity is about making something new, rather than merely applying or discovering something new. Innovation applies creativity. Without creativity, innovation cannot happen. Creativity is different from discovery in that discovery means finding something new. Science for example, is great at discovery. Creativity is different from problem solving as creative solutions are insightful, novel, simple, elegant and generative.


From psychological perspectives, the creative cycle undergo a four-stage process (Wallas Cycle of Creativity, 1926); preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.


The preparation stage suggests, for the brain to come up with innovative notions, materials need to be fed into it; the learning process. At this stage, the brain is using attention, reasoning, and planning to gather information.

The incubation stage is a period of unconscious processing, when one stops consciously thinking about the problem. Research shows that letting the mind wander to solve other problems or relaxation from all conscious mental work leads to greater creativity.

The illumination stage is ideas subconsciously collide and associate to form new ideas, connecting with consciousness.

The final verification stage connects with the first preparation stage in a conscious effort to test the validity of the idea and reducing the idea itself to an exact form. Critical thinking skills is once then invoked to communicate the idea to an audience.


In a more advanced concept, the Honing Theory of Creativity by Liane Gabora posits that the human mind is a unit of evolving 'worldview', a mental construct (beliefs, attitudes, ideas, knowledge and habits) that continuously restructures as it interacts with the surrounding (Gabora, L., 2017).


'Honing' this worldview so that it deviates to bear little resemblance from its earlier state is an act of creativity. Honing involves entering into an associative mode of thought, recalling layers of instances from memory and form relationships about them. The more layers and associations, the more unique the worldview becomes. The challenge then lies in the effort to converge the personal worldview to the social, collective worldview through expressions and communications to achieve communal adoption. Here, creativity evolves into culture, embedded into a community's way of life.


The challenge therefore is not only to come up with creative ideas but to find creative ideas and solutions that take the broader context - including its interrelated social, cultural, and ecological components into account.

Why Creativity Matters


Creativity matters because in a world of border-less trade, competition transcends national boundaries. Removal of protective trade measures pressure businesses to deliver faster, cheaper, better and more novel products and services. Creativity is a crucial factor for differentiation, survival, growth and sustainability.


Sinking deeper into a cost-based, efficiency-driven economic model will not increase our global competitiveness as other countries intensify their innovation-driven economic model. The low-cost pursuits are reaching their limits, stripping away profits as less developed economies move up the value chain.


Competitive creativity sets a scene for innovation that will spill over to the entire economy, invoking more inclusive and higher growth.


The Source of Creativity


Knowledge is transmitted through our five senses; taste, sight, touch, scent and sound. Creativity begins with the acquisition of knowledge from varying domains, including our surrounding to form new associative ideas. An idea becomes ‘successful’ when it is adopted by the community or group to form their culture. From communal perspective, creative success is achieved when a medium of expression starts to function as a media of expression to spread an idea that eventually settles as a way of life by a group of people.


Creators' expressions of ideas manifest in different mediums such as literature (scientific, technical or artistic), computer codes, music, performances (can be a business presentation, story-boarding or even a dance), gastronomy, material attributes (shapes, texture, temperature) and visual representations. Ideological and practical adoptions by 'followers' create markets and demands for these creative expressions. Innovations satisfy these demands by infusing creative elements into products and services, largely for commercialization. In short, creativity influences culture that demands for innovation.

© 2019 by Winston Peng.                                                                                                                                                                  

  • White LinkedIn Icon
  • w-facebook
  • Twitter Clean