Experts vs. Creativity

Some play off our critical thinking skills against our domain-specific, factual knowledge (see this debate), and this has interested me before. So I was curious what a new essay by Sternberg would say about the domain-specifity of creativity.

In short, creativity is neither domain-specific nor domain-general; only aspects of it are predominantly so. But his detailed explanation contains a lot of interesting remarks. For example:

“The introduction of high-stakes testing into schooling has played into the agenda of an extreme rightwing government by fostering a mentality in schools of cramming for tests that measure knowledge but not critical thinking about this knowledge.”

(Sternberg, R. J., Domain-Generality Versus Domain-Specificity of Creativity. In P. Meusburger et al. (eds.), Milieus of Creativity, Dordrecht: Springer, 2009 (=Knowledge & Space, Vol. 2). P. 27)

Throughout the essay, he emphasizes the individual’s decision, attitude, mindset, to use their differing skills, abilities, resources. And these resources must be used in confluence:

  • Intellectual skills (synthetic, analytic, and practical-contextual);
  • Knowledge (which can both help and hinder creativity);
  • Thinking style (“legislative”);
  • Personality (the willingness to cope with obstacles, risk, ambiguity, and self efficacy to defy the crowd);
  • Motivation (intrinsic);
  • Environment.

The crucial concept of decision also explains how a domain expert may be worse off: If he decides to apply past knowledge that is no longer appropriate due to novel structures. And the decision and willingness is described as investment, with risk-taking.

A kind of investment attitude that comes to my mind is the following. When I decide whether to quickly jot down an idea (note-taking) or not, I may be influenced by the expectation about whether this idea could be useful some day. This also depends on my repository system (how confident am I to find it later in a reasonable context?). Moreover, quickly scribbled concepts seem futile if they are just arbitrarily dispersed across a sheet of paper.

This is where technology comes in, where personal productivity tools may reduce the risk of a futile investment. For example, if the scribbled sheet of paper is a mind map (or similarly, an empty powerpoint slide), the dispersed items can be meaningfully rearranged and linked by glued connector lines later, so this later step need not obstruct the jotting down process. And a smart note managment tool can accomplish the meaningful linking and combining on the higher level.

(Disclosure: Sternberg is Honorary professor at my university, and I previously referred to his work.)

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2 Responses to Experts vs. Creativity

  1. Marci Segal says:

    Thank you for posting this article on the eve of World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21.

    World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21 began in Toronto Canada in 2001 and has grown to be celebrated in 40+ countries in over 100 businesses, schools, communities and associations. It’s purpose is to encourage and inspire people to use their creativity to make the/their world a better place and to make their place in the world better too. Only one condition about the celebration of using new ideas, imagination and making new decisions – and that is, do no harm.

    Please consider telling your colleagues, family, friends and students and inviting them to participate, even in some small way, to acknowledge and leverage their creative abilities from April 15 – 21 (at the least).

    Also, I am a graduate of the International Center for Studies in Creativity in Buffalo, NY. Sternberg’s work is very familiar to me.

    All the best
    Marci Segal
    co-founder, World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21.

    FYI – April 15 is Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. Perhaps a blog post about his approach to thinking/inventing?

  2. I have responded to your post in
    It’s interesting to see how a balance between critical thinking skills and creative thinking skills are nurtured in networks.
    Thanks for your creative post.

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