What is Creativity?

What is Creativity? A Parents Guide

“The world no longer cares how much you know; the world cares about what you can do with what you know.”

– Tony Wagner

What is Creativity?

The general definition for Creativity is something new and useful. In 1958 Joy Paul Guildford, who is often credited for founding the study of Creativity, said this during a speech to the American Psychological Association.

‘I think of creativity as being something that lies behind behavior; behavior that is imaginative and inventive. Such behavior can be found in clearest form in the lives of certain people – scientists who make new discoveries and construct new theories; artists, designers, writers, and composers; and architects, designers, and builders.’

We can say the same for  an educator who has invented a new way to deliver instruction, a technologist who’s produced a new application, and the hairstylist who just doubled profits at their salon after identifying a quick and efficient method for applying color to their clients.

So if we are to better understand creativity we must recognize that creativity expands beyond the arts and can manifest in a variety of ways. Ultimately, if we consider Creativity as a way of thinking then it can be a lot easier to understand how we might cultivate or even ‘teach’ this type of thinking in our children.

Creativity Tip: Stop saying you’re not creative – or even worse ‘I don’t know where they get their Creativity from’. We’re all Creative!

Why should we care about Creativity?

As parents we want the very best for our children. As we begin to consider the different ways we might support their development, we usually go straight to the academics – or rather the three ‘R’ – Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. While these things are important, we should never neglect the natural characteristics that help our children be creative. In fact the ability to think creatively in our modern economy is considered a ‘premium in a world where specialized knowledge can quickly become routinized work – and therefore automated or outsourced away’*.

Creativity Tip: Consider all the problems you solve at home and in work. Then you’ll really being to appreciate Creativity!

Big C and Little C Creativity

Things become complicated when we attempt to compare the Creativity of an average child, to the type of Creativity that occurred at Apple under Steve Job’s leadership. Luckily for us parents, Creativity scholars have separated the conversation into Big C/Little C Creativity (which recently was expanded to Big C, Pro C, Little C, and Mini C). Generally speaking, this understanding allows scholars to study the Big C Creativity of folks like Steve Jobs and how this might relate to the creative thinking that occurs as children live, learn, and play.

Creativity Tip: Observe how your child solves problems and thinks independently. You’ll notice they develop and implement new ideas all the time, and nearly always these ideas will have value to them – this is Little C (or now Mini C Creativity).

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 Can Creativity be taught?

Professor E. Paul Torrance, who’s often referred to as the ‘Father of Creativity’, conducted a number of studies that have laid the foundation for the teaching of Creativity. One of his most famous established a Creativity Skill Set, which identified a number of characteristics associated with the ability to be Creative. Some of these skills are referenced regularly throughout DadsforCreativity.com, and include the ability to:

Produce and Consider Many Alternatives
– Be Original
– Be Flexible
– Use Fantasy
– Be Open
– Use Humor

Many of these characteristics naturally manifest in young children, but as they transition into teenagers and young adults, they can be underutilized and some might even say ‘unlearned’.

A study by Kyung Hee Kim from the College of William and Mary, found that some of these skills have actually been declining since the Nineties, which followed a ‘Back to the Basics’ movement in education during the Eighties. As highlighted by a News Week article titled ‘The Creativity Crisis’, no one really knows why we’ve seen this decline, but advocates for the teaching of creativity in school have been quick to blame the education system, which places emphasis on the type of content that can be easily measured on a test. In 2013 I produced a documentary called Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance, which explores this topic is greater detail. Free access to this film is available to anyone who comments on our blog!

How might parents better support Education and Creativity?

The focus toward accountability and assessment have made the need to think creatively less important at school – simply because it’s not something that is on the test. As more and more students receive test preparation, which usually comes with clearly defined problems and pre-determined outcomes, the need to think creatively is not a necessity and a growing number of graduates have become accustomed to being told what to do, and how to do it. This process is almost like an old school computer game, with children programed to operate only within the grid in order to find the right answer.

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Two skills that appear to be particularly challenged in this type of learning environment is the ability to produce and consider many alternatives (referred to as Fluency), and originality. As parents we can partner in our child’s education by creating opportunities to engage this type of thinking outside the classroom.

Creativity Tip: Start by recognizing the creative characteristics that manifest in your child as they learn and play. The look for ways to develop these characteristics further through everyday activities and related extra-curricular activities.


Below is a list of online material that support the question – What is Creativity? The first two are reasonably light, the second two are more scholarly endeavors.

You can also comment on any of the blog articles and/or subscribe to receive free access to the documentary, Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance. For educators I also wrote an article, Project-Based Learning: The Role of the Creative Thinking Advocate.

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