What is creativity?

January 18, 2011 — 20 Comments

What is creativity? That was the question presented to a group of us who participate in a event where we are write on the same topic. It is an interesting exercise and one that I take part of quite frequently. So what is creativity? That is a leading question simply because creativity can manifest itself in many forms. Writing this blog 3 or 4 times a week takes an obscene amount of creativity if I do say so myself. In an effort to help define what creative can define, let’s consider some synonyms:

cleverness   ingenuity   originality   imaginativeness

Who doesn’t have these traits in some form or another? When I was younger, being “creative” simply meant you were artistic and that you used your creativity to produce items of visual merit. I don’t feel that way anymore – not since I met my wife Michelle – the resident Borson household genius with the masters degree in Mathematics. I am constantly amazed by how smart she is and how her brain processes information. I’m not going to say she is always right but it is hard for me to win an argument against her. My debating technique has more to do with misdirection and confusion but she can rationally and logically peel away what I am saying and befuddle me. Truth be told, that’s one of the reasons why I married her, because I love how she thinks.

nuclear bomb test explosion

I started thinking that creativity has more to do with how a person thinks, views, and processes information rather than their ability to draw or paint well. As a result I think some of the most creative people are scientists – people who don’t generally come to mind when the topic of creativity comes up. These are people who conceive of the unthinkable and envision the unknowable. People like Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr, and Robert Oppenheimer, among many, many others. If you are unfamiliar of these men and what they did, take some time and look them up on Wikipedia. If all you know is their work on the Manhattan project, you are considering only a small part of their story. Besides developing concepts that made things like the atom and hydrogen bomb a reality, these people were visionary thinkers.

But you don’t have to be a genius level intellect to have demonstrate creativity. Sometimes it’s about being clever and noticing what’s around you and realizing that you can do something with what you see. Like Velcro.

Close-up view of Velcro

Most people have heard the story about how Velcro came to exist. The idea for Velcro is credited to a Swiss engineer, George de Mestral … in 1941. Apparently the idea came to him one day after taking his dog for a walk and saw all the burs that were sticking to his pet’s fur. He examined them under a microscope and noticed that the burs were made up of hundreds of hooks that were catching on anything that had a loop. Despite not being taken seriously, Mestral continued to develop the idea for Velcro. In the end, it took over 10 years before he was able to create a mechanized process that could recreate the hook and loop system he saw under his microscope years prior.


How about a composer how couldn’t hear? Ludwig can Beethoven was born December 17, 1770 and started losing his hearing in 1796 when he was 26 years old. He lived and continued to compose music for until his death in 1827 having decided that despite his profound hearing loss, he would continue living for and through his art. At the premiere of one of his most recognizable and famous pieces, the Ninth Symphony, he actually had to turn around after conducting the performance to see if people were clapping or not. For someone as interested in music as I am, I can’t convey how unbelieveable that is to me.

Creativity surrounds all of us everyday and there are no uncreative people. How people interact with their world shapes their experience – positively and negatively – but it is unique to their own doing.


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  • i really want to be an architectural when it comes to infrastructural designing and structure (housing,building,etc)  …im extremely  creative and ironically  competitive when it comes to designing etc.. usually im not competitive in many things but designing and architecture sparks me up!! lols and im not a people person…im a infrastructure person  …this job is perfect for me!! 

  • Kanishka Mishra

    I loved your Article,,,,,
    One thing i just want to know that, What is the relation between CREATIVITY & LIFE OF AN ARCHITECT…..

    • there is no difference between the two – “Life of an Architect” IS creativity personified!


    • there is no difference between the two – “Life of an Architect” IS creativity personified!


  • Tom

    Very well said.

  • Great perspective Bob. I completely agree that creativity has to do with how people interact with their world – it’s in the work we do, the challenges we accept, and the way we solve problems.

    Reminds me of a video of Sir Ken Robinson from the opening of Denison University’s Bryant Arts Center. “Creativity is putting your imagination to work.” http://www.denison.edu/offices/publicaffairs/featuredstories/ken_robinson_keynote.htm

  • Nice job of reminding us that in addition to all the standard definitions of creativity, it is also (all too often) misunderstood.

  • Bob, I started my Let’s BlogOff reading here, hoping to learn the secret of your prolificacy.

  • Richard

    I’m spoiled. My office is my island. Creativity is abound no matter which direction I look as nature and geology make this perhaps the best place on earth to live in. From the wilds to the cities, we have it all. http://www.hickerphoto.com/vancouver-island-pictures-cat.htm

    But Seriously, I gave up the office and use it for just storing my reference materials in. I work on my laptop on the back patio or kitchen table. When I do need inspiration, I go to the beach and find my creative muse waiting for me…. 😉

    • You go to the beach do you?….. Well that’s just a little mean spirited.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment (I think)

  • Preston

    Here’s a great TEDtalk that relates science & creativity.

    • Thanks Preston – I’ll have to check that out.

  • Your example of the creation of atomic and nuclear bombs is an interesting one. Two of the more fascinating books I read in recent years are “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” and “Dark Sun: the Making of the Hydrogen Bomb,” both by Richard Rhodes. It seems somewhat of an oxymoron to say that the making of a destructive device was creative, but it really was. I like to think I’m a pretty sharp cookie, but I could never in this world come up with something like what those people were able to create.

    • “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” is in my library (both at home and in my Amazon widget in the sidebar) and it is a stunning book. What those people imagined and created has impacts far beyond the making of those bombs. It was their imagination that separated them from the other peers of that generation. What could demonstration creativity any clearer?

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Hollie

    You captured exactly what I was dancing around with creative scientific thought! Good points.

  • I am a big fan of Bob Borson. his articles are wonderful 🙂

  • Surya cem

    I am a big fan of Bob Borson. his articles are wonderful 🙂