Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Creativity Science

By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D.
Chief: Research and Development

Professional Communications, Inc.

Video Link
There are at least 100 unique scientific definitions of creativity (1).  There are tens of thousands of books on the subject. “I Opt” technology is able distill all of this knowledge into three distinct components: creative volume, creative quality and creative direction. The research explains how these components can be used to consistently produce superior outcomes.

A companion video both abbreviates and expands this research.  It can be viewed on www.iopt.com or by clicking the link under the icon to directly access the YouTube video. 

Creativity is a particular kind of result. Regardless of the definition used it always involves novel–i.e., new and unexpected—results. A “result” is just a form of output.  Humans are not gods. They cannot produce something from nothing. That means creativity must always involve the input of something (including concepts, materials, processes, etc.). Finally, to get from input to a creative output (i.e., result) some kind of “process” must have occurred.  Thus, regardless of the specific definition of “creativity” being used we know with certainty that the “I Opt” information processing paradigm will always apply.

Graphic 1

Input provides the “things” to associate. The more unusual the input that is accepted, the greater the probability of a creative association. The greater the number associations considered, the greater the possibility that one or another will be successful. Thus input governs creativity by affecting the odds of encountering a novel result.

Process is the middle element of the “I Opt” model.  It tells input what to look for and accept.  It tells output what is possible given the input available. There are different kinds of input (i.e., spontaneous vs. purposeful) and different kinds of output goals (e.g., physical versus intellectual). Different kinds of “process” are needed to connect these different input-output relationships. Different processing strategies reflect themselves in creativity's quality and/or character. 

Output is the final stage. A person focused on understanding something is likely to produce a thought-based output (e.g., Newton’s calculus). A person whose interest is a tangible result is likely to produce action-oriented outcomes (e.g., Edison’s light bulb).  While both are creative, their effect on the world is markedly different (i.e., scope of impact, immediacy of benefit, duration of value, etc.). Output governs creativity by affecting its direction. 

Using the “I Opt” information-processing model gives us three distinct points of intervention to affect creativity. These are points of leverage through which we can directly influence the volume, quality and direction of creative efforts.

Creativity is a numbers game. The more unusual inputs that are considered, the greater will be the creative volume. “I Opt” styles measure the willingness to accept different kinds of input. Some styles favor creative outcomes. Others forestall them.

People employing the Relational Innovator (RI) and Reactive Stimulator (RS) styles use an unpatterned input strategy. This strategy tends to accept a variety of inputs. Variety increases the odds of novel discoveries. People using the structured input styles (HA and LP) seek out and accept inputs that “fit” with the issues that they are addressing.  This predetermination limits input variability and thus reduces the opportunity for creative ideas.

While the above is true, it is not the whole story.  People do not navigate life using a single style. They tend to pick style combinations to serve as their general behavioral compass. These styles can have different mixes of input preference.  This means that creativity comes in degrees. The exact amount of creativity depends on the relative strength of the specific structured-unpatterned mix of the styles used.

Even that is not the end of the story. Raw input is not the only source of creativity. Even people who heavily rely on structured inputs will encounter unexpected relationships. Existing “things” have dimensions that can serve as new input.  For example, any process has multiple steps that can be altered. But there are fewer dimensions to standard inputs than there are external input varieties.  So there will be fewer creative  “discoveries.” But there will be discoveries.

These various creative routes mean that the volume of human creativity exists on a continuum as shown in Graphic 2. 

Graphic 2

“I Opt” technology measures the likely use of unpatterned input.  This means that the volume of creativity in any individual or group can be reasonably anticipated.  Knowing the position on the continuum gives the professional a point of leverage.  For example, team composition might be adjusted to produce a desired level of creative volume.

In addition, the professional can use the knowledge to guide their interventions. A location on the extreme unpatterned end would suggest that little beyond the comment of “have you got any ideas” would be needed.  Toward the middle of the continuum tools like brainstorming would probably be useful in generating options.  On the structured end of the continuum continuous improvement tools like check sheets, flow charts and cause-effect diagrams could be of value in producing a volume of alternatives. In other words, interventions can be targeted.

Knowing that unpatterned input is the principal (but not only) source of creative ideas is a starting point. Knowing how to measure the likely gradation of creative potential provides a practical tool with which to align people with a particular goal.  Applying these measures to the human assets available means that existing resources can be aligned to best match the demands of the goals being pursued. 

The raw volume of ideas influences the success of any creative effort.  But it is not the only aspect of creativity that  “I Opt” can address.  “I Opt” can also be used to foretell the likely direction that the creativity will take.


Creativity is a “connect the dots” exercise.  The input variables supply the dots. The more dots there are, the more possible “pictures” can be created. The actual shape of that “picture” is determined by the output orientation of the dominant individual or group style. 

Styles favoring action-based outcomes (LP and RS) will tend to “connect the dots” in a way that produces tangible results (e.g., products or well-defined methods). Thomas Edison exemplifies this stance with his stream of practical products (e.g., light bulbs, phonograph, motion picture camera, etc.).

Styles favoring a thought orientation (HA and RI) emphasize intellectual contributions—things like systems, plans or new theories. Isaac Newton with his stream of intellectual advances (e.g., calculus, theory of color, gravitation, theory of motion, etc.) illustrates this stance.

Output orientation controls creative direction because it determines focus. Graphic 3 shows the output options as a continuum ranging from “thought” at one end and “action” on the other. 

