Creativity – Nature or Nurture?


Are we born to be creative, or is creativity learned?  In 1996, an article ran in Psychology Today.  It was written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and it’s titled “The Creative Personality”.  The lead reads:

Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.”

That sounds about right.  So, is the creative mind the result of genetics, or is creativity something that needs to be nurtured?  Or, like most things… is it a combination?

Take music and art for example.  Anybody that’s interested in music can take music lessons.  People can learn precise drawing techniques.   They can gain the technical skill required, and they can practice.  It’s been my experience that sometimes as person can be quite skilled, but something’s missing.  The music doesn’t flow through them.  The emotion is missing from the art.  Are they short on natural talent?

What about the idea that mental health is tied into creativity?   You can turn to Scientific American for information on this topic.  Scott Barry Kaufman, in his 2013 article “The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness”, sets the record straight, saying:

Mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for creativity.”

As someone who make their living as a writer, I’m going to stick with Mr. Kaufman.

Now… I would argue that creativity is at least partially the result of a genetic predisposition.  Under the guise of submitting evidence, I’m going to brag about my family.  My oldest son plays the drums, and makes beautiful custom furniture for a living.  His wife is a wedding and life event photographer.  My second son plays guitar, and does tint and vinyl graphics for vehicles.  He’s married to a talented pastry chef.  My third son is a bass player, and works as a videographer and photographer.  His wife is often his second shooter.  My daughter is an artist, a photographer, and a high school art teacher.  She’s married to an artist who is also a photographer.

My sister owns an art center that also teaches dance and theater.  Her husband plays bass.  Her oldest daughter has a party paper business, and her younger daughter is an actress in New York.

From this anecdotal evidence, you could conclude that heredity has something to do with creativity.  You could also guess that creatives attract other creatives.   My children have the benefit of having a maternal grandmother and grandfather that are talented musicians.  They also have a paternal great-grandfather that was a gifted musician.  Their maternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother were also musicians.  I guess it was hard for them to avoid a love of music.  Too bad it skipped me… although I sound great singing in the shower, it’s mostly technical skill, I think.

Whenever they talk about budget reduction in schools, they seem to pick on art and music first.  So many kids get the perfect opportunity for their talent and enjoyment of the arts at school.  What will happen if we lose that at some point?  Will we, as parents or grandparents, be equipped to nurture and encourage kids in the arts at home?

Is a creative personality enough, or is training, development, an encouragement necessary?  I think that we need both to find ourselves and lead the creative life.  Going back to the article in Psychology Today, Mihaly calls it “full-blast living“.

I love that!








What’s Your Superpower?


Photo by Tyler Lambert

Superheroes have been around for a while, but they are more popular than ever!  Lots of popular movies and  TV shows tell the story of a Superhero, or sometimes a group of them.

 I’m not one that’s caught up in the Superhero media craze. I like to celebrate everyday people who develop their own superpowers.  We each have at least one personality attribute that can be used for good, which we know can defeat evil, right?

I’ve used this exercise before, in encouraging and demonstrating individual strengths in the workplace.  As part of a team, you might not have patience. If you know the person next to you does, you can turn to them for help and advice when you need to.  If I’m feeling down, but I know your positivity is infectious, I can hang out with you until I’m all powered up.

But enough about everybody else.  Let’s talk about you for a minute.  Take some time right now and think about your superpower.  What’s the one thing, the one strength you have, that we can all rely on to make the world a better place.  Is it your smile, your sense of humor? Is it your determination, your tenacity?  Is it your helpful attitude?  Your quest for knowledge? Are you a good listener?  Empathetic?  Humble?

I’ve given you a few examples, now it’s up to you to put the concept together.  You see, your special gift is what helps you contribute to this group project we call life.  By developing and putting your talents to work, you improve the planet.

Every once in a while, I run across someone who tells me that they don’t have a superpower.  They don’t recognize any talent or gift within themselves.  So, it’s safe to say that positivity is not their strong suit.  If you’re in the club of naysayers, ask someone you love, or work with, maybe someone in your family…. Hey, do I have any superpowers?

Chances are, you’ll get them thinking about their own superpower, while they’re helping you get yours figured out.  Once you do this exercise a few times, you’ll start noticing other people’s talents with a sharper eye.  Before you know it, we’re all going around appreciating each other!

Okay… maybe I took that a little farther than I should have.  But the point is, we can grow and learn through this exercise.  Try it.  I’ll bet it won’t take you much time at all.  I’m thinking that you’ll have a hard time narrowing it down to just one.

Let me know how it goes!