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The Psychology of Discovery and Invention

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
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  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity (1996) is an exploration of how creative people produce groundbreaking ideas. It unpacks the commonalities between creatives and their backgrounds, and explains exactly what it is that makes a creative person able to give birth to unique concepts.

Key idea 1 of 11

Creativity happens within a system, which is made up of a domain, a field and a person.

We call the process by which a person comes up with a new or innovative idea creativity. Yet what exactly is the source of creativity?

Some people believe that creativity springs somewhat magically from within each person, but it’s certainly more complicated than this. We derive creativity largely from our surroundings.

Think about it. If creativity appears simply out of the blue, why exactly was the Italian city of Florence such a hotbed of creativity around 1400?

It wasn’t just a coincidence that between 1400 and 1425, Florence was the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance. The city was flourishing financially; patrons of the arts encouraged artisans to explore and create ever greater works of art.

Some of Western civilization’s great art works were created at this time, such as Lorenzo Ghiberti’s bronze doors of the Florence Baptistry and the massive dome of the Florence Cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.

The Renaissance era illustrates the true nature of creativity, in that creativity essentially occurs within a system comprised of a domain, a field and a person.

The domain is a broad category in which creativity occurs, such as in mathematics or music.

Within the domain is the field, which includes individuals who are experts in the particular domain. These individuals serve as the domain’s gatekeepers, determining which new ideas should or should not be included in the domain.

In the domain of visual arts, for example, the field consists of art teachers, museum curators and government-run cultural agencies.

The individual person is the last component of the system. Thus creativity occurs when an individual uses a domain’s methods (like a mathematical formula or a minor key) to produce something new (like a new hypothesis or piece of music), and the new product is accepted by the field’s gatekeepers.

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