Is Creativity more like IQ or Expertise?

IQ, whatever its flaws, appears to be a general factor, that is, if you do well on one kind of IQ test you will tend to do well on another, quite different, kind of IQ test. IQ also correlates well with many and varied real world outcomes. But what about creativity? Is creativity general like IQ? Or is creativity more like expertise; a person can be an expert in one field, for example, but not in another.

In a short piece in The Creativity Post, cognitive Psychologist Rober Baer argues that creativity is domain-specific:

Efforts to assess creativity have been plagued by supposedly domain-general divergent-thinking tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, although even Torrance knew they were measuring domain-specific skills. (He create two different versions of the test, one that used verbal tasks and another that used visual tasks. He found that scores on the two tests were unrelated —they had a correlation of just .06—so they could not be measuring a single skill or set of skills. They were—and still are—measuring two entirely different things.) Because these tests have been used in so many psychological studies of creativity, much of what we think we know about creativity may be based on invalid data. These tests have also been widely used in selection for gifted/talented programs — programs that have, in turn, often suffered because by assuming creativity was domain general, these programs often wasted students’ time with supposedly content-free divergent thinking exercises (like brainstorming unusual uses for bricks) that really only develop divergent-thinking skill in limited domains.

The metaphor we use for understanding creativity will impact how we train for creativity:

If one’s goal is to enhance creativity in many domains, then creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains—just as we must provide a broad general education if we want students to acquire modest levels of expertise in many areas. But if one’s goal is to increase creativity in just one domain, such as one might want to do in a gifted program focusing on one domain (such as a program in dance, poetry, math, etc)., then it would be appropriate for all of the creativity-training exercises to come from the particular domain of special interest.

Baer’s view is controversial. My inclination is to think that creativity does have a significant general aspect because creativity seems so often to involve combining seemingly disparate ideas. My suspicion is that that there is a neurological basis for this in, to put it crudely, right-brain, left-brain communication channels. The fact that creativity can be stimulated by drugs and travel also suggests to me a general aspect. No one ever says, if you want to master calculus take a “trip” but this does work if you are blocked on some types of creative projects.

Nevertheless, Baer’s view is worth thinking about; he gives more detail to his argument in two academic papers here and here.


Lynn has stated that creativity is essentially psychopathy or an aspect of a psychopathic personality. Europeans may have outdone East Asians in cultural achievement because although on average somewhat lower in intelligence they have a greater tendency to psychopathy.

I think creativity is more like IQ but that it is most successfully expressed by those with specific expertise.

On creativity there may be two components, the disposition and ability.

I think that general IQ probably is correlated to what I call creative ability but I'm sure that different cognitive profiles have different advantages. I would say that different cognitive profiles have different propensities for certain creative abilities/IQs.

Disposition is a personality characteristic that dictates what a person is likely to do. This disposition may lead a person to develop ability or a person may develop a disposition because they have a talent. I don't know it is like the chicken and the egg.

Jim, while creativity certainly involves some disregard for established rules, it is a stretch to say it involves a callous disregard for the rights of others. Law, which is very concerned with the rights of others, at its most creative usually involves reconciling two opposing sets of rights in a satisfactory manner.

I'm not sure how you'd actually measure "creativity", as the variable being measured is in essence doing the unexpected. Do we really think you can anticipate the truly unexpected?

Actually B's reply helped me understand Jim's comment.

"creativity certainly involves some disregard for established rules, it is a stretch to say it involves a callous disregard for the rights of others." Let's change this slightly to

"creativity certainly involves some disregard for established rules, it is a stretch to say it involves a callous disregard for doing the right thing"

Now let us say that disregarding established rules is wrong. "No it isn't!" says the modern European and American. "Yes it is" says the traditional Asian viewpoint. AND the traditional European viewpoint of say 1500 AD.

So we moderns don't think of it as wrong, but that's because we are psychopaths, by traditional standards.