Graphic 3

A person focused on “doing” something is likely to try to “connect the dots” in a way that produces a tangible outcome. A person interested in “understanding” will probably focus on the relationships between the “parts” (i.e., variables) and will be found on the “thought” end of the spectrum producing a plan, evaluation or other thought-based assessment.

As with creative volume, there is a mix and match quality to creative direction. In the real world, ideas and actions interact.  This creates the intermediate levels on the continuum. For example, Newton’s contribution was primarily thought-based.  But he also produced a working Newtonian telescope (mirrors rather than lenses magnify the image).  But in general, both individuals and groups will favor one or the other end of the spectrum.  “I Opt” can tell you by how much.

Foreknowledge of the direction of creativity has practical significance.  On an individual basis it can be useful in career planning or task assignment.  On a group basis it can help to design teams that are weighted toward producing a targeted creative output—for example a plan or a product. But there is still one more aspect of creativity highlighted by the “I Opt” lens—quality.

Input primarily affects the volume and output influences the direction that creativity will take.  The third element of “I Opt” technology—process—also has a role.  It effects creative quality.

Our “connect the dots” metaphor sees input as providing the “dots” and output guides the image that is imposed on those dots.  “Process” insures that the quality (e.g., the certainty, depth, scope, accuracy, clarity, reliability, consistency, etc.) of the dots and lines meets the standards imposed by the goal. And the driving element of quality is self-imposed personal responsibility.

Personal responsibility comes in degrees and is driven by the way the “I Opt” model works as is illustrated in Graphic 4. 

Graphic 4

Process tells the input element what input to try to acquire or accept. It tells output what is possible given the input available to work with.  Process iteratively bounces back and forth constantly adjusting input and output. Ultimately it “homes in” on some kind of accommodation.

Styles favoring structured input and action output (the LP style) self-assign the most personal responsibility.  Structured input means that the LP “knows” what is needed.  Action output means that the outcome will be clear-cut and visible to all. The LP defines exactly what they want as input and accepts a specific output as an achievable goal.  So, if something goes wrong it “must” be due to a personal shortcoming. This is a lot of motive to make sure that everything is sorted out before they act. The resultant quality of work is likely to be high.

Next in line is structured input and thought output (the HA style).  Structured input means that there is responsibility for selecting the “right” input.  But thought output always carries a degree of ambiguity.  A slight miscalculation or a random variable may have compromised the output. Any damage will be minimal since no action was taken.  Any personal shortcoming is mitigated by these factors. The level of self-assigned responsibility is still strong but is lessened.

Unpatterned input and action output (the RS style) occupies the next position. Action output means that success or failure will again be clear-cut and visible. However, unpatterned input provides a good “reason” why an accepted goal was not achieved.  In addition, unpatterned input means not much was invested in preparation. The level of self-assigned responsibility moves down a notch. Failure still “stings” but does not seriously threaten the evaluation of personal self-worth.

Last in line of self-assigned personal responsibility is unpatterned input and thought output (the RI style). Unpatterned input means that not much was invested in seeking out particular inputs. In addition, the ambiguity and lack of direct consequence associated with thought output reinforces the personal shield. Under these conditions a “process” that quickly produces highly speculative ideas using only partially defined logic is rational.    Failure is not personal. This translates into an uneven quality of the creative output.

Self-assigned responsibility gives rise to the potential for blame.  “Blame” is an assignment of personal responsibility for a negative outcome. As shown above, the degree of self-imposed “blame” will vary.  No one has to impose it. It is embedded in the “I Opt” style elections.

Once again, everyone has varying elements of each “I Opt” style in their repertoire.  That means that there will be a mix and match quality to self-imposed personal responsibility on both an individual and group basis as shown in Graphic 5. 

Graphic 5
Variation in self-imposed responsibility and blame potential causes people to differ in the effort they expend in assuring that a creative initiative is “right.” That gives rise to the difference in creative quality. But that is not the only implication.  “Blame” is personal and carries a potentially high emotional component.

An individual holding high levels of self-imposed responsibility  (LP) can “feel” disproportionate anguish over the “failure” of an initiative.  A person falling on the other end of the spectrum (RI) might simply dismiss even serious breaches.  Put those people on the same team and a possibility of team tension is inherent. Since emotional reactions are not rational the “cause” of any such problem is unlikely to be obvious. This is one of the prime causes of “dysfunctional teams” that just do not seem to work regardless of what is tried.

“I Opt” technology gives the professional a means of guiding organizational direction as well as a tool for managing at least some of the emotional elements of team operations.   This is no small advance. 

The “I Opt” lens has exposed an entire calculus for creativity.  Three continuums of volume, direction and quality give the organizational professional a wide range of options. “I Opt” scores and technology give the practical tools with which to measure and predict likely outcomes of this selection for any particular group.  The professional need only combine these elements with their understanding of local conditions to produce consistently superior performance results.

There is also an opportunity for the academic in this analysis.  The self-imposed responsibility and “blame” aspects of the process element of the “I Opt” model provide a natural link to psychology.  The exploration of this channel is beyond the competence of this writer but its promise is obvious. It is a matter worthy of pursuit by someone better equipped in the field of psychology than is this author.

Meusburger, Peter (2009). "Milieus of Creativity: The Role of Places, Environments and Spatial Contexts". In Meusburger, P., Funke, J. and Wunder, E.. Milieus of Creativity: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Spatiality of Creativity. Springer. ISBN 1402098766, 9781402098765.