There is no limit to human creativity

The basics of creativity


Analysis by Hubert Markl

About unsuitable creativity promotion measures.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a biologist comments on creativity: “Creation Science” could well be a particularly fitting English translation for “Creativity Research”, because, as is well known, nothing is as creative as living nature, from which man ultimately sprang is. After all, evolutionary biology, the true "creation science", does not research anything other than the conditions and results of natural creativity - in the literal sense: the fertility of nature. Of course, with the development of human culture and the human spirit, a whole new, wider stage has opened up for human creativity, the productivity of which - like that of genetic nature before it - seems to be literally limitless - like a source that never runs dry, at least not as long as there will be a nature and a human race.

Creativity has of course gotten a lot of talk at the moment - especially among university lecturers and business consultants - and threatens to lose almost every profile and all sharp contours in the process. In the media in particular, the last rubbish of a Eurovision Song Contest is considered creative if it only resonates with the audience - the paying audience, of course. From visions of the spirit that once gave wings to Europe, only such Eurovisions could be left in the end - as the screeching remainder, when all the limits of the joint entertainment party have long been lost from sight.

The fact that everyone is talking about creativity does not mean that - for good taste at least - it will become more and more enjoyable as a result. You want to know what it's all about before you let it melt in your mouth with relish. Etymologically, this doesn't seem to be a big problem at all: creare, that means creating something new creatively (of course, the question arises: where from?); but you shouldn't make it that easy for yourself. A "creation" could also be a three-star gourmet meal, or the silky-scented idea of ​​a fashion designer from Paris or Milan - but that could all be very well understood with the old concept of "novelties": taste-forming and useful, perhaps, but maybe not always creative in the sense of a creative intellectual or technical achievement.

This should not be rolled out academically broadly here. But there are some boundary conditions that real creativity should meet.

According to this, creativity would first and foremost be a quality of people in which, with intelligence and ingenuity, versatility (nowadays usually called flexibility) and originality, completely unexpected, new solutions to problems or new forms of expression of human experience can be found. So not every amazing new discovery in nature, but inventions of human ingenuity that from now on enrich the common culture (that leaves you in doubt, especially with some fashionable products). To put it more simply: through observation and reflection, through the exploration of new approaches, creativity comes to new thoughts, new solutions, new processes which can enrich people spiritually and materially (then called innovations) and which continuously lead to new forms of expression, insights and activities.

Certainly some think - humanities scholars may be particularly inclined to do so - that the new thought is already the new deed. This may well be the case for creative ideas from time to time; But only the new workpiece, the new product, the new manufacturing process proves its usefulness - that is, its innovative character.

Contrary to what is sometimes shown, not every distribution of watercolors on a piece of paper after the children are out of the house turns out to be an outbreak of creativity, any more than every potty activity of our little ones, which we may have previously seen as an expression of their joy in messing around Kept mud. Not every stupid advertising film has to be admired reverently as an achievement by “creative people”. Of course, there is a grain of truth in all of this: creativity is indeed a common feature. But not because everyone who claims it has to be equally creative, but because creativity can actually emerge among all people, all genders, all worldviews, all forms of training, all professions, all cultures and all inclinations: worldwide in the Indeed, but always very rarely. Because as Spinoza already knew: Everything that is outstanding is rare. However, by definition, otherwise every peak would be a plateau!

So if it is quite rightly said that our country - like every country and every population, mind you - needs creativity like a lung for fresh air in order not to suffocate in the traditional, this does not mean that every organ becomes whatever it may produce , even to the lungs, even if it provokes speech. Because talking about creativity is not the same as creativity. The country could even need the constant talk about it like a goiter. Reforms that claim to increase the creativity of those whom they are intended to change - and which reform would not claim to do just that? - Before getting involved with them or even praising them before execution, as politicians inevitably like to do, we should examine very carefully whether they are actually improving the situation and not just - as so often - simply changing it. For example, if you look at the decades of educational reforms that have been implemented, of course, without exception and always with the intention of promoting creativity, you could very easily see a great “theory of uneducation” (Zsolnay, Vienna 2006) at work with the Viennese philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann!