I am inclined to agree with Baer. The currently fashionable emphasis on creativity as an all-purpose skill that can be learnt and then applied to anything is misleading. Insofar as it's true, it stretches the definition of creativity so far as to become meaningless, a vague pass at divergent thinking. Abstracted from its concrete context - sculpting, writing, dressmaking - from *craft* - 'creativity' isn't worth very much at all.

Have you seen Bob Dylan's paintings?


The first sentence is a trivial observation. IQ appears to be a general factor by design. The various tests used to measure IQ were derived from a larger body of tests. Tests which did not correlate well with the general factor, such as the ability to discern whether you were being poked in the back with a single point or two closely spaced points, were rejected. The remaining tests correlated well with each other, giving the appearance of being a general factor.

What I am confused about is how one defines "creativity". Can one be "good" in music or painting and yet not "creative"?

Is there a generic definition of creativity at all? Are we measuring creativity-correlations across various domains or merely success correlations?

Do we have techniques to objectively tease out "creativity" from other traits in sectors like poetry, dance or even math?

One might say the same thing about "intelligence"

I'm with Rahul here. Intelligence may be of different sorts, but at least some types can be readily measured, for example, math or logic skills, on the one hand or tests of knowledge or memory, on the other.

I am really not sure how "creative" is defined.

I believe any definition must take into account the dynamic of audience creative person. Creativity is a dialogue.

Creative uses for a brick is only a starting point. Brushing your teeth with a brick is only an extension of the category "things to do with a brick" and will quickly bore your audience.

Stimulation of creativity using drugs is suspect. In some fields, particularly music, it interferes with technique. In others, it encourages introspection rather than dialogue.

The ability to create.

The problem isn't that the definition is fuzzy rather the definition is too simple. What does it mean to be highly creative? What does it mean to be a creative painter or a creative musician?

I have an ex who is very creative, and many people would use that term to describe her. But she noticed that I create as much as she does and wondered why no one would call me creative. We decided that people usually mean artistic when they use the term creative. So perhaps it's not definition, but overcoming poor usage.

If forms of creativity don't correlate with each other, why does creativity in general seem to correlate with the Big Five construct called Openness?

That seems like a bold statement. And one that doesn't jive with my personal anecdotes or sentiments about popular artists.

> And one that doesn’t jive with my personal anecdotes or sentiments about popular artists.

You know those are terrible reasons, so why do you bring them up?

For anyone else:

What is creativity? Can anyone actually tell me?

Narrowly, it's the artistic impression of novel or unique ideas. Broadly, I'd say it's the ability to approach a situation or problem from multiple or different angles to achieve a unique result.

Proofing fail: expression, not impression.

What does "artistic" have to do with creativity?

One of our problems is that the uneducated chattering classes (those with as little STEM knowledge as Sarah Palin has knowledge of African geography) think of creativity as what is done in Hollywood or in artsy studios. They see people with the personality to do well on a reality TV show as creative. They are oblivious to the creativity of the Asian kid who is good a math and comes up with novel algorithms or new methods for solving problems - such people are mere drones to the uneducated literati.

If the uneducated insist on giving the label "creative" to someone who writes a work of fiction, perhaps we need a better word for the creativity of the doctor who figures out a better way to perform an operation, the scientist who figures out the workings of a chemical process, or the engineer who designs a machine in a way that it is much easier to manufacture.

Did you even *read* the second sentence of my comment?

What does uniqueness have to do with creativity?

You should have made it a separate paragraph.

Arguably, the word innovative is more related to "useful" creativity...

I'm struggling a bit making complete sense of the author's point. Like others, I suspect he has a slightly different definition of creativity than I do. Of course skill in drawing doesn't correlate to skill in playing the trumpet, but it's also entirely possible to be highly skilled at either or both of those crafts and still not be very creative. The idea that expertise is more important to creativity than intelligence (which is how the thesis was stated in the synopsis) seems wrong to me. Isn't it often outsiders that innovate in a field? Their strength being, to a certain extent, as much about what they DON'T know as what they do.

