What is creativity?

Creativity leads to what is called an invention or a discovery (terms generally related to science), an innovation (which is intended to apply to the functioning or organization of human society) or an artistic creation (which relates to human culture).

It is also said that creativity is the mother of creation or the driving force behind art and science. The best definition is undoubtedly “the ability to produce something new that has value.”

These three “applications” (invention, innovation, creation) have common characteristics:

  • They carry uncertainty, at a varying degree, concerning the pursued goal and/or the approach that will lead to it. One could add the dimension of unpredictability or enigma that leads to forging new solutions.
  • They all require work, and more precisely an approach expressed through intuitions, a desire to undertake, analyses, and choices whose aim is to reduce uncertainty until the final result. This approach differs from one person to another and from one application to another: that of the astrophysicist differs from that of the advertiser or that of the poet.
  • They are the work of one or more individuals (human but not forgetting animals!) and therefore depend on their cognitive capacity (intelligence, knowledge, talents, experience), conative capacity (personality, motivation, aspiration), and emotional capacity.
  • The quality of the approach is key in reducing uncertainties and also in the assessment of the results by the entities that fall within its field of activity (see below). Observation, knowledge, experience, analysis, dynamics of exchanges (interpersonal and interdisciplinary) and learning, relevance and management of networks: all are rational behaviors at the service of intuition and decrease uncertainty.
  • These applications are part of a given political, socio-economic environment at the considered time which will influence the approach. They relate to a specific domain (academic, professional, associative, cultural, etc.) which responds to its own rules of appreciation and acceptance upon which the success of the approach depends. Note that the importance of these rules is largely proportional to the sphere of application. The “maker culture” gladly dispenses with them!
  • When they are artistic, they have a vocation for eternity. This is also true for scientific inventions and discoveries, at least until an inventor finds a new one that challenges them. As for those that fall under innovation, they are factors of progress that correspond to the resolution of the challenges of the society of a given era, allowing it to surpass its current limits, which will often earn them criticism later on (coal and steam, oil and engines)!
  • Practiced on an individual basis, they are factors of well-being.
  • They are social facts, influencing everyone. That is why we must celebrate the creativity that generates them and cultivate our own creativity.

Creativity is also a valuable tool in education and integration.

NB: This note is largely inspired by the book by Pierre-Michel Menger, Professor at the Collège de France and holder of the Chair of Sociology of Creative Work: “Le travail créateur. S’accomplir dans l’incertain” Éditions du Seuil 2009. We are very grateful to Professor Menger to have shared views on his books and on this note with us.