"In reality there is something quite mysterious about creativity that eludes management and planning for the large crowd, no matter how hard creativity education tries to do."

Creative people are able - regardless of how they are encouraged and encouraged - to recognize and point out connections that had escaped everyone else - especially the education bureaucrats - because they were anything but obvious and therefore familiar to every writer of strategy papers. Some people only saw a light because they had lit the torch of creativity beforehand, perhaps also to illuminate them at home.

So if it really is - and one can hardly doubt it - that only creativity that is realized as comprehensively as possible can advance a society and its culture, then it is at least worth asking whether one can recognize some boundary conditions that are always present Creativity can best give a population a boost. A few such boundary conditions are briefly listed - without claiming to be exhaustive.

If it is true that creativity is above all a personality trait, then the following must apply: It is not institutions or organizations that are creative, but only the people who affect them! But institutions and organizations can in the best case also learn from their experiences and embody them in the rules that they give themselves, that they further develop and that above all enable and guarantee the freedom for the creativity of their members. Only by ensuring the creative minds of individuals the freedom to think, search and act - in other words, actually: their research - do they meet the requirements of “creative” social systems.

Creativity is by no means the same as originality or the ability to innovate and resembles ingenuity - that is, the very exceptional, as it were "unheard of" creativity - at most insofar as it has to enable it to do so. The joker can also be original, of course also the cook or fashion designer. Creativity, however, only gives creativity that has a lasting effect in the life of a society and has proven to be a form of action and thinking style. In addition, however, it is only innovative if it also enables it to be successful in economic competition. That is what distinguishes science and business, no matter how much they are mutually dependent on one another. Creativity needs prerequisites, but is not exhausted in them. Perhaps this is even one of the most important characteristics of spiritual creativity, that creativity is not exhausted by the fact that it has an effect, that creativity is not consumed by the fact that it is realized, because it can continue to work forever!

Such a prerequisite is knowledge that no one has taught us better than F. E. Weinert, the educational researcher who unfortunately died so early. Not only because those who learn a lot know a lot for that very reason - we usually encounter our pupils and students with this encouragement - but because those who already know a lot learn a lot more, better and faster! The superior gift of combination (the core of any flexibility of thinking) is only acquired by those who have a lot to combine. The fact that this is also supposed to help delay senile dementia is a welcome side effect of the undiminished eagerness to learn - because of which one does not need to seek a doctor or pharmacist who also has nothing better to offer.

In addition, and perhaps ahead of everything else, creativity also needs leisure, i.e. sufficient time to grow, develop and unfold. It certainly doesn't get any better under duress. Need may teach you to pray, just as too many bureaucratic regulations can sometimes teach you to swear: but both of them rarely encourage creativity. Not even the pressures of competition can do this. Competition can, of course, drive zeal, and it can also teach you to plan consciously and to use resources carefully (time is one too!). But the best way to unleash the mind is to keep it tied up in a more systematic manner: This is precisely what makes the diverse curriculum specifications, which are constantly being increased by evaluation experts and cultural bureaucrats, so suspicious! The competition in drafting applications can, for example, lead to adaptation to expert opinions (worse still: to supposed expert opinions!) Than to increased performance in the research requested for funding. On top of that, it also has its costs: Opportunity costs, especially when tens of thousands of hours of work by the best scientists have to be devoted to unsuccessful applications and their appraisal just to satisfy administrative regulations or management ambitions: The spotlight-flooded media attention of alleged "excellence" acquired in this way can easily be overlooked that the tip of the whole thing stands on the bent backs of those who have just raised it to the summit (if it is not just standing on mountains of paper!).

