Investment Theory of Creativity


Now that we have an idea of what creativity is and how we can define it, let’s look back to our original goal, “How can we teach ourselves and others to be more creative?” And let's add a new question, “Where does creativity originate?”

As I read and research creativity, I tend to find two differing opinions regarding the origin of creativity and the ability to originate creativity in students and people in general. Let's begin with our first school of thought.

We can develop creativity in people and students, according to Robert Sternberg (2006) a creative researcher and professor. Sternberg and his colleagues are creative researchers building upon and advancing the work of Paul Torrance. Torrance is an American pioneer of the study and testing of creativity. Sternberg pays homage to Torrance by writing, “The field of creativity as it exists today emerged largely because of the pioneering efforts of J. P. Guilford and E. Paul Torrance.” We will discuss Torrance later in this paper when I look at his model for testing creativity, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking.

Sternberg suggests that creativity is not isolated to a gifted few. Instead, he suggests that creativity is a choice that anyone can make. Sternberg’s investment theory of creativity states that anyone can be creative if they are willing to invest the necessary time and effort into the creative process. This time and effort requires that we develop (invest in) six areas needed to realize creativity.

  1. Intellectual skills. We must see problems in new ways, differentiate between good and bad ideas, and have the skills to persuade others to follow and value our new ideas.
  2. Knowledge. We must invest enough research in our field in order to know where it has been, where it is currently, and where it could go. We must also be aware that too much knowledge can hinder our ability to think in new ways about an “old” subject.
  3. Thinking Styles. The best thinking style to encourage creativity is a style that favors thinking about things and deciding to think in new ways.
  4. Personality. There are several important personality traits linked to creativity
    including; A willingness to overcome obstacles; defy the crowd; take sensible risks; a tolerance toward ambiguity; and believing in one’s self.
  5. Motivation. One must be truly interested in the creative task at hand in order to be creative. One must either love their work (and experience intrinsic motivation), or, they must choose to be motivated toward reaching their creative goal.
  6. Environment. One must have a supporting and rewarding environment that they can be creative in. Without it, creativity may never be encouraged to show itself.

When these six factors align, creativity is encouraged and expressed. Sternberg reiterates though, that choice is still a large factor that happens on multiple layers. Not only must one decide to invest in all six areas, but one must also decide to use these investments toward doing something creative.

Over the years, I have found this to be true. I have found that I can increase my own and my graphic design students' creativity by employing the investment theory of creativity in my studio and classroom.

Modeling has been on of the most important aspects of convincing my students to be creative. I show them the results of my creativity, and show them how I "invested" in my own process to achieve what I did. If I build upon their prior knowledge, and if I model an environment and atmosphere that encourages and supports creativity, I find that my students realize the value of the process, embrace it, use it, and greatly benefit from it.

My practice of modeling is reinforced by Dr. Leslie Wilson, a professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, when she stated, “The most powerful way to develop creativity in your students is to be a role model. Children develop creativity not when you tell them to, but when you show them” (Wilson, 2007).

Next, let's explore a differing school of thought regarding the origins of creativity. Our next school of thought will explore the idea that creativity is a talent that most have, but few can take to higher levels.