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The creative personality

Fieldnotes interviews PermissionToPlay founder Kevin Mann on creative personality types.


How would you describe a creative personality type?



The first thing to say here is that the old concepts around left-brain and right-brain thinking have been debunked. Recent neurological research by Roger Beaty and others at Harvard University, scanning neuron activity, reveals that the idea creation process uses many regions of the brain together. It seems that creativity does not involve a single region of the brain or even a single side of the brain; it uses the whole brain, or at least lots of it, simultaneously. The research highlights three of the brain’s subnetworks — the default mode network, the salience network and the executive control network — that appear to be key in creative thought. So, there are no left-brain people, or right brain people. Just whole brain people.


So, what does distinguish creative people from non-creative people?



Here, again, psychologists differ in their opinions and approaches – we still don’t really know how the creative mind works. The Harvard research, which highlighted the importance of three of the neural networks in creativity, suggested that a closer link between these results in an ability to think more flexibly, and therefore more creatively.


Other research does suggest a possible link between creativity and the complexity – or inner contradictions – in creative people’s traits. Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi said that creative people contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.”

Contradictions of the creative mind
Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest

Creative people tend to be smart, yet naive at the same time

Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.

Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.

Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

Creative can often escape rigid gender role stereotyping.

Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.

Creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.


We all exhibit contradictory traits from time to time. Does that mean we are all creative?



A more useful perspective –maybe – is to look at some characteristic habits and behaviours of people who are considered very creative. In their book ‘Wire to Create’, Psychologist Dr Kaufman and writer Carolyn Gregoire draw insights from great artists, writers and innovators, including Picasso, Kahlo and Proust. While they propose main 10 themes, things creative people do differently are more subtle and more varied.

Here is a selection of some of the key behaviours I would highlight:

Wired to Create book by Kaufman and Gregoire
They daydream
They are curious about many things
They surround themselves with beauty
They people watch
They get out of their own heads
and change perspective
They seek out new experiences
They ask big questions
They connect dots
They take time for solitude
They criticize constructively
They turn life’s obstacles around
They take risks
They follow their passions
They shake things up



If very creative people have tell-tale behaviours, what drives those behaviours?



Ultimately, mindset is important to creative success. A mindset is simply the set of attitudes with which someone approaches a situation.


We are often reminded how important it is to suspend judgement during group creative thinking exercises. Just as important, however, is to silence inner critic and not self-sensor before thoughts are able to emerge.


Being able to tolerate ambiguity and contradictions helps keep the mind open to possibilities.


Approaching new things with a childlike wonder helps us embrace curiosity and feed the imagination.


Openness to collaboration broadens horizons and creates bigger wholes, while cherishing individualism ensures richer diversity and variety.


The resilience to persist, even against criticism, is an essential strength, born out of a fundamental belief in self and an optimistic outlook.


Finally, being able to embrace failure and being wrong unlocks learning that underpins discovery and positive change.

On-demand 15 mins
Take a whistle-stop tour of what creativity really is, what it means to different people and where it comes from, then explore what is creative in you.

Illustration person fighting two brains