Your last sentence isn't much of a strength. Anyone learning a new field will quickly take to the common concepts (good and bad). Those who cross-specialize are able to analyse from multiple perspectives, which is what allows them to learn independently or fix the bad concepts.

I just want to point out the playing the trumpet - or any instrument - takes little in the way of creativity.

At the extreme right tail, you might have a Glenn Gould type whose interpretation of a piece of music would be considered creative. However, most performers don't aspire to, don't have the latitude to (e.g. an orchestral performer), or never achieve that level of performance.

I believe that is substantially similar to the point I made above, but perhaps more emphatically stated. Many musicians I know (I trained as a trumpet player) are also creative, but I have no sense that there's causation in either direction.

" we train for creativity"

I don't believe this is possible. I've never witnessed a person go from uncreative to creative. I've seen the skills and techniques used to execute creative ideas improve, but increased creativity, no. People seem to come into the world with whatever supply they have. Anecdotal of course, but I've sent my whole as a creative person and mostly associate with other creative types. Frankly the vast majority of people have very little of it.

I'd suggest you have creativity bias. We're all creative in one way or another. It'd be difficult to be human without some form of creativity. Perhaps the wealthy could get away without creativity?

No, they need creative accounting.

"The fact that creativity can be stimulated by drugs and travel also suggests to me a general aspect. No one ever says, if you want to master calculus take a trip but this does work if you are blocked on some types of creative projects."

I understand the drug part, it alters how your brain works and you think about things differently, which is a necessary element of creativity. Is "travel" something people agree is generally important for creative/intellectual output? Or is travel just one way to "step away from a problem" for a bit in order to return to it with fresh thinking.

Traveling to a new environment - like drugs - can get you to think about things differently.

I thought you traveled to get the drugs...confused.

Good post.

We have over a century of experience at measuring IQ, so we're pretty good at it. We haven't made much progress at measuring creativity, which doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but does mean that most of our discussions about it involved a lot of hand-waving.


RE: Dead Serious at 2:27
I would disagree that playing an instrument does not necessarily imply creativity. I play in a jazz band. Some of the players are adept at improvising solos within arrangements. This is done by reading, not notes but chord symbols. These players are able to create, in effect compose, new music in real time. Listen to expert jazz musicians and you will be surprised by how different solos will be from one another even when playing a tune for the hundredth time. I would add that I am not one who can improvise but I can read any piece placed in front of me ( to that extent I agree that such playing is not particularly creative).
PS: Some classical musicians can do this also. Many organists, for example, are adept at improvisation while others are not.

A great point - and one I should have made, coming from a 'classical' composer and performer as well as a jazz performer (who does improvise).

No one ever says, if you want to master calculus take a “trip” but this does work if you are blocked on some types of creative projects.

One of the best mathematicians of my generation once told me that he attributed much of his success to taking LSD at exactly the right times. You need, he said, to take it only after you've fully understood all of the subtleties of the problem you're working on. If you take it sooner, it will screw up your thinking, but if you time it right, it will more often than not help you break through your difficulties.

Second this one, with a much less substantial point: during my undergraduate degree more than one student expressed that being inebriated one way or another helped them 'make sense' of math problems. I suspect those were problems that required an intuitive leap or connection of some kind for understanding, a requirement not limited to any field in particular. Would be curious if there's any literature on creativity and/or inebriation in mathematical learning.

I'd tend to think a psychedelic drug like LSD etc. is more likely to do these things than alcohol which has more of a systemic depressant.

So, a big question is whether various kinds of creative skills correlate with each other, the way most of the main subsets of intelligence tend to correlate with each other? For example, I wouldn't be surprised if the ability to sight read music correlates with ability to read text, on average. But, the ability to improvise musically doesn't seem like it would be all that correlated with SAT scores. And I'm not sure it would be hugely correlated with everything else that people lump under the term "creativity."