Another indispensable prerequisite for creativity is diversity, the contradiction to traditional wisdom that comes from divergent opinions and that stems from the diversity of heads, genders, cultures, origins, experiences, ages and developments. In order to promote creativity, the aim must not be homogeneity in the upbringing of the elite, if possible from birth, but diversity up to the (supposed) “aberration” of life plans and forms of worldview. This sometimes leads to exhausting, but nonetheless inevitable, disputes of opinion; But this is also the most important prerequisite for the division of labor typical of people - from the everyday invention (e.g. a new dowel) to the exceptional achievement of a Nobel Prize winner. As an aside, it should only be noted: Anyone who promises to be educated to the elite from birth as possible, as some “neuropedagogues” are faking us today, could all too easily end up with the most ancient feudal nobility, namely a nobility of birth that has every kind of choice for promises - and who would not consider their own offspring to be very promising? - and does not depend on an evaluation based on performance: No matter how promising one or the other may be (and many are able to promise a lot!): Hic Rhodus, hic salta! - only the long (creativity) leap proves the one who can really do it!

Talent is often mentioned as a further prerequisite for creativity, i.e. innate ability cultivated through education. Certainly: there are the genetic fortunes - Karl Marx ’" gifts of nature to human society ", just as there are the depressing consequences of random genetic disadvantage on the dark side of distribution. But the coincidence it expresses is often misunderstood. We should not have the classic Gaussian distribution in mind, which means that one percent of highly gifted people can expect ten out of a thousand individuals, but a hundred out of ten thousand high school graduates, talents as products of mass production, so to speak. But a distribution according to Poisson, i.e. really rare events, those "unheard-of occurrences" that neither Mozarte (nor volcanic eruptions) allows to be reproduced at will, by only choosing the right boundary conditions for their creation and, above all, increasing the initial amount at will - up to the general Volksabitur for example. You have to take the really big, unpredictable events as they come, you can at best prepare yourself for them sensibly and - at least as far as Mozarte's intellectual creativity is concerned - you don't try to prevent them from being able to realize their talents.

Another fallacy that confuses the results of creativity with their prerequisites: Patent or license indicators, just like publication measures or impact factors (sometimes), may be signs of creativity, they may even allow innovative strength to be measured (or at least try to do so). But those who strive for the highest values ​​of such indicators are far from being particularly creative, on the contrary (and sometimes they are even misled into wrongdoing in science and application!). Those who wanted to measure creativity above all by such standards are like those who want to measure the quality of a television program by its audience rating: sometimes useful for investment decisions, but miles away from the essence of creativity.

Of course, the following applies to all of this: Creativity, who doesn't want to own it and, if possible, use it? Who should therefore not try to encourage them as best they can? What could be more worthwhile and important to do? Of course, this means doing the best for our education system: but also doing the right thing! What more do we hope than this from each new generation of children than that there may be enough among them to lead our society to new horizons? Why would politics such as business or science have been caught up in a true youth craze? But not just from the grandparents' generation of enthusiasm for their grandchildren! Also the old people's fear of enough young people who know how to take good care of them. Everything is correct - but it stays that way: The pursuit of creativity does not allow trying to force it with all violence and any means. This could be too easily doomed to fail. The fact that freedom is the first and the last concept that comes to mind when we want to do the best for creative minds and hands whose abilities we want to support is at the same time nothing more than the expression that we humans are not able to to determine in advance all the conditions for creativity and then to prescribe them in as much detail as possible. Such a creatively made person would have to be causally determined in advance in his creativity, so to speak meticulously! A contradiction in terms, as everyone will see. Unfortunately we have to - or fortunately? - Sufficient not to stand in the way of creativity, the essence of which remains unpredictability, as it progresses and to try to reap where we have sown a little beforehand, at best with our best efforts, keeping the door open for luck dragging him by the cord of regulations. But don't we prefer that in the end - and doesn't that leave us with the prospect of more success, even if it remains uncertain?