Analyzing Ambiguity in the Standard Definition of Creativity

Thomas R. Colin


The increasingly rich and diverse literature on creativity has its core in psychology, but spans the cognitive sciences from artificial intelligence to philosophy and borrows from the wider humanities. Perhaps because of this immense breadth, there remains considerable disagreement with respect to the identity of the object of research. How to define creativity? According to the “standard definition,” creativity consists of “effectiveness and originality.” This definition is (relatively) consensual and therefore appears to capture something common to academic concepts of creativity. I conduct a conceptual analysis of the definition; thereby, I isolate and describe two ambiguities. Firstly, the definition leaves open the choice of the context and norms against which to measure originality and effectiveness. Secondly, it does not discuss the possible role of a subjective judge. My goal is not to propose yet another model of creativity, but to clearly identify the possible meanings of the word creativity in academic research. The existence of different interpretations does not necessarily reflect a fundamental disagreement about reality, but rather a failure to achieve consensus on a shared technical language. Therefore, simply recognizing and acknowledging the competition between diverse interpretations can form the basis for successful communication and for a complementary division of labor; it could improve the viability of interdisciplinary collaborations and prevent unnecessary fragmentation of the field.


creativity; definition

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