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7 years ago

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In a recent post I talked about reading “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The book is all making sense of the mysterious, and sometimes magical creative process. Looking at over 90 highly creative people and gathering as much information as possible Csikszentmihalyi finds the thread of commonality they share.

Last post was about domain and the creative process. The theme of that section is every creative person must be an expert in the subject matter in which they intend to innovate. Unfortunately, being an expert, i.e. thoroughly understanding the domain, is not the only qualification of being innovative. The greatest most creative idea is useless if no one else knows about it. This is where Field is important in creativity. The field is the group of people who are the gatekeepers of the domain. The field turns over with each generation and can never be static because it consists of people. In the world of fashion, the field consists of designers and buyers that decide what is the next trend(s) in fashion will be. In the world of physics, the gatekeepers consist of professors and physicists in the field.

Any person who wants to be creative must have a solid understanding of the field. This is not the same as understanding the domain. The rules of the domain don’t change much without major innovation and creation. But, the field is not this way. It has a tendency to be fickle, mainly because it is made up of people. This can be most easily seen in the artistic domains. Most artists are never famous within their own era. Even when an artist is famous within his lifetime he is always exalted higher after his death. Artists can also fad in and out of favor depending the feelings of the field. This has happened to Bach, who was “discovered” over 200 years after his life was over by Mendelssohn. It is all because Bach’s contemporary field did not allow him into the place of favor that the field 200 years later did. The field is also conservative for an important reason: they maintain the domain. The field helps ident

I have seen countless people who have great, even needed ideas, that never go anywhere because these people do not know how to maneuver within the field. Sadly, many youth workers with a propensity for creativity do not have the time, understanding, or confidence that is needed propagate an idea. So, my advice to anyone who has a great idea that others need to hear/see/read/know. Persevere. If you have an idea worth spreading, keep spreading it. If it is worth spreading, it is worth the persistence to do it right. Get to know the field. They will help you  see if you idea is truly creative or simply trivial or a regurgitation of another idea long ago. Learn how to maneuver through them and how to get an idea from one place to the next. Stay committed to the work.

Creativity is a task that is based on commitment to an ideal. Do you have what it takes to be that creative person?

2 thoughts on “Creativity & Field”

  1. After some serious reflection, I think Csikszentmihalyi (thank the Lord for copy and paste) has confused Creativity with Innovation. The (VERY IMPORTANT) distinction between the two is that Creativity is individual and Innovation is communal.

    In order to innovate, one must be familiar with the Field and an expert in the Domain. That makes sense because in order to innovate, the ideas must propagate. Propagation requires a community, which will normally have “gatekeepers” or “elders” or whatever the fashionable word is today for people who are respected in that community.

    Creativity, on the other hand, is (more) individualistic. It does not require mastery of the domain or the ability to navigate the field. If a pianist who has never heard Mozart composes a theme remarkably similar to “Rondo Alla Turca”, that pianist is creative. Let’s look at real example. Leibniz and Newton both invented calculus independently at around the same time. Leibniz published first … he was a master of the field. Does that mean Newton’s work wasn’t creative? Of course not. It meant that Leibniz was a better innovator than Newton.

    In any case, if you want your creative ideas to be useful to the community and to be used by others, in other words, if you to innovate, then set your sights on becoming a master of your subject matter and build relationships with respected persons in your community.

    1. Yeah, but I think that most of the time creativity like that is trivial. Who care if you invent the space shuttle in 2010 (even if you have never seen a space shuttle) because it already exists. So, if it were me, I would not spend too much time on trivial creativity.

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