Skip to main content

Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ***

With a name that will always be associated with the concept of 'flow', Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi was a likely choice for a book giving a scientific view of creativity. The way this has been achieved is primarily to identify a large number of people that Csiksgentmihalyi considered highly creative and to ask them if they will be interviewed. There are a number of problems with this approach - would Einstein have said yes, for instance? But there is no doubt that the popular psychologist is able to winkle out a few interesting thoughts on the matter.

We are first introduced the the creative process, through a little bit about the nature of creativity, the creativity personality, how they go about the creative act and the inevitable link in with the concept of 'flow'. Perhaps the most interesting thing in this section is the suggestion that creativity can never be solely about the creative individual. Csiksgentmihalyi tells us that we need three components: an existing domain - an area of knowledge that that the creative individual knows, the act by the individual, which often involves coming at some aspect of the domain in a novel way, and the field, which are the creative person's peers. Csiksgentmihalyi's argument is that without the field's recognition, the creativity isn't 'real'. So, for instance, he suggests that Bach's work only became creative once it was recognised as great after a couple of centuries of being dismissed.

The next part of the book takes us through the creative lives of his interviewees. I find this kind of thing somewhat tedious to read, as it doesn't really add much to the discussion. We then move on to 'domains of creativity', looking for differences and similarities between, for instance, the 'domain of the word' and 'the domain of life'. This, frankly, was also fairly hard work with little concrete scientific analysis provided.

A final section, protestingly (as Csiksgentmihalyi doesn't want this to be a self-improvement book particularly) adds ways to enhance personal creativity. Although what's here isn't bad, it tries hard to ignore most of the work that has been done on enhancing creativity, so skirts around the kind of techniques espoused by the likes of de Bono and Osborn without really acknowledging them, which is a shame and makes it relatively weak in practical terms.

The book is worth reading for the first 150 pages, which make up the section on what creativity is and how it works. These are genuinely fascinating. But the rest of the book lacks the same level of scientific focus or interesting content, so sags by comparison.

Paperback:  
Bizarrely not on Kindle
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

Lost Solace (SF) - Karl Drinkwater ****

There was a time when you would be hard pushed to find a science fiction novel with a female main character. As I noted when re-reading Asimov's Foundation, in 189 pages, women appear on just five pages - and they're very much supporting cast. But the majority of new SF novels I've read this year have had female main characters, including The Real Town Murders, Austral and Andy Weir's upcoming Artemis.

That's certainly the case in Karl Drinkwater's engaging Lost Solace. It's really a two hander between military renegade Opal and her ship's AI, Clarissa. There are a few male characters, but they are either non-speaking troops she battles or a major with whom she has a couple of short video conversations. That summary gives an unfair military flavour to the whole thing - in practice, the majority of the action, which is practically non-stop throughout the book, involves Opal trying to survive as she explores a mysterious, apparently abandoned liner in a de…