Course Handout - An Introduction to Creativity

Copyright Notice: This material was written and published in Wales by Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). It forms part of a multifile e-learning resource, and subject only to acknowledging Derek J. Smith's rights under international copyright law to be identified as author may be freely downloaded and printed off in single complete copies solely for the purposes of private study and/or review. Commercial exploitation rights are reserved. The remote hyperlinks have been selected for the academic appropriacy of their contents; they were free of offensive and litigious content when selected, and will be periodically checked to have remained so. Copyright 2010, High Tower Consultants Limited.


First published online 08:00 GMT 12th February 2004, Copyright Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). This version [HT.1 - transfer of copyright] dated 18:00 14th January 2010

This material previously appeared in Smith (1998; Chapter 1). It is repeated here with minor amendments and supported with hyperlinks.


1 - Definitions of Creativity

Exercise 1 - Creativity vs Artistry vs Invention

1 In exactly one minute, list as many poets as you can think of.

2 In exactly one minute, list as many novelists as you can think of.

3 In exactly one minute, list as many composers as you can think of.

4 In exactly one minute, list as many artists as you can think of.

5 In exactly one minute, list as many inventors as you can think of.

6 In exactly one minute, list as many great thinkers as you can think of.

The phenomenon of the creative person has excited academic interest for well over two thousand years, albeit in the ancient world the creative act was generally explained away either (a) as the result of divine blessing, or (b) as one of the signs of madness. Books started to appear on the subject in the eighteenth century. The British philosopher Sharpe, for example, wrote "Dissertation on Genius" in 1755, John Stuart Mill published "On Genius" in 1832, and Sir Francis Galton's "Hereditary Genius" followed in 1869. This latter concluded that intellectual ability - and thus success and richness - was largely inherited, even to the extent that the rich should be encouraged to breed more freely than the poor. "I have no patience," Galton wrote, "with the hypothesis [that] babies are born pretty much alike". However, modern interest in the topic of creativity is best dated to the mid-twentieth century, to either (a) the gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer's "Productive Thinking", published in 1945, or (b) J.P. Guilford's 1950 Presidential Address to the American Psychological Association, which took creativity as its theme.

When defining creativity, we must carefully distinguish between inventiveness, problem solving ability, scientific creation, and aesthetic creation. Inventors show their creativity by developing novel products or processes, and yet these products and processes only catch on if - like the wheel - they help solve some practical problem or need. Problem solving in general, however, is a broader concept, because sometimes the solution is a plan of action rather than a product or process. All problem solving is creative, therefore, but only a small subset of it is inventive. Scientific creativity - discovery in mathematics, biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, etc. - is a very intense form of problem solving, whose solutions are characterised by being repeatedly demonstrable (hence the constant emphasis on scientific research being replicable). And aesthetic creativity - art, music, and literature - is different again, because its products have little practical value at all; they merely entertain and/or inspire. We must also carefully note that creation need not be epoch-making to be creative, merely new to the person involved. If a remote tribesman sat down one day and invented the Rubik cube he would have displayed as much creativity as the real Mr Rubik; the fact that he came second would just mean that he had no commercial rights to develop the idea. Similarly, Broudy (1951, cited in Kneller, 1965) puts the child who called his eraser rubbings "mistake dust" right up there with Sir Isaac Newton and his discovery of the laws of gravity. They were both, within themselves, creative acts.

With all this in mind, we adopt the following definitions .....

"To the extent that a person makes, invents, thinks of something that is new to him, he may be said to have performed a creative act." (Mead, 1959, cited in Kneller, 1965, p4.)

"Any definition of creativity, however, must include the essential element of novelty." (Kneller, 1965, p3.)

But if you want your creativity to earn you eternal fame you need that little extra something .....

"The highest kind of creativity is surely that, like Giotto's, which shatters the mould of custom and extends the possibilities of thought and perception." (Kneller, 1965, p4.)

