Innovating Through Artistry

Creative Personalities and Polarities

In Author: Adam Shames on July 16, 2009 at 9:10 pm

“Each of us is born with two contradictory sets of instructions: a conservative tendency, made up of instincts for self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, and saving energy, and an expansive tendency made up of instincts for exploring, for enjoying novelty and risk—the curiosity that leads to creativity belongs to this set. We need both of these programs. But whereas the first tendency requires little encouragement or support from outside to motivate behavior, the second can wilt if it is not cultivated.” ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity ultimately is a balancing act between the heart and the mind. You have to be able to access your heart, feelings, imagination, impulsiveness and uniqueness–necessary for divergent thinking–and also bring in your head, your mind, your best judgment, your convergent thinking. Most of us are pretty good at employing our judging mind but it’s easy for the heart to become more and more inert, especially as adults in work situations.

The great researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (as in, that “chick-sent-me-high), whose books on creativity and flow have been essential contributions toward understanding peak creative performance, describes creative personalities as complex, containing contradictory extremes. Creative people, he found, are more flexible, “able to express the full range of traits that are potentially present in the human repertoire but usually atrophy.”

They are able to embrace polarities in a way many cannot, and Csikszentmihalyi found these to be some of the most important integrated creative traits:

Divergent and Convergent Thinking
Wisdom and Childishness
Rebelliousness and Traditionalism
Extraversion and Introversion
Playfulness and Perseverance
Passion and Detachment
Risk-taking and Caution

The ability to embrace these opposite-pole traits is part of the flexibility competency of creativity, and the facility to move flexibly among different mindsets, perspectives and fields distinguish the most creative among us. But actually mind and heart are not polar opposites. The opposite of heart is fear, and it is those two that are most incompatible (you can’t have an open heart when you are afraid). For a while I’ve been playing with this theory shown in the diagram–that there are three main currents running through us at any time, which I’ll call heart, mind and fear.

As long as we have any fear, we can’t be our most creative. If we only have mind we can be smart (like a computer), but that only goes so far. Only heart and we are feeling and open but not necessarily able to communicate or make something work. It is the integration of mind and heart, the smaller red current shown, that make up our optimal creative state. What currents are running through you right now? Am I missing one or do you see any revisions needed to this simple model?

You can read more of Adam’s posts at Innovation On My Mind.

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