Thinking : Creativity

The AKRI would like to dedicate this resource for creativity to the memory of Bob Muller, Director of the Oxford Institute for Creative Growth. Bob worked tirelessly to develop creative thinking in business and was also a good friend of AKRI. We will miss his input!


When analysing what creativity is, it is helpful to consider creativity as something that is necessary for the discovery of creative solutions to problems. Solving problems is not just a scientific or engineering activity, even artists are commissioned to express a concept or an idea in a certain way. Exactly how this should be done presents a problem to the artist.

Following the theme of creative solutions to problems, what makes one solution creative and another simply ordinary. It seems that it is often the context within which the solution is offered that establishes creativity. This means that creativity is not simply a mental process. There may be little to distinguish creativity from expertise, for instance.


Some of the latest developments in the computer field, related to artificial intelligence, are those in the field of art. One research group has developed a programme that can create new music in the style of a famous composer. It contains the knowledge of how this composer constructed music and knows about his style. Independent expert observers are satisfied that the music is indeed new and is typical of this composer. Other work has concentrated on the creation of original new stories from a store of basic concepts and a knowledge of how to construct stories from the component building blocks.These tasks are typically described as creative tasks.

Defining Creativity

Creativity is not easy to define because it depends as much on the context within which it is portrayed as the mental process involved in its creation. Something that would be seen as highly creative in one context would be seen as ordinary in another context.

There is some confusion as to what creativity involves. Many believe that creativity involves creative thinking and the process of making interesting connections and generating ideas. Some belive that creativity is not complete until the idea has been turned into a product or system and therefore, creativity is the whole process. It is also believed widely that Innovation is the whole process and that creativity is the starting point for innovation. This latter definition seems to make good sense and avoids having both words mean the same thing.

This prompts the question of whether computers will ever be thought of as truly creative or is creativity strictly within the human domain?

Other Definitions

Photo :
              Robert Sternberg

"The process of producing something that is both original and worthwhile".

Sternberg R.J. 1996 : Cognitive Psychology Harcourt Brace. p 375

"Bringing together Ideas that were previously unrelated".

Perkins D. N. 1981 "The Minds Best Work".Cambridge MA. Harvard University Press.

"An idea is creative if that person (the creator) could not have had that Idea before".

Boden 1990."The Creative Mind, Myths and Mechanisms" London. Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

"Bringing together previously unrelated ideas whilst taking care to satisfy the constraints of the domain is more likely to lead to successful new ideas than unsuccessful ones".

Alan Garnham & Jane Oakhill Thinking & Reasoning Blackwell 1994 -1996 p246.


Creative People

Observations are turned into discoveries by creative minds.

  • Archimedes was not the first person to see a bath overflow.
  • Newton was not the first to see a falling apple.
  • Watt was not the first to see steam pushing the lid of a kettle.


Which of the following things show creativity?

  • Repairing a punctured bicycle tyre.
  • Repairing a punctured bicycle tyre on a lonely road without a repair kit, using items found at the location.
  • Copying a famous painting exactly.
  • Painting a new abstract scene of a type that has never been seen before.
  • Cooking a splendid meal using a novel recipe.
  • Devising a new successful recipe for a complicated dish.
  • Devising a new recipe that turns out to be rather poor.

Developing Creativity


Alex Osborn

Brainstorming was invented by an American businessman called Alex Osborn.

He promoted brainstorming by groups of people although there is some evidence to suggest that brainstorming by individuals is more profitable.

Brainstorming requires the existence of a well defined problem and it encourages the generation of possible solutions to that problem.

Those involved in brainstorming are told to generate as many solutions as possible, ignoring their potential suitability at first. A second stage is where those involved are asked to search again for variations on initial solutions or connections between solutions generated in the first stage.


In this technique, those involved are directed to explore relationships between apparently unconnected elements of a problem. They are also asked to employ analogy and metaphor where possible. In some cases, those involved are asked to identify personally with elements of the problem.

There is little critical evidence for the success of this technique.

Source: Thinking & Reasoning: Alan Garnham & Jane Oakhill: Blackwell: 1994 0-631-17003-0 Page 289 in Chapter 15 - Teaching Thinking Skills

Lateral Thinking

In this method, those involved are asked to reject standard methods for the solution of this type of problem and instead take a fresh perspective, possibly involving spatial or visual support for ideas.

Problem Solving

Useful suggestions for problem solving.

  • Consider other solutions that have worked on similar problems.
  • Break the problem down into smaller component parts until small components are solvable.
  • Generate possible solutions and then consider evidence for and against each solution.
  • Generate a solution and then challenge its suitability for this problem.
  • Carefully consider the real parts of the problem and critically challenge assumptions.
  • Identify and reject personal bias.

Thinking Creatively

Statements about Creative Thinking

"The ability to defer judgement on solutions"

American Psychologist MacKinnon D. W 1962 "The nature and nurture of creative talent." No17, pp 484-95

"Divergent rather than convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is said to be that sort of process required to complete IQ tests, is associated with Rote Leaning and leads to one solution. Divergent thinking may lead to the discovery of many solutions to a problem. Creativity does not correlate well with results from Intelligence Tests"

Guilford 1950 "Creativity." No5, pp 444-54

"The nature of insight"

Finke 1995

"Insight distinguishes creative from non creative individuals."

"Convergent Insight: The individual converges on a unifying pattern of structure within a scattered assortment of data."

"Divergent Insight: The individual diverges from a particular form or structure, to explore what kinds of uses may be found for it."

Creative insight and preintensive forms. In Sternberg & Davidson (eds) pp255-257 MIT Press.

"Prefer legislative (rule creation) rather than executive (rule following) or judicial (rule assessing) style".

Sternberg (ed) 1988

"Expertise and commitment distinguish the creative individual from the non creative." Weisberg 1988 Problem Solving and Creativity. In Sternberg (ed).

"A desire for originality"

"Failure to conform to social pressure"

"Tolerance of ambiguity"

"On the Motivational Side, Deep Commitment is required. Not least because it is needed to acquire sufficient domain knowledge."

Thinking and Reasoning Alan Garnham & Jane OakhillBlackwell

"Creative Individuals have abilities in Problem Finding (detecting gaps and deficiencies in contemporary knowledge) and Problem Definition (seeing how to frame a problem in a way that makes its solution more easily attainable)."Complex Problem Solving: Principles and Mechanisms: Bryson 1991 In Sternberg & Frensch (eds) . pp61-84. Hillsdale

"Personal style of a creative thinker: Openness to new ways of seeing Intuition

Alertness to opportunity A liking for complexity as a challenge to find simplicity

Independence of judgement that questions assumptions

Willingness to take risks

Unconventionality of thought that allows odd connections to be made

Keen attention

A drive to find pattern and meaning

Plus the motivation and courage to create."

Frank Barron 1988 Putting creativity to work. In Sternberg (ed) The nature of creativity. pp 76-96 New York. Cambridge University Press.


Chapter 13 in the book

"Thinking & Reasoning"

by Alan Garnham & Jane Oakhill: Blackwell 1994 -1996 contains an excellent review of efforts to understand the concept of creativity. The section on creativity outlined in this work roughly follows the outline of chapter 13.