2 - Explanations of Creativity

Kneller (1965) lists the following approaches to explaining creativity:

The Ancient View: As noted above, the ancient view of creativity was that it reflected either (a) a visitation of a higher power, or (b) madness. In other words, it was viewed either as a blessing or as a curse. And they could well have been right with the madness bit, because modern literary creatives seem to be particularly prone to mental disorders. Post (1994, cited in Hamilton and Laurance, 1996) studied 291 famous men and found that writers suffered twice as often with depressive illness and alcoholism than other categories of creative, although poets, curiously enough, seem to be somewhat "less batty" than novelists and playwrights.

The Associationist View: The associationist view - very popular in the nineteenth century - was that thinking was the associating of ideas derived from experience, and creativity was the manufacturing of new ideas from old by a process of trial and error combination. This view can still sometimes be found in the behaviourist approach to psychology.

The Freudian View: The Freudian view was that artistic creativity was "a sort of emotional purgative" (Kneller, 1965, p21) which served to provide inner conflicts with a safe means of expression, thereby preventing them from causing neuroses. Some even saw it as a continuation of childhood play. Similarly, the psychiatrist Anthony Storr has identified a variety of psychodynamic causes of creativity, including wish-fulfilment and defence (Storr, 1972). Such tendencies are often present in schizoid, manic depressive, and obsessional personalities. Creativity, for Storr, is "creating order where none existed" (p151), and is fuelled by the inner fulfilment such acts engender, which is determined, in turn, by the early psychosexual development of the person concerned.

The Koestlerian View: Arthur Koestler's (1964) book "The Act of Creation" also takes a largely Freudian stance, arguing (a) that creativity is the defeating of habits of mind, (b) that it is best achieved by an act of regression, and (c) that it constitutes when it happens an act of liberation of the individual concerned. Kneller states Koestler's position this way .....

"For creation to occur, the creative person must first be baffled and disturbed by a problem or situation that he cannot handle. [] So the creative person regresses to a less conscious, less differentiated region of his mind, where the solution to his problem may generate itself." (Kneller, 1965, p45.)

The Gestaltist View: The gestalt school apply their theory of the perceptual good gestalt to the creative thought process. The facts of a given problem are the incomplete form, and the solution is the closure of that form. Max Wertheimer typifies this approach. His view (Wertheimer, 1945/61) was that there exists "a gap or structural trouble" (p238) between every problem and its solution, and that this wants somehow to fill itself according to the principles of the Law of Pragnanz. Thus .....

"When one grasps a problem situation, its structural features and requirements set up certain strains, stresses, tensions in the thinker. What happens in real thinking is that these strains and stresses are followed up, yield vectors in the direction of improvement of the situation, and change it accordingly. [However,] the possibility of a short-cut closure is seductive [and] the impatient desire to find the solution focuses the eye too exclusively [when] a simple detour would lead [the thinker] to the goal." (Wertheimer, 1945/61, pp239-240.)

3 - Creativity and Intelligence

Exercise 2 - What Does "Being Clever" Actually Mean?

1 In exactly five minutes, list as many impossibilities as you can.

2 List as many things as you can which might go wrong while taking a bath.

3 Here is the plot of a short story. Study it, and suggest a suitable title:

Many years ago, a missionary was captured by cannibals. He was in the pot and about to be boiled when a princess of the tribe obtained a promise of his release if he would marry her. He refused, and was boiled to death.

4 Select a common item of household equipment (eg toaster, telephone, etc). Study it and suggest how it could be improved.

So are our creatives also bright? The short answer, it seems, is "Not necessarily". In one of the publications which helped popularise the scientific study of creativity, Getzels and Jackson (1962) investigated the relationship between creativity and intelligence. They tested 292 boys and 241 girls aged between 12 and 17 years attending a Chicago high school, rating them on their creativity and measuring their IQ. They found a 23 point difference in mean IQ between high IQ students (mean IQ 150) and high creativity students (mean IQ 127). Similarly, Torrance (1965, cited in Kneller, 1965) found that if gifted children were classified by IQ alone, it would exclude 70% of the most creative ones. And similarly again, Torrance (1967, cited in Radford and Burton, 1974) reviewed 178 separate studies into the relationship between creativity and intelligence, and found that the average correlation coefficient was a marginal +0.20.