Another angle on this is that creativity correlates with knowledge in the sense that if you are not a master of the domain, you are so tied up in cognitive friction just understanding or implementing what you`re trying to do that the mind isn`t truly free to innovate.

Take the example of music. I play the saxophone, and I play guitar. I`m good enough on the the saxophone that reading music is like reading words on a page - I don`t have to think about what I`m reading. I just see the notes, and I play them. And I`ve been playing long enough that I have a fairly intuitive understanding of what sounds good and what doesn`t, and I don`t have to think about what keys I can press in the key I`m playing in - I just play the notes. As a result, I can improvise solos without thinking, and while they may not be groundbreaking, they don`t sound bad. Once all the mechanics of playing are pushed to the background, my mind is free to soar.

On guitar, I`m not that good. I have to think about the music. If I`m reading music, I often have to stop and translate what I`m seeing on the page to where my fingers should be. And even if I can follow the notes, I`m not good enough to know where I can put my hands to make new notes that fit in the music, except in trivial ways. As a result, I can`t be truly creative on guitar. There`s too much other stuff occupying my brain when I play.

The same is true in art. If you`re still struggling with the mechanics of brush strokes and hand-eye coordination, and still learning what good composition is and isn`t, you`re unlikely to have creative impulses that create great things. You might still be creative, but it will be creativity that leads nowhere because you don`t have the knowledge and skill to apply your impulses in a sophisticated way.

As e.e. cummings perhaps apocryphally said to a student after giving her a bad grade due to spelling and capitalization errors, ``My dear, first you have to learn the rules before you can successfully break them.``

It seems to me that there is a much more subjective component to assessing creativity than intelligence. Staying with the music topic, we all have the ability to improvise. I don't play the piano but I am perfectly capable of banging keys in such a way as it gives me musical pleasure.

The trick is to bang the keys in such a way as to give someone else musical pleasure. This is to say that it isn't creative until it is authoritatively "deemed" creative.

Creativity is only useful to those with sufficient domain knowledge. In many domains the threshold of sufficient knowledge is so high that only experts can make a creative contribution.

Think about physics. To come up with something ground breaking (i.e. creative ) takes years of study just to get up to speed with the current view. Unique combinations that are nonsensical are not considered creative.

This is a great example of why I'm skeptical of creativity tests. Unless you have a panel of expert physicsts design the test, you have no chance being able to figure what "creativity" is, let alone measure it.

Moore's Law suggests that a lot of creative inventions happen about on schedule when they become technologically feasible. Somebody ought to make up a list of inventions that didn't require advances in the state of the art. For example, those garbage cans filled with progressive amounts of sand that you see in front of solid objects alongside highways were invented by race car driver Jon Fitch after his partner in the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hour race crashed into the grandstand in a gullwing Mercedes killing about 80 spectators in the most lethal accident in auto racing history. The Fitch Barrier has likely saved hundreds of thousands of lives in accidents. Anybody could have invented that in the previous half century, but nobody did until Fitch. Now, that's creativity! But, it's hard to quantify.

The Fitch barrier is a good example of an idea behind its time. I wrote about this concept earlier


Thanks, that's a good phrase to use.

Creativity might be related to the concept of priming- combining implicit (subconscious) memories in an unusual way due to some kind of stimulus. Iain McGilchrist referred to this as an aspect "right brain" thinking in his book The Master and His Emissary (have only read bits and pieces of it, but it's a great book). In a way, this is a little like jazz improvisation, where interacting instrumentalists may prime each other for new musical ideas. I think priming basically relies on having high crystallized intelligence, so you can combine previously encountered concepts or ideas in innovative and unusual ways. General crystallized intelligence can be replaced with strong domain specific skills in specific arenas, however. Having high fluid intelligence probably helps also since that kind of intelligence helps in dealing with novel situations.

