How useful is creativity

Definitions of Creativity

The term “creativity” comes from the Latin word “creare” (in German: “create”, “give birth”, “generate”). There are numerous definitions of creativity. In addition, there are different conceptions in popular scientific publications and non-scientific guides. Scientifically recognized and widely used definitions can be found below.

Many of the definitions have something in common. Often adjectives like “new”, “original” or “unusual” are used. An intuitive and commonly used definition is that creative ideas are both new and useful.

On closer inspection with creativity research, however, it turns out that there is no generally valid and recognized definition. No definition of creativity gives satisfactory answers to questions like:

  • What's unusual? What's new?
  • Who's something new for?
  • Who is affected by the change?

Guilford's definition of creativity

Guilford advocates a person-centered view of creativity:

In its narrow sense, creativity refers to the abilities that are most characteristic of creative people. [...] I have often defined an individual’s personality as his unique pattern of traits. A trait is any relatively enduring way in which persons differ from one another. [...] Behavior traits come under the broad categories of aptitudes, interests, attitudes, and temperamental qualities. [...] Creative personality is then a matter of those patterns of traits that are characteristics of creative persons. (Guilford, 1950)

Definition of creativity according to Runco

Runco understands creative thinking ...

[...] in terms of the cognitive processes that lead to an original (e.g., novel, unique, or highly unusual) and adaptive (e.g., fitting, useful, orapt) insight, idea, or solution. (Runco, 1994)

Runco assumes that everyone has creative potential. The characteristics of personal creativity according to Runco are (Runco, 2007):

  • interpretive capacity
    Interpretative capacity is a creative individual's unique understanding of an experience. Since the experience is unique, it is original.
  • discretion
    Discretion means being aware of when it makes sense to shape an unconventional interpretation and when it makes less sense.
  • Intentionality
    Intentionality is the motivation to make efforts to form your own explanation.

Creativity definition according to Sternberg & Lubart

Sternberg & Lubart define creativity as ...

[…] the ability to produce work that is both novel (i.e., original, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e., useful, adaptive concerning task constraints) (Sternberg & Lubart, 1999)

Accordingly, creativity describes the ability to create something that is novel and appropriate at the same time. Appropriateness is to be understood as useful or meaningful with regard to the boundary conditions of a task.

Amabile definition of creativity

Amabile suggests two complementary definitions of creativity (Amabile, 1983):

  1. an operational definition for empirical research - product-centric
  2. a conceptual definition for theoretical formulations of the creative process - component-based

The operational definition of Amabiles is:

A product or response is creative to the extent that appropriate observers independently agree it is creative. Appropriate observers are those familiar with the domain in which the product was created or the response articulated. Thus, creativity can be regarded as the quality of products or responses judged to be creative by appropriate observers, and it can also be regarded as the process by which something so judged is produced. (Amabile, 1996)

The conceptual definition of amable distinguishes three components:

  1. Domain-relevant skills (Expertise and talent)
    Certain skills are required before a person can be creative.
  2. Creativity-relevant skills (Cognitive style, heuristic, work ethic)
    Strategies for going through the creative process
  3. Task motivation (Attitude towards the task and perception of individual incentives to accept the task)
    Task motivation makes the difference between what a person can do and what that person wants to do.

Creativity definition according to Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity is any action, idea or thing that changes an existing domain or transforms an existing domain into a new one. And a creative person is a person whose thinking or acting changes a domain or establishes a new domain. However, one must not forget that a domain can only be changed with the explicit or implicit consent of the field responsible for it. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999)

Definition of creativity according to Steiner

Steiner defines creativity as follows:

Creativity is the system-specific ability of an individual or a collaborative system (e.g. a group, a network, etc.) to provide original services. In relation to the system under consideration, the original services appear as subjectively perceived novel problem solutions, ideas that go beyond the problem or are independent of it, or knowledge gained beyond this, for example in the form of knowledge about the process of creative problem-solving itself. The original service as the result of the creative The problem-solving process does not have to be physically manifested, but should at least be mentally comprehensible, consistent and wise in itself. The announcement of the original service does not represent a separate requirement. (Steiner, 2011)


Guilford, J.P. (1950): Creativity. In: American Psychologist 5, p. 444-454.

Runco, M.A. (1994): Creative and Imaginative Thinking. In V.S. Ramachandran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior, Vol. 2 (p. 11-16). San Diego / New York / Boston / London / Sydney / Tokyo / Toronto: Academic Press.

Runco, M.A. (2007): To understand is to create: An epistemological perspective on human nature and personal creativity. In R. Richards (Ed.), Everyday creativity and new views of human nature: Psychological, social, and spiritual perspectives (pp. 91-107). Washington, DC, U.S .: American Psychological Association.

Amabile, T.M. (1983): The social psychology of creativity: A componential conceptualization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45 (2), p. 357-376

Amabile, T.M. (1996): Creativity in context. Update to the social psychology of creativity. Boulder, Colorado / Oxford: Westview Press.

Sternberg, R.J. & Lubart, T. I. (1999): The concept of creativity: Prospects and paradigms. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of creativity (p. 3). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999): Creativity. How to create the impossible and overcome your limits. 4th edition. Stuttgart: Velcro Cotta.

Steiner, G. (2011): The planetary model of collaborative creativity. Systemic and creative problem solving for complex challenges. 1st edition. Wiesbaden: Gabler.