Two Plus Three Is Purple (Part 1)

By Andrea Kret, 13 May, 2022
Boy painting fantasy clouds in the air
© sutadimages –

Why creativity is enormously important for our society, how to promote it in children and how to rediscover it in oneself. A read for parents, teachers, creative people - and even more so for the supposedly uncreative.

The good news in advance: there are no non-creative people. Everyone has creative potential within themselves. You can't lose your creativity either.

There are so many traditional ideas that are simply wrong: that you have to be a genius to be truly creative, that creativity is innate, that some are kissed by the muse but others are not - and that the moment when this happens is unpredictable. Fortunately, none of this is true. Rather, it is the case that creativity can be specifically practised; some even compare it to a muscle that is exercised. This is because our brain is plastic and continues to change whenever we learn something new and practise it. It can therefore also change towards more creativity.

If parents think and act creatively, they encourage their children to be creative themselves. That is why we look at the whole complex around creativity from all its sides and give numerous tips on how to develop not only your children's creativity, but also your own.

What is creativity?

But what exactly is creativity? That, in turn, is not so easy to determine; there are countless definitions. On the one hand, an idea must be original to be considered creative, but it must also be useful. We will get to why this is so later.

The creative process is always about going beyond a common, predefined pattern. This is often a problem, especially for us adults, because we are used to doing things a certain way, because we think in patterns that have proven themselves over years or even decades. With new ways of thinking, we leave well-trodden paths and take a risk. Many of us want to avoid this uncertainty.


Brain structure
© Matthieu –

In the adventure of creativity, the knowledge we already have is linked in a new way. Old ideas are combined in a new way. In an unconscious process, we combine things from distant fields so that something new emerges. Some combinations make more sense and are more promising than others. Since these processes take place during free association, it is not possible to plan or control them and to proceed according to a predetermined pattern. At the beginning of this process is not knowing: We do not know how something could work, we think about it. In doing so, we do not act in a vacuum, but always build on what has gone before. That is why it is important to have accumulated as much (different) knowledge as possible - and to transfer and apply it to different situations. We look back and look forward at the same time.

Creativity is also the ability to adapt to a changing world, to find solutions to emerging problems and conflicts and to cope with stressful situations.

Everyday creativity

When we think of creativity, most of us think of outstanding artists whose works have endured to this day, or entrepreneurs who impress with their deeds: be it Beethoven, van Gogh or Steve Jobs. But not only these famous works represent a creative achievement. A family man who cooks a dish with ingredients other than those specified in the recipe can also be creative. Or uses a different cooking method. And also a mother who misappropriates a cupboard handle and uses it to hang her cooking spoon on. Even a baby can come up with creative ideas: when it brings the rattle, which is far away, towards it with a longer object.

Smartphone mount
© uwimages –

These everyday creative achievements fall under the term mini-c creativity (as opposed to big-c creativity). They arise from the interaction of intelligence and imagination. It is precisely this kind of creativity that plays an important role in schools and daycare centres.

The American educationalist and creativity researcher Mel Rhodes was the first to systematise the various definitions of creativity in the 1950s and 1960s and to recognise four universally valid components: Person, Product, Process and Press. First there is the creative person, who is curious, observes and questions things. Then there is the product of the creative process, which is sometimes only recognised as valuable by society after the fact: Many artists lived in modest circumstances; their works only achieved fame after their death - Vincent van Gogh comes to mind here, for example. For Rhodes, creative ideas or theories have a much higher value than individual creative products, because many other new and valuable products can be developed from ideas. Thus, ideas as a whole are much more useful. By "press" Rhodes means a person's surroundings/environment, which leaves an imprint on him, influences him and also makes new solutions necessary.

When is something creative?

It is not easy to decide when exactly something is creative. The question sometimes goes into the philosophical realm. A product or an action is not simply creative in itself, but only becomes so when others consider it creative. Creative is therefore that which has previously been defined as creative. In this area, there are more frequent discrepancies between self-perception and external perception.

There is no specific place in the brain where creativity arises, rather different areas are involved, and at the same time: some are responsible for language, others for spatial thinking or visual memories, for knowledge in a particular field, etc. In the creative process, the left and right hemispheres of the brain work together. This is why left-handers are often more creative, because they are basically ambidextrous (unless they have been re-educated) and have similarly developed cerebral hemispheres - in which case the brain is most powerful.

Like the body, like the mind

Wojciech Eichelberger, psychologist and psychotherapist, sees the creative process holistically: "Not only the mind and intellect play a role, but also our emotions and the body. The more new movements we perform and store, the more powerful our brain becomes when it comes to processing intellectual questions as well. Our creative abilities depend on how many movement processors we have in our brain. That's why there are more and more tendencies these days to associate thinking with movement, whether at the workplace during active meetings while walking or in larger nationwide movement projects (see also the articles "Couch Potatoes – Why a Lack of Exercise Is Even Worse for Children than for Adults" and "1 + 1 + 3 = QUADRO"). But it already starts in small ways: Even gesticulation supports our thinking process.

Similar to sporting activity, for example when jogging for a long time, we also get into flow during the creative process when we engage with something for a longer period of time.

Woman on bicycle
© gorilla –

Even today, four phases are distinguished in creative problem solving, which the British social psychologist and educationalist Graham Wallas already formulated in the 1920s:

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Illumination/enlightment
  4. Verification/elaboration

In the first phase, one deals with the problem by gathering information about it or by mentally attuning oneself to it. The second phase is a departure from this: one deals with other things, relaxes, while the brain continues to work and unconsciously links information. This is the most important step in the creative process. At some point, as if out of the blue, comes the flash of inspiration, the moment when one shouts "I've got it!": the illumination. Afterwards, the idea inventor checks whether his solution is viable, works it out further and implements it.

Divergent vs. convergent thinking

A keyword that comes up again and again in connection with creativity is "divergent thinking". It is