by Lynn S. Schwebach
Not too long ago, a successful entrepreneur told me that he wanted to know more about how the synergy between creativity and business acumen works. He doesn’t see himself as “creative,” yet he knows that without this most important skill, his business will not grow.
I found it curious that he is running a thriving organization yet doesn’t consider himself creative. As artists have come to realize that they must become entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs also must acknowledge that they must possess the artistic “out-of-the-box” thinking in order to innovate and grow their businesses.
After this conversation, I remembered my research into the personality traits of the highly creative, and the book “Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick – sent – me – high – ee”).
For over 30 years, Csikszentmihalyi has researched creativity and innovation. He coined the term “creative flow” and his book on this topic,“Creativity, Flow And The Psychology of Discovery And Invention,” should be read by innovators in all fields.
Csikszentmihalyi’s extensive body of research uncovers the paradox of creativity: those who possess unusual creativity, across all domains, display diametrically opposed traits. For example, creatives are both introverted and extroverted, energetic but also sedentary, disciplined and non-disciplined.
When I read about these traits, I immediately understood why so many creative icons, whether its Steve Jobs ,or visual artist Tracey Emin, or musician and writer Patti Smith, stand out among our most complex, interesting, and perplexing of individuals.
In “Creativity,” here are the 10 traits of the highly creativity as outlined by Csikszentmihalyi:
- Creatives are both energetic and sedentary. Creative individuals work long hours and passionately when focusing on a project, but also know they need to rest, go on vacation, and recreate to recharge themselves.
- Creatives are both smart and naive. Csikszentmihalyi defines this trait as “wisdom vs. childishness.” They love to find the unusual connection between ideas, to brainstorm, to deliver solutions that seem absurd. Yet they also know how to analyze multiple solutions, and select the idea that will actually work.
- Creatives are both playful and disciplined. Creatives love to have fun, laugh and keep situations flexible with playfulness. Yet, they work harder than what they often show to others. They will work all night, if needed, with a fierce sense of determination and perseverance.
- Creatives are both are imaginative and rooted in reality. Creatives use their imaginations to take them to places and areas of concentration that often seem strange to others. In the end, however, it soon becomes clear that these weird escapes are not as far-fetched or unrealistic as first observed. We often acknowledge this trait in artists and scientists—the trait of traveling between imaginative worlds and fantasy—but it also proves true for highly creative businesspeople.
- Creatives are both extroverted and introverted. How many of us have taken psychological tests such at the Myers Briggs to determine if we’re introverted or extroverted? These types of tests plot individuals as either one or the other: either getting energy from crowds and working with others; or getting energy from quiet, isolated environments without constant interaction. Creative individuals display extroversion and introversion in equal measure, and sometimes simultaneously.
- Creatives are both humble and proud. Most true creatives are not arrogant because they know that their work stands in relation to a long, historical list of greats. Yet they know their strengths and acknowledge their personal accomplishments.
- Creatives defy gender stereotyping. Creative women, for example, are tough and dominant, yet they are also nurturers. Creative men are not as aggressive as other men, and are highly sensitive.
- Creatives are rebellious and conservative. Creatives internalize their culture, learning the rules and conventions. But if they stick to the rules and conventions, remaining traditional in approach, true creativity never occurs. Yet change simply because an individual wants change isn’t effective. It’s the synergy between possessing rebelliousness to go where others haven’t gone while recognizing what’s a valued and workable endeavor or solution.
- Creatives are passionate and objective about their work. Truly creative individuals are passionate, driving themselves to finish projects. Yet they also have the ability to create a distance between themselves and their work in order to objectively regard its merit and usefulness.
- Creatives are open and sensitive, and also have a low pain threshold. Creatives live their lives passionately, enjoying many of culture’s offerings, such as the visual arts, music of all types, sports, movies, and other enriching activities. But their passion also brings pain at times. Musicians leave poorly executed concerts, writers hurt when they read poor writing, engineers experience pain when products appear poorly designed, and business leaders feel extreme distress when a plant or division closes.
Before the Myers Briggs existed, or researchers began studying creativity, Walt Whitman wrote in the 1880s, in his poem “Song of Myself, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.” Whitman, as so many other artists, knew the complexity of creative personalities. But putting it into a framework for entrepreneurs and business leaders will help them realize that all of us, and society, benefits when they and their workers contain multitudes.
For more on creative business leadership, see the article, Three Foundational Tips for Creative, Effective Leadership.