There have been many attempts over the years to define creativity. Many of them soon rub against the complication that as soon as you try to tie down creativity, it disappears. So instead of defining creativity within a set of rigid restrictions, many of the best writers have sought instead to provide an overarching concept within which creativity can be accommodated rather than contained – a bijou resort hotel, not a prison.
One of our favourite examples of such accommodating concepts is Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of Flow, which instead of setting out to over-define creativity, focuses upon the human conditions required for it to flourish. Those conditions are, to summarise years of research rather brutally perhaps, pretty straightforward: the perfect combination of the right sort of engaging challenge and just enough skills/support to rise to that challenge.
Flow is something we experienced plenty of in writing our first book, Creative Climate Change – and, since it is so accommodating a concept, we’re not conceited enough to believe we can improve upon it. So we won’t try. We offer instead a simple, workable, test for creativity: honestly, you know it when you see it.
Although the creative climate is a somewhat complex thing, which it takes subtlety to change, when it’s there the fruits are immediately tangible. When a creative climate has taken root, people find their own Flow, they sense the freedom to experiment and ideate, and the freedom is used. You can see the consequences of this when you feel the energy in the room, when you see ideas emerging and connecting in new ways, when you see an innovative product which couldn’t have come about in any other way.
There’s nothing terribly mystical about any of this – creativity just has a very recognisable shape. After all, when you find yourself on a snowy mountain or a sandy beach, why waste time defining what a snowman or a sand-castle is when you could demonstrate by doing – and just go ahead and build it? ‘Better to expend energy getting up that mountain or over to that beach, as environments which almost no-one can resist the temptation to be creative in. That’s what a creative climate does…