The aspects of creativity we control

When we talk about creativity what we’re really referring to is the mental processes involved in the generation of novel and valuable ideas.

But what influences those thinking processes—and our ability to utilize them—is much more complicated than it might seem. Simply because we can slap the label of “creativity” onto anything does not make it so.

If we can better understand what influences our creativity and how we individually respond to the various components that affect our ability to think differently, we can become better equipped at solving complex problems and creating new ideas or products.

In his 1961 report titled “An Analysis of Creativity,” psychologist Mel Rhodes outlines the Four Ps of aspects of creativity: ProcessProductPerson, and Place.

Each of these Four Ps can influence our ability to think creatively, and each of us will respond differently to various stimulation related to any of them. Some we can control, others are innate.

Process means the systematic way we generate ideas, or ruminate. Whether through convergent or divergent thinking, through a clear-cut workflow, through intentional incubation, or through more exploratory methods.

Product is the central point of our attention for ideation; the problem context or the source from which ideas can spread.

Person refers to our innate or habitual habits: our openness to new experiences, our ability to be self-sufficient, our levels of curiosity.

Place is self explanatory: the environment in which we are and how close we are to resources for either evolving ideas or sparking them.

The foundation of the Four Ps are later evolved by Steven Johnson in his 2010 book Where Good Ideas Come From, where Johnson outlines the influencers of creativity as: the adjacent possible, liquid networks, slow hunches, serendipity, errors, exaptation, and platforms.

In Johnson’s approach we see similar trends to what Rhodes describes with the Four Ps. Specifically: what matters for creativity is our process for evolving ideas (slow hunches and exaptation, or evolving parts of an idea with another), the “product” that is central to our thinking (errors, platforms), who we are as thinkers (embracing serendipity, learning from errors, embracing slow hunches), and how our environment provides us with inspiration or resources (adjacent possible, platforms, and liquid networks).

I’ve come to learn that there are more minute elements of each of these categories that influence our ability to think creatively further still. In the graphic What causes creativity I outline the elements as: confidence, a sense of observation, humility, mindfulness, resourcefulness, energy, and an ability to take action.

When we talk about creativity what we’re really talking about is all of these influencers and aspects that are either in or out of our control. For the things we can influence – our place, often times our product, and always our process – we must be open to exploring alternatives any time we get stuck.

The best way to think creatively is not to sit around and hope for ideas to find you, it’s to do what you can to improve the odds of your brain stumbling on them.