"If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it would be complexity. By this I mean that they show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes - instead of being an "individual," each of them is a "multitude."
- Csikszentmihalyi, "Creativity" pg. 57, 1996
In his 1996 book "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention", Mihialy Csikszentmihalyi outlines 10 dialectical qualities which are present in creative individuals. This book is a reflection on a project he and his graduate students completed, in which they interviewed 90 people who had made outstanding contributions to their fields. Without getting caught up in a discussion of the criteria for this study, or the details involved (read the book), I present my analysis of one of my favorite sections of the book.
Creative individuals exert great energy into their work, but emphasize the importance of rest.
Maharishi also speaks of the balance of rest and activity. Personally, when I am "working," I find continuous joy - therefore my work is effortless. Of course, there are challenges and frustrations, but it's always fun and exciting. If it becomes stressful, then I either reframe my perspective, find help, or find another solution. I also enjoy about 10 hours a day of sleep, plus 40 minutes of restful meditation. The rest of the time, I'm either in the zone, or eating (really in the zone).
Creative individuals tend to be smart, but also naive at the same time.
Most of the interviewees probably had high IQ's, but too a high a IQ could prevent the need to question existing knowledge (the pre-med students back at Idaho State University come to mind - FYI I never passed a single chemistry test). Secure mental superiority could actually affect incentive to be creative in a negative way. If you can work perfectly within an existing system or field, then you're not very likely to muster up the ambition to change it, are you?
Creative individuals have to be abnormally optimistic. I hear this from entrepreneurs, musicians, coaches, and artists all the time. Leaving a traditional career path in the dust to pioneer the new is probably crazy, or at least naive.
Creative individuals are both playful and disciplined
As I mentioned earlier, I notice that the most dedicated, focused, and creative thinkers I know are totally obsessed with their work. But, it isn't really work, because they honestly wouldn't rather be doing anything else. Sometimes I feel guilty when I choose not to go out and party (or do any dating) because I am going to wake up early so that I can fit in all of my routine: practice the drums, work on the internet, and lift weights. That's a lot of work, and I really don't do much else. But I'm really happiest this way. Otherwise I'd be rolling fatties and serving coffee all day like every other 23 year old in this city.
Creative individuals are rooted in reality, but full of imagination and fantasy.
You can't make any meaningful impact in a field if you aren't fully aware of its structure - you have to play by the rules of the game if you ever hope to win. But you gotta dream of achieving what others might consider to be impossible if you're going to really break free. See the idea here?
Extroversion AND introversion
Most fields are social - you have to meet people, gain popularity, and convince others that your insights are worth their time. But, most of the work of a musician is alone in the practice studio; the scientist is alone in the lab; the programmer is staring alone at a screen. You can never have a creative impact without being able to embrace both attitudes effectively.
Creative individuals are humble and proud at the same time.
You've met that person - somebody you look up to. They're aware of what they've accomplished, but they don't boast or brag. They know it's real, but they also see themselves as only part of the process. Without the help of mentors, the work of past experts, and the support of society, these people know that they would not have done anything significant. They're just as awed and inspired by the work of others as their fans are of their own work.
Creative individuals escape gender role stereotyping
Both masculine and feminine qualities need to be present in order for human potential to unfold. Sometimes you gotta be firm and rigid to push through. Other times, you have to be soft and warm to let others in.
Nick Horton, I'm looking at you buddy : )
Creative people are both rebellious and traditionalist.
The creative scientist knows that the laws of their craft are valid - and use them to pioneer the next discovery. Artists understand that certain techniques and methodologies can be used to create certain affects and impressions on their work - and they master several of them, combining them to craft their own style.
Creative individuals are passionate, yet objective and detached.
I remember a huge "ah ha!" moment a few months ago. I was at social nerdy event, sharing how I had been successful in school and in my research, but that I lost my grants and was forced out of my work. It was like everything I worked so hard to accomplish had been taken away from me, and it wasn't even my fault.
A research manager from a large technology firm (the other supposed to enjoy, in Lacanian terms) told me about how he had organized a team of researchers to work in a highly specialized area of product innovation. After several months of preparation, they were finally digging into their work and making great progress. A few months later, the company bought up their competitor outright, and the team was disassembled.
The lesson this man was sharing was detachment - there are always circumstances outside our control which impact our work, no matter how passionate we are. You gotta roll with that and be prepared to adapt if you're going to excel.
Creativity requires exposure to suffering and pain, but endless enjoyment
It's often the problems we encounter that inspire us to find a new way forward. It's the inadequacies around us that simultaneously cause us emotional turmoil and create the opportunities for innovation. Biomedical researchers face the pain of disease and early death; politicians must represent the needs of many conflicting people to promote the well being of society; environmentalists can't bear to see the suffering of animals and the destruction of the planet.