The essence of such studies is that to all intents and purposes creativity and intelligence are what are known as orthogonal dimensions, that is to say, they can vary independently. This means that you can have low IQ, highly creative, persons as well as high IQ, uncreative, persons. This is confirmed by Wallach and Kogan (1965), who studied 151 mainly middle-class New England fifth-graders (ages 10 to 11), and drew up profiles for the resulting four extremes of type, the key points of which are shown in Figure 1 .....

Figure 1 - Wallach and Kogan's (1965) Ability Quadrants: Here, in "Johari window" format, are pen-pictures for the high-low intersects of creativity and intelligence considered as orthogonal dimensions. Note that only the high-high quadrant [bottom right] is truly well-adjusted.


Collated from Wallach and Kogan (1965; Chapters 7 and 8). This version Copyright 2004, Derek J. Smith.

4 - Convergence and Divergence

Exercise 3 - Divergent Production

1 In exactly one minute (each) write down as many uses as you can possibly think of for .....

an aspirin; a marble; a feather; a brick; a barrel

2 In exactly one minute write down as many uses as you can possibly think of for .....

a needle with its eye halfway along it instead of at one end

3 Imagine that you have been cast away on a large desert island. After several weeks you are tired of eating fish, and would like something more substantial. It happens that there are many antelope and wild pig on your island, but these are impossible to get close enough to spear. Choosing from the materials listed below, design yourself a suitable animal trap.

large multi-tool pocket knife, rope, string, wire, and anything else you might reasonably expect to find lying around on a desert island.

Our ability to explain creativity was taken one step further in the convergent - divergent variables proposed by Guilford in the 1950s (eg. Guilford, 1959). Guilford saw any particular mental capability as being the end-result of three orthogonal dimensions, namely what your brain does (its operations), what it contains at the time (its contents), and what it produces (its products). Coming up with new ideas is a form of mental doing, and therefore appears under the operations heading. The full list of abilities - with the chief creative element highlighted in bold - is as follows:

Operations: Five different operations are proposed, namely cognition, memory, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and evaluation.

Contents: Four different types of mental content are proposed, namely figural, symbolic, semantic, and behavioural.

Products: Six different products are proposed, namely (from simplest to most complex) units, classes, relations, systems, transformations, and implications.

Theoretically, this gives us 120 different "components of intelligence" in all, each one being a unique combination of an operation, a product, and a content (120 = 5 x 6 x 4). For example, [memorising a symbolic relation] would be one type of mental activity, [evaluating a behavioural system] would be another, and so on. This is shown diagrammatically in Figure 2. In practice, however, Guilford acknowledges that only "about 50" of these have so far been satisfactorily described.

Figure 2 - Guilford's (1959) Structure of the Intellect: Here is the "cube" of abilities described in the main text.


General Examples:

[Cognition of a Symbolic Unit]: This is the ability (cube A above) which allows us to fill in blanks in P_W_R to make POWER, or to rearrange RACIH to make CHAIR.

[Cognition of a Semantic Unit]: This is the ability (cube B above) which allows us to define a target word in our own words (thus showing that we know what it means).

[Cognition of a Semantic Class]: This is the ability (cube C above) which allows us to spot the odd man out in a series such as CLAM - TREE - OVEN - ROSE.

[Divergent Production of a Figural Transformation]: This is the ability (cube not visible above) which allows us to solve match rearranging puzzles.

[Divergent Production of a Semantic Transformation]: This is the ability (cube not visible above) which allows us to come up with creative suggestions for the Plot Titles test (see Exercise 2.3).

[Evaluation of a Semantic Implication]: This is the ability (cube not visible above) which allows us to suggest improvements in things.

