Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Creativity and IQ

(My son, photographed by his sister in an homage to Tim Burton).

I keep coming back to Creativity because it is central to what we do as writers. It is also so hard to quantify. Like editors who, when asked what they are looking for, say 'I'll know when I see it,' Creativity is something we know when we see it.

When I read Terry Pratchett I get a buzz because his books are so wry and clever. They make me smile and they make me groan because the observations of human nature are so accurate. I could probably list a dozen reasons why his books do this, but I couldn't give you a recipe to reproduce a Terry Pratchett book. The final product is greater than the sum of its parts.

It's is like when you go to the movies to see a block buster and it leaves you unmoved. They might have ticked all the boxes, but there's no soul. You can't engage with the protagonist so the movie loses you.

Scientists have been studying creativity and intelligence, trying to understand the correlation. For instance, high IQ doesn't mean sensible. In fact it often means the opposite.

Bruce Charlton, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Medical Hypotheses says,

"...my suggested explanation for this association between intelligence and personality is that an increasing relative level of IQ brings with it a tendency differentially to over-use general intelligence in problem-solving, and to over-ride those instinctive and spontaneous forms of evolved behaviour which could be termed common sense."

For the full article go here.

According to Scientific American

"... most highly creative people are polymaths- they enjoy and excel at a range of challenging activities. For instance, in a survey of scientists at all levels of achievement, the [researchers] found that only about one sixth report engaging in a secondary activity of an artistic or creative nature, such as painting or writing non-scientific prose. In contrast, nearly all Nobel Prize winners in science have at least one other creative activity that they pursue seriously. Creative breadth, the [researchers] argue, is an important but understudied component of genius."

See here for the article.

Years ago, I read an article about a study done on school kids. They were measured for IQ and Creativity and then much later the researchers did a follow up. High IQ did not mean high job satisfaction or high earnings. But high Creativity led to a higher level of life satisfaction. Of course, being older and wise now, I have to wonder how they measured all these things.

And there is an article on biochemical support for a 'theshold' of creativity. All that primordial soup in our brains, firing off neurons and creating characterisation out of memories and instinct.

According to the scientists, Creative Types had more sex partners.

'Talk about creativity. Professional artists and poets hook up with two or three times as many sex partners as other people, new research indicates. A study of 425 British men and women found the creative types averaged between four and ten partners, while the less creative folks had typically had three.'

I'm not going to ask you guys to either confirm or deny this.

There is also a Fine Line between Creativity and Insanity (as if this is a surprise!).

'History suggests that the line between creativity and madness is a fine one, but a small group of people known as schizotypes are able to walk it with few problems and even benefit from it.'

But, for all the research I did, I couldn't really find a way to define and control creativity. You wish you could on those days when you wake up feeling 'Blah' and you need to write the first draft of your book and you have a deadline.

So how would you define creativity and how do you 'kick start' your own on 'Blah' days?


Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Hum... can I just give you links?

Here's one posting that summarizes some thoughts I've had.


Or for another set of bits, try this one (which leads to several others)


I'll stop there, but there are books and articles about creative thinking -- and some of them even make sense!


Kate said...

Two things, really. Of course how well I can use the results is a different beastie, and depends a lot on how fried I am (lately, very).

I got these principles from Howard Bloom's The Genius of the Beast - a book I recommend to everyone. Hell, just read everything the man's written. But start with Genius of the Beast, because it's a lighter read.

Anyway, the two core principles - which resonated a lot with me and I've since started actively pursuing them instead of the rather haphazard approach I was using:

1. The truth at any cost, even if it means your life.

2. Look at everything as if you've never seen it before, especially the things that are most familiar.

It's a potent framework for pretty much everything - and is very effective at kick-starting a creative spree.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of sleep. Caffeine. Kick the brain across the threshold. I've been fighting allergies. Tradeoffs between antihistamines and their side effects, and the inability to sleep without them is the pits.

Very interesting articles. Soon enough they'll be adding genetics to the links. My family's chock full of creative people. Some of them even successfully creative. ;) Sane? Umm, I dunno. By and large I think we may terrify geneticists, should we ever draw the attention of any.

Anonymous said...

My definition for intelligence:
The ability to combine information, and use it to extrapolate to at least one solution even in the face of missing information.

My definition for creativity is roughly:
The ability to recognize multiple solutions to a problem or ways of achieving a given goal.