In addition, certain personality traits are probably required for creativity. Artistic types, to use as an example of a certain kind of creativity, tend to be bipolar disorder or have certain types of schizoptypy. So they're basically highly neurotic people and disagreeable people rolled into one. They're deeply feeling people, but highly individualistic and maybe even selfish and have a high self-opinion. This goes along with the psychopathy trait mentioned in the first post. Creative ethnic groups (particularly ones known for their musical contributions, like Blacks in the Western Hemisphere and European Gypsies) derive their neuroticism from their real or supposed oppression and combine it with a disagreeable attitude towards the dominant culture to create interesting artistic subcultures.

And last being extroverted probably helps too, because that gets your ideas noticed. This helps in any creative arena, whether in the sciences or the arts.

Interesting topic...

But even tests for IQ suffer from fundamentally the same problem posed by this question: they don't know what they are testing for. Being something of a computer geek I would say IQ is best equated to processing power. Experience is best equated to programming. Which means once you reach your "adult hood" processing power should diminish (sometime between say 12-16 years old when our brains have reached full size). However, we continue to learn and develop understandings long after that and arguably deeper in nature. However, once the physical size of brain hits its max, our processing power also peaks. BUT, our ability to work faster and more complex mental problems continues as we develop new logical and experiential skills. Basically, our "IQ" continues to climb for years until other factors kick in.

Experience, unto itself, is clearly limited to the domain of the that which is encountered. But combined with insight, observation, and application can develop into understanding. This understanding, I would argue is one of the fundamental building blocks for IQ, and as such is the link between the two.

With proper experience, understanding, and IQ, lessons learned in one creative field can cross over into understandings in another field. But without the understanding component of what the experience "is", there will be no such crossover.

I'm surprised Tyler thinks "mastering calculus" doesn't require creativity or traveling. Researchers are constantly encouraged to go to conferences and even change institutions to prevent academic incest and narrow mindedness (mathematically speaking).

I'd worry that creativity is a little like madness. In the best case it is a momentary suspension of what we know, established linkages, and a free association of alternate view. Of course, the creative engineer or scientist has to pull back from that association to make something that works. I guess artists can just stay in that state.

I should say "pull back from that free association."

I studied creativity at length in college in conjunction with critical thinking. Critical thinking and creative thinking can work either in tandem or in sequence, and also in a feedback loop between the two. Within the study of critical and creative thinking, a primary idea is that both of them function for a pretty obvious primary purpose: problem-solving. Construed as broadly as possible. Critical and creative thinking concern themselves with problem solving.

Alex is right that the tests are crap. Though as many point out, some of the underlying skills have utility, like divergent thinking. IMO there is surely something to the notion of certain predispositions to be creative. Just as surely, creative thinking seems to lack meaning without purpose, within some applied domain (or, very often, by bridging some number of domains).

Someone above sounded very hostile to the conventional "da vinci" version of capital-C creativity, the one that's a mystical tale of artistic genius. (Even though Da Vinci was an "artist" across a swath of domains). But he was still right that there's a huge underbody of creativity in the world that goes unnoticed because it doesn't produce an artistic wonder in the conventional sense: literature, painting, and so on.

I believe this will change, as it becomes more and more obvious that creativity is potentially at work in every situation that involved problem-solving. Which involves most of the important stuff we do as humans.

As someone else pointed out above, creativity seems only able to apply itself within a domain after one has reached a point where they have a functional big picture understanding, or maybe an intuition. Divergent thinking lack utility without a firm understanding of the where you're diverging from, and a concurrent ability to find your way back.

Notice how obviously this relates to problem solving: a problem properly defined is on its way to being solved, we like to think.This explains why functional domain mastery has to precede the creative problem solving. You can't solve a problem until you understand how the variables are working together. You can't get a different output unless you have different inputs or a different way to relate the variables.

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