Creativity… inside the box.

In recent years, I feel as though I’ve gained a lot of ground in the area of self-awareness. I’m sure this is fairly common for mid-twenty somethings, feeling as though you’re starting to figure out your strength and weaknesses, especially when it comes to considering your future professional life. When I was a kid, I was always told that I was very creative. I was artistic – I like to draw and paint, and these artistic talents were somehow always labeled as “creative.” As time went on, however, I started to have difficulty seeing myself as creative. I loved other artists’ work – especially modern, abstract art. The problem was that I never felt drawn to create that type of art. I loved painting still-life scenes of flowers in glass vases, fruit, and landscapes. New ideas came easy to me, and the felt creative, but they were never completely outrageous. The outcomes of my efforts were often boring to me, but the process of drawing definite shapes and focusing on tiny details was incredibly satisfying.

According to the ever-trusty Wikipedia, Michael Kirton’s theory of Adaption-Innovation “claims that an individual’s preferred approach to problem solving, can be placed on a continuum ranging from high adaptation to high innovation… Kirton suggests that while adaptors prefer to do well within a given paradigm, innovators would rather do differently, thereby striving to transcend existing paradigms.” Given this proposed continuum, it would seem that the way one approaches problem solving is likely intricately intertwined with one’s creativity. That innovators are naturally more creative than adaptors. But thankfully, as Isakensen and Dorval point out in their 1993 publication, “Toward an improved understanding of creativity within people: The level-style distinction,” both innovators and adaptors can have either high or low levels of creativity.

ImageTheir diagram (shown here) put a great deal into perspective as to where I fall in the grand scheme of things. At no point did I somehow lose my creativity. Instead, I now understand that I’ve always been an adaptor, and that this style (combined with fairly high creativity) allows me to demonstrate qualities like being resourceful, efficient, and consistent. I find creative solutions within the confines of my surroundings, and while the outcomes aren’t always mind-blowing, they are often things that work and create more efficient systems.

As Architect Frank Gehry points out in this article about creativity being spurred on my constraints, sometimes new ideas are most challenging when you have to keep them “in the box.” While we need both innovators and adaptors, I like to think that we creative adaptors bring something special to the table, albeit perhaps being overshadowed by the more “spontaneous” and “unconventional” types. In many way, creativity within the confines of our existing structure could be seen as increasingly beneficial talent in a world where businesses and other organizations are consistently challenged to work with fewer resources.


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