While the two are linked, and seem to be at their best when used together, I don't think they really are the same.

Tim Burton is an interesting role model, you must be warping, I mean raising the child right. :-)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I like your definitions of intelligence and creativity.

This is the kid who was doing Hangman in school with the class and came up with Neanderthal and Yggdrasil.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Interesting posts on creativity.

Would you be an engineer by any chance?????

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I googled Howard Bloom's book. Now I'm going to have to buy a copy and I'm trying to shed books!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I'm not like anyone in my immediate family. It was like growing up behind a sheet of thick glass.

My kids are all creative, or combine creativity with practical business sense, which has to be a good thing.

I just wish society appreciated creativity. Without the writers there would be no TV shows other than reality shows and that is a scary thought.

Anonymous said...

My family is all... very much an statistic on that insanity/intelligence correlation plot. But the fun conversations we can have...

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Onyxhawke said

My family ... the fun conversations we can have...

That's what our house is like. Really lively, buzzing with interaction and a sense of fun. The kids will discuss anything from political to philosophical and then segue into a dark English comedy routine.

Chris McMahon said...

Gee Rowena, you are asking all the easy questions this morning:) I'm not sure I can define creativity. For me is a combinations of emotions, colours, intuitive leaps and a deeper feeling of connection. I'm not sure about turning it on at will, but a I know lack of sleep saps my emotional reserves, which are key component.

In terms of kick-starting, I try to blank out all the pressure and goal oriented thinking and get back to the feeling that led me into that particular world to begin with.

Mike said...

At least you didn't say, "You must be an engineer," which is usually a signal that I've gone off the deep end into the technical issues and problem-solving without addressing the real question. Although it's pretty close... did I miss the point again?

Oh, yeah. Software engineer, now professor teaching software engineering, and ... it shows, huh?

Dave Freer said...

Hmm. I get started with routine. I use music and visual images to stir my soul up a bit. And if I am really stuck, excercise. It is also worth pointing ot that an awful lot of geniuses are not polymaths (there is some good research on this too - too lazy to look it up right now) but in many cases genius is narrowly focussed. At the extreme this expresses as an idiot-savant. I worked with a few Ichthyologists who came close. Of course they weren't too good at accepting that expertise on vomerine teeth did not automatically make you an expert at say politics.

Kate said...


Personally I suspect that the polymath-genius (and possibly the garden variety, too) is the other end of the spectrum from intellectual impairment.

I spent a lot of time volunteering at the special ed school where Mum worked, and one thing all the spec-ed teachers would tell me was that the intellectually handicapped kids couldn't generalize learning. If you wanted them to learn how to buy something and make sure they weren't accidentally short-changed, you had to take them to a shop, have them hand over the money for what they wanted, and teach them to count their change with real money in hand. They couldn't connect the same exercise in a classroom with the real-life experience.

"Slow" kids, at the lower end of what, for want of a better definition, could make that generalization/abstraction.

When I was studying gifted education, one thing I noticed was that at the severely/profoundly gifted end of the spectrum, you got the polymath hyper-generalizers, the ones who could see patterns in things normal folks would never consider related. That also seems to be where highly creative plus the ability to channel the creative rather than have it control you (which tend to be where mental illness dominates) lives.

Of course, the autism spectrum adds its own complications, since one of the things that does is limit the generalization ability.

Plus, the severely to profoundly gifted end up with problems of their own, mostly what you'd expect if you forced an average person to spend their entire life with intellectually handicapped people. (We won't go any further into THAT rant - I can get quite sarcastic about it)

Interesting piece of trivia on the topic: Einstein was a professional-level violinist, and often played second violin in a pickup quartet with the best players of the time. The story goes that he kept flubbing an entry in one of their practice sessions, and the lead turned to him and said "Your problem Albert, is that you just can't count."

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


The internet means that we meet people's minds. And yours had a flashing neon sign that said 'Engineer thought processes'.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I find feeling weary or unwell, interferes with my creativity. I barely have the energy left to do what has to be done, let alone go off on flights of fancy.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Love the story about Einstein, Kate. Your experiences with the special ed kids are really interesting.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Speaking of odd behaviours and focused intelligence. I was telling someone about SF fans an how socially awkward they can be and she said she worked as a receptionist in a research department and most of the scientists were incredibly awkward.