Collated from Guilford (1959). This version Copyright 2004, Derek J. Smith.

So exactly what is divergent thinking, and how is it different to its neighbour convergent thinking? Here are Guilford's own definitions:

"Two kinds of productive thinking operations generate new information from known information and remembered information. In divergent thinking operations we think in different directions, sometimes searching, sometimes seeking variety. In convergent thinking the information leads to one right answer or to a recognised best or conventional answer." (Guilford, 1959, p220.)

"The unique feature of divergent production is that a variety of responses is produced." (p226.)

In Guilford's scheme, therefore, what we know as creativity ought to be the 24 mental faculties in the divergent "slice" through Figure 2, but, as usual, things are not that straightforward. Radford and Burton (1974) give four additional examples as being specifically important to creativity, and only the first of these is based upon divergent production! Thus .....

[Divergent Production of a Figural Transform]: This is the ability to "abandon conventional problem-solving methods that have become unworkable and to think of original solutions" (p84). They instance putting the eye of the needle at the pointed end - a break with convention which enabled the sewing machine to be invented.

[Cognition of a Semantic Transformation]: This is the ability to "see beyond the immediate and obvious" (p85). They instance the modifying of aircraft to have slower take-off and landing speeds as an alternative to lengthening airport runways.

[Cognition of a Semantic System]: This is the ability to spot the basic relationships of a problem, such as when recognising that sales (but not necessarily profits) may be increased by reducing prices.

[Convergent Production of a Symbolic Transformation]: This is the ability to recognise that the elements of a structure can be reorganised to have new functions, such as when rearranging an algebraic equation.

Exercise 4 - Convergent Production: State the specific Guilford abilities for the following .....

1 Knowing the chemical symbol for sodium?

2 Knowing who discovered America?

3 Being able to draw your house.

4 Being able to reverse your car safely into a parking space.

[NB: Note how most "question and answer" tests test only [convergent production of symbolic or semantic units], whereas most competence tests test only [convergent production of figural or behavioural units]. Now reread Section 3.]

Guilford himself points out that [convergent production of a semantic implication] is very close to the mental process usually described as deduction.

5 - Stages of Creativity

Exercise 5 - Maier's (1931) Two String Problem

1 There are two strings hanging from the ceiling which you have been told to tie together. The room also contains a pole, pliers, and an extension cord. Unfortunately, when you are holding the end of one string the other string is too far away for you to reach. How do you solve this problem?

The following four-stage view of the creative process is fairly well accepted, and dates from Wallas (1926) .....

Preparation: This is the first stage of creation, and involves consciously coming to grips with the task at hand. This means "doing your homework" as to what the task really involves, perhaps by working with the problem for a while, and perhaps by trying out previous failed solutions to find out why they failed. This helps put the problem into perspective, focussing the mind on the central difficulty. Thus "to realise what is structurally central and what is not, is, in most cases of thinking, of the highest importance" (Wertheimer, 1961, p269). This stage may take a considerable time, and should never be hurried. Indeed, the Greek scientist Archimedes actually warned his students not to ask too many questions about a problem all at once on the grounds that this was usually counter-productive.

Incubation: This is the second stage of creation, and involves unconsciously turning the problem over and over in your mind. It is therefore a period of apparent - but nonetheless vital - inactivity, a period when processes akin to Wulf's (1922) gradual transformations attempt to close the problem gap. (This stage, too, cannot be rushed.)

Illumination: This is the third stage of creation. It is very brief, and - like Archimedes jumping from his bathtub - typically involves the sudden appearance of a potential solution. This is the "1% inspiration" which most inventors claim has then to be supported by "99% perspiration".

Verification: This is the fourth stage of creation, and involves developing the potential solution into a fully functioning one. This stage, too, may take a considerable time, especially if the idea is related to a complex technological development. With major projects like the building of the atomic bomb or the race to the moon, the central objective reduces to thousands of constituent problems, each one of which follows the same four stages. That is why such projects tend to get measured in thousands of man-years of effort!

All in all, therefore, the theoretically most interesting stage is the one which includes the moment of illumination, and while it has to be admitted that nobody really knows what happens in the mind at such a moment, the conventional presumption is that a lot of pre-existing ideas suddenly magically rearrange themselves. The mind is somehow restructured so that a novel way around the problem suddenly presents itself. Many theorists call this the moment of "insight", and Maier's two string problem is one of many examples in the literature where insight seems to operate. It is also worth noting that not infrequently the moment of illumination can come in the middle of the night, or even in a dream.

As to the factors which can delay or inhibit an illumination, perhaps the most crippling is an inability to change one's prior definition of what things are for. For example, if we only ever view a paperclip as being something for clipping paper with, then the likelihood of our developing alternative uses for it is severely reduced. This sort of lack of flexibility of outlook is known as "functional fixedness", and is measured by the uses of an object test. The data on functional fixedness also corresponds well with what MacKinnon (1962) found in a study of "highly effective individuals" such as poets, novelists, mathematicians, and architects. He found that people in this category were above all open to experience. Unlike the rest of us, they heard when they listened, and they saw when they looked. According to Whitfield (1975), however, there are few other distinguishing factors. He reviewed the personality and mental processes of established technological innovators from Thomas Edison to Barnes Wallis and found that they actually had little in common.

6 - Creativity and Education

"[In the Land of Oz], pupils spend their days in athletic pursuits and do not study in the normal sense of the word. They 'learn' by taking School Pills ....." (Manguel and Guadalupi, 1980, p288.)

With all these factors in mind, we may now ask whether there is actually such a thing as a "creative" person. Are some people just born "impatient of convention" (Kneller, 1965, p7), or are we all capable of it, if properly trained? And if we have to be trained, how can this be done more cost-effectively and to ever higher levels of achievement? And should we bother anyway? Is it what the country really needs? Here is a selection of opinions .....

Guilford (1959): Guilford believed that every one of his 120 specific abilities called for "certain kinds of practice in order to achieve improvement in it" (p236). He also believed that this clearly had "numerous" implications for the teaching methods used. The central implications are (a) that learning needs to be redefined as the "discovery of information", and (b) that education needs to be redefined as "training the mind" to do the necessary discovering. Verdict = creativity can and should be trained for, but requires "drastic modifications" to educational theory and practice.

Getzels and Jackson (1962): Getzels and Jackson were particularly concerned that the present educational system promotes convergent thinking at the expense of divergent. Verdict = creativity can and should be promoted by appropriate education.

Wallach and Kogan (1965): Wallach and Kogan's fifth-graders showed marked personality and motivational patterns as a result of their school experiences. Verdict = there is some room to vary the learning experience to help individual cases, but the main influences are heavily pre-school. The group most likely to benefit from extra attention are the high-IQ / low creativity group (as described in the lower left quadrant of Figure 1).

Hudson (1966): Another classic study, Hudson's (1966) "Contrary Imaginations", compared the psychological and intellectual profiles of the arts and science streams in British secondary schools in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and found strong evidence (a) that arts specialists were on the whole divergers whilst physical scientists were convergers, and (b) that this preference was deeply grounded in their personality. Verdict = it is not going to easy to change the habits of a child's lifetime.

And so here is the problem as far as it affects the education system .....

This is not the Land of Oz. Psychologists do not really know what creativity is, and educators do not know how much of it they should be producing. It is not specifically catered for in the curriculum, and even if it was there is no guarantee that learning experiences could be devised to overcome what five years of pre-school experience might already have warped beyond remedy.

As a result, educators simply conduct as wide a range of activities as time, resources, and instructions from above permit, and "hope for the best". Wertheimer speaks rather dismally of what such an approach can lead to .....

" is sometimes touching to see the close concentration, the strong determination of the pupils to note every single step, the mumbling repetition of the teacher's words, the pride when they reproduce exactly what they have learned, solve problems precisely in the way they have been taught. Teaching and learning is just that for many. The teacher has taught the 'correct' procedure. [] But did you have the possibility of any other kind of learning, of really grasping?" (Wertheimer, 1945/61, pp25-26.)

But there is another way - teachers simply have to emulate the physicist Neils Bohr, who, according to Bronowski (1973), used to begin his lectures by instructing his students that every sentence he was about to utter was to be regarded not as an assertion but as a question! And students taught in this fashion simply have to ask questions incessantly (because learning is discovery), and - above all - be ready to take risks (because making mistakes is actually a good way of purging an incorrect or incomplete understanding of a problem). Indeed, the beneficial effect of raising student confidence may be seen in Harrington's (1975) finding that scores on the uses of an object divergent production test can be increased from a mean 13.5 to 16.1 simply by inserting phrases such as "Try to be creative" into the test instructions. This is equivalent to putting a candidate's IQ up by something like 12 points simply by saying "Please try hard at this test"!!

7 - Creativity, Employment, and Earning Power

So can education's "purchasers" - the industrial and commercial employers - actually be given what they want. Can the education system deliver the literacy and numeracy skills on the one hand, and the communication, interpersonal, problem solving, and teamworking skills on the other, given that it is an unanswered question whether - in a given person - it is possible to do both. And are the employers willing to make the necessary sacrifices? After all, organisations want creatives, but they are not sure how many, and they only want them if they are happy to work within the structures and disciplines of the organisation. And that, of course, means accepting things as they are and taking orders. Which is not particularly conducive to creativity!

Fortunately, not every recruit needs every skill in equal quantity. With creativity, for example, it is often argued that not everyone on a team actually needs it. Indeed there are highly successful team building consultancies who from the beginning go instead for group creativity, and need only one creative in the group to deliver it. Meredith Belbin, for example, has used this approach for 20 years (for example, Belbin, 1981), and sees an effective team as comprising a particular blend of personalities, one of which - whom he calls the Plant - is by nature individualistic and unorthodox, and is expected to grow into the team's "ideas person". This person just needs to be controlled by the by definition less adventurous others in the team should his/her ideas get a bit too far-fetched!

And as for earning power, there are of course major payoffs for getting it right. To start with it can immortalise your name in either your product or your company, as it did for Richard Gatling (1818-1903), Hiram Maxim (1840-1916), Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900), Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913), Isaac Singer (1811-1875), and Alfred Nobel (1833-1896). It can also make you very, very, rich, as we now show in Figure 3 ..... 

Figure 3 - Britain's Richest Creatives (1996): The Sunday Times "500" is a league table of Britain's 500 richest individuals. The majority of these are landowners, entrepreneurs, and the current incumbents of established family fortunes. However there are also about 30 self-made men and women, including top of the table Hans Rausing. These are people who began with little capital, and became rich by their creativity. Here, collated from The Sunday Times, 14th April 1996, are the "top ten" of that creative subset .....


Rausing, Hans

2880 million

food packaging


Bamford, Joseph and Anthony

800 million

JCB diggers


Webber, Sir Andrew Lloyd

550 million



McCartney, Paul

420 million



Hackett-Jones, Frank

162 million



Corrigan, Wilf

150 million



John, Elton

140 million



Schild, Rolf

140 million

medical equipment


Collins, Phil

115 million



Jagger, Mick

110 million


8 - Creativity and Metaphor

Exercise 6 - Metaphor

1 Devise metaphors for the following:

DNA; The Mind; The Neuron; Coverbal Gesture

2 Here are two lines from the Dr Hook song "I Can't Touch the Sun With You" (Shel Silverstein, 1972: CBS Records.). Explain the true meaning of the second line:

"I can't turn back time for you and make you sweet 16 again.

I can't turn your barren fields to green again."

3 Complete the following well known phrase:

Life is just a bowl of ......

4 What would the world look like if you rode on a beam of light?

[In fact, this one has already been done - check out your answer here.]

5 If you were an item of knowledge in a brain, what would you look like and where would you store yourself?

[This one, however, is still waiting to be done, and could earn you a lot of money if you are the one who cracks it.]

We have already seen that few factors reliably distinguish the creative thinker. All we really know about them is that they are "open" in some strange way to experience, and are good at overcoming functional fixedness. As to why this should be, we need to look for a moment at the phenomenon of metaphor. This is because problem solving starts with ideas which have already been encoded as engrams [Glossary], and it thus has to overcome all the habits of mind which go with those engrams. After all, our memories are - by their very nature - representations of the way things have been done in the past; poor allies, therefore, to support us when things need to be done differently! Every memory, in other words, is potentially as much a hindrance to problem solving as an asset. What is needed is a way of making our past experience flexible, of learning from it rather than merely reproducing it. We need a means of taking memories as far as possible out of context, and one very effective way of achieving this is to use them metaphorically, that is to say, to allow one set of memories to act as though it were another.

So what, then, is a metaphor? Here are the basic definitions .....

Mini-Glossary - Metaphor and Related Terms

Analogy: "An agreement or correspondence in certain respects between things otherwise different" (Chambers' Dictionary).

Aptness: The truth within a metaphor. That which it would otherwise be significantly more difficult to express. That which gets to the heart of an issue in an instant. To state that "life is a pilgrimage", for example, does not merely draw attention to all the trials and tribulations you are likely to encounter as you journey through it, but also to the possibility of spiritual fulfilment which might result at the end of it all. An apt metaphor says what needs to be said.

Ground: In literature, the area of similarity between the actual and the oblique referents within a metaphor. (Thus the progression of life and the progression of a pilgrimage, in the example given above.) In problem solving, the overlap between the past knowledge you want to make new use of, and that directly relating to the problem at hand.

Head Noun: [See firstly noun-noun combination.] The second noun in a metaphorical noun-noun combination; the one which is modified by the modifier.

Metaphor: "A figure of speech by which a thing is spoken of as being that which it only resembles" (Chambers' Dictionary). A linguistic device for connecting two otherwise unrelated concepts by virtue of some perceived similarity, and best described in terms of its aptness and its ground. The source of phrases such as "The moon's a balloon", "The world's your oyster", "Life is just a bowl of cherries", "I always get the sticky end of the lollypop", etc.

Modifier: [See firstly noun-noun combination.] The first noun in a metaphorical noun-noun combination; the one which changes the meaning of the head noun by property mapping at least one of its own attributes over onto the attributes of the head noun, thus totally changing its meaning.  

Noun-Noun Combination: Two nouns brought together metaphorically to create what is effectively a new noun. Hence "couch potato" [but not "seed potato" where the juxtaposition is literal rather than metaphorical]. Each combination consists of a modifier noun and a head noun in that order. 

Property Mapping: [See firstly noun-noun combination.] This is the process by which the modifier in a noun-noun metaphorical combination adds attributes to the semantic structure of its associated head noun to create an enlarged semantic structure with a meaning in its own right.

To the cognitive psychologist, therefore, the smaller the amount of ground you can get away with for a given amount of aptness, the better. Thus we have the physicist Ernest Rutherford likening the structure of the atom to that of the solar system (and displacing as he did so J.J. Thomson's earlier metaphor that it was a bit like a "raisin pudding"). Here there is virtually no ground, but a considerable amount of aptness. We also have Louis Pasteur describing souring wine as "a sea of organisms", and Robert Hooke naming cells cells because they reminded him of the cells in monasteries. In other words, metaphors allow and encourage the reconstruction of existing ideas, thus aiding the construction of new ones. As Schon (1963) puts it .....

metaphor is "the source par excellence of new ideas".

9 - Commercial Opportunities

The idea of reconstructing existing knowledge is also central to William Gordon's (1961) method of synectics (Greek synektikos = holding together). This is a formal problem solving training method which forces trainees to use analogy with the explicit objective of joining apparently irrelevant ideas together. This is achieved by drawing together a number of specialists from different fields and then structuring their interaction over a period of days to raise their overall understanding of the problem at hand. This structured interaction relies firstly on "making the strange familiar", and then on "making the familiar strange", and synectics courses do this by demanding four different types of analogy from their delegates:

Direct Analogy: This is when the trainee is required to state something which resembles the problem situation in some respect. This may therefore make available a new and possibly critical set of facts from an hitherto unrecognised area of experience.

Symbolic Analogy: This is when the trainee is required to find a key word or phrase which expresses the essence of the problem.

Fantasy Analogy: This is when the trainee is required to imagine the problem has been solved, even if known laws of nature have to be violated to do so.

Personal Analogy: This is when the trainee is required to feel him/herself in the problem; to become literally part of its structures (as a gear in a gearbox, say).

10 - The Down Side of Creativity

To ensure a properly balanced view of things, it is worth noting that in some of us the metaphoric imagination can sometimes start to overheat. This is well brought out by a recent study of famous literary figures carried out by Felix Post of the Maudsley Hospital. He argues that writing requires an inner turmoil and an intense emotional imagination. Much of the madness and near-madness of the literary greats, for example, seems to be due to "the vivid mental imagery needed for gaining new points of view" (Post, 1996). Similarly, Hudson (1966) argues that any obsessive search - be it for creativity, or anything else - stems ultimately from a fundamental sense of personal incompleteness. Creatives, in his opinion, have a not-always-healthy "yearning for the unobtainable" (p171), and can actually be made too happy for their own good. Thus:

"My own suspicion is that progressive schools [] withdraw from children the cutting edge that insecurity, competition and resentment supply. Here the progressive dream comes home to roost. If we adjust children to themselves and each other, we may remove from them the springs of their intellectual and artistic productivity. Happy children simply may not be prepared to make the effort which excellence demands." (Hudson, 1966:134; bold emphasis added.)

So much then for the view (already noted) that students must be made confident before they can excel. Now they have to be insecure and resentful as well. Or perhaps we would be wiser to take a softer view like that of Kenneth Robinson, of Warwick University, who suggests that we merely need a little discipline "married to" all the insight (Times Higher, 13th February 1998). One day, hopefully, we shall know for sure. 

11 - Conclusions

To summarise .....

It is easy to be creative (but much harder to make money out of it).

Nobody really knows what mental mechanisms underlie creativity (in general) or illumination (in particular), although one of the keys to raising student creativity is the simple expedient of telling them in words of one syllable that it is actually expected of them! Metaphoric thinking is also strongly implicated (albeit it is frequently only released by mental instability).

Education inherits many of its problems from society in general. (For example, it is not education's fault if a child turns up at school on its first day almost entirely predisposed to be a diverger or a converger, or an overachiever or an underachiever, etc.)

As a result, education can only develop a child's intellectual capability by managing the non-intellectual side of things as well. And while the former is hard enough, the latter is nigh on impossible, for the simple reason that education has no authority, and precious little influence, over the child's family environment.

Even when it gets it everything else right, education may not really be developing the sort of people it ought to be developing, due to a serious lack of concensus on what should be included on the curriculum.

Education also regularly gets blamed for what are in reality failings of its ultimate consumers, the employers, who may not, in short, really be getting the best out of the people they are given.

All in all, therefore, Hudson (1966, pp133-4) was probably not too far from the truth when in a particularly cutting moment he wrote: "much of what passes for education in this country and the United States is a waste of everyone's time, pupils and teachers alike". But let us end on a more positive note by mentioning that many organisations have of late been experimenting with "learning organisation", "continuing professional development", and "lifelong learning" schemes. Such schemes encourage employees to take an aggressive long-term view of their personal educational development, and to continue it throughout their adult lives. In this way they can start to make up for everything that formal education failed them in, and the trend is therefore to be warmly welcomed.


See the Master References List


[How to Draw Cognitive Diagrams]