What is creativity?

Many of my friends and colleagues claim not to be creative. I suppose they mean they aren’t good at drawing or crafting or creating art. But the Guardian’s July science podcast on ‘what is the nature of creativity?’ makes me question their reasoning.

In the podcast Ian Sample, The Guardian’s Science Editor, is joined by three experts aiming to find out:

  • What is the nature of creativity?
  • Can we find its roots in the human brain?
  • And if so, can we boost our creative powers?

Professor Rex Jung,University of New Mexico, starts the podcast by defining creativity as:

“The production of something novel, useful and often surprising…as created by the human brain”

If this is the definition of creativity, it must cover much more than artistic talent?

Creativity in science
Just like my friends and colleagues many often consider creativity to be confined to the arts, yet to solve complex problems and mysteries about the world around us, scientists too need to be creative.

Last week, as I sat in my team meeting, the statistician in our research group spoke about analysing data from a survey we had done where we asked women in Ethiopia about their health during pregnancy and birth. The data was a sample of the whole population of Ethiopia (for obvious reasons – it would take far too much time and money to interview EVERY woman in Ethiopia who may have had a baby in the last 12 months). My team want to use this sample of women to make assumptions about the whole population.

To get around this problem my colleague was using a statistical technique to analyse it called bootstrapping. The name comes from the phrase “To lift himself up by his bootstraps” referring to something that is impossible as try as you might you can’t life yourself up by tugging at the leather straps on your boots (who said scientists aren’t imaginative?!). In 1979 Bradley Efron first wrote about this new technique of analysing data. It allows you to use the data from your sample of women again and again to make assumptions about the whole population (I don’t pretend to understand this well. You can read more on the about education website). Yes, Bradley Efron hadn’t created a beautiful picture but the new method has allowed statisticians, like my colleague, to analyse data that will give us information to improve health services for women and newborns in Ethiopia.

We are all creative – but we don’t know much about how or why
Dr Anna Abraham from the School of Social, Psychological and Communication Sciences at Leeds Beckett University, did some myth busting and you know what? You don’t have to be a genius to be creative. As Anna says: “if you think about it like you would like memory retention, we all of us have this capacity – some of us maybe more than others, just as some people have better memory retention than others.”

The conclusion of the podcast showed that much more research is needed to understand the areas of our brain that are responsible for creativity (this seems to be the case for almost all research about the brain – underfunded and therefore under researched). But one thing is clear – creativity is one of the defining characteristics of humans. So embrace your creative side and see where it takes you!

On that note, here is an illustration of a clever crow (they are creative creatures too!). She is the start of a new card design I’m working on:

Creative crow

Creative crow


One thought on “What is creativity?

  1. Really interesting Nes. Yes I know about boot strapping and well explained and re creativity I couldn’t agree more. Xxx

    Sent from my iPhone


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