The Nature of Creative Development

By Jonathan S. Feinstein, Stanford University Press (2006)

The Nature of Creative Development is about the creative development of individuals engaged in creative endeavors, across a wide range of fields, including the arts, business, science, technology, the social sciences and humanities, and public policy. The book presents a theoretical description of creative development, outlined below. The theory is illustrated with extensive case study material, drawn from two sources: interviews I have conducted with individuals in different fields engaged in creative work; and the study of biographical materials of individuals famous for their creative contributions, including Virginia Woolf, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse, Galileo, John Maynard Keynes, Piet Mondrian, Ray Kroc, John von Neumann, Rachel Carson, Pierre Omidyar of eBay, and others.

Creative development, described in the simplest terms, is a two-step process. First, we form a creative interest, and, specifically, a conception of our interest -- our conception of our interest defines what we find interesting and want to explore and try to develop creatively. As I describe them, our creative interests are defined by, and define, rich conceptual structures; our conceptions of our interests are at the centers of these rich, complex structures, linking disparate elements and experiences, and integrating them conceptually. Second, we explore our creative interests and strive to develop them creatively, pursuing projects, having ideas, making discoveries and contributions. Our interests, in particular our conceptions of our interests and the conceptual structures that define our interests, act like filters, channeling our attention and responses. In particular, through mediating our responses to experiences and elements we encounter our interests -- specifically the rich conceptual structures that define and encode our interests -- spark ideas and projects we pursue. Our conceptions of our interests also guide us along our paths of development, guiding our decision-making and our exploration of our interests.

In The Nature of Creative Development I describe (i) the nature of creative interests and conceptions of creative interests, (ii) the development of creative interests, and (iii) the ways in which our interests and conceptions guide us and spark ideas and projects, leading to our creative contributions. I also describe richer patterns of development, for example the evolution of creative interests and the linking together of seemingly disparate interests, generating creative ideas.

The Nature of Creative Development also presents a theory of cultural transmission and development. Individuals form creative interests out of, based on, and in response to experiences and elements they encounter in the world around them, including natural phenomena, works and ideas of others, especially other people working in their field, personal experiences, events, and activities they engage in, that catch their attention and spark their interest. Individuals thus are very open to their environments and influenced by the works and ideas, interests, and visions of others during periods when they are forming their creative interests. In contrast, when they are exploring their interests and striving to develop them creatively they are more internally focused, and less open, though they still may be influenced by specific cultural elements, for example a specific idea that helps them solve a problem. Cultural transmission and development is thus described as a two-equation system: (1) individuals form their creative interests out of, based on, and in response to the contributions and work of others; (2) they then pursue their interests and develop them creatively (perhaps again being influenced by cultural elements in specific ways), leading eventually, often through long, winding paths, with unexpected twists, turns, ideas, and discoveries, to their own contributions, which in turn become part of the cultural environment, influencing others, the next generation, in their formation of their creative interests. This idea of two distinct, interwoven processes, is different than customary views.

Ultimately, The Nature of Creative Development is about individualism. I was led to study creativity as a realm in which we clearly recognize that each individual is unique, and makes his own unique, distinctive contributions. In the book this kind of uniqueness of individuality is seen most clearly in the notion of the rich conceptual worlds of individuals -- eg, the rich conceptual structures that define and generate their creative interests, which are distinctive to them, and in the descriptions of the unique paths individuals follow developing their creative interests creatively. The next step for me is to study individuals as unique distinctive entities acting within and influencing historical systems.

Download the first chapter and the table of contents of The Nature of Creative Development.

Stanford University Press owns the copyright to The Nature of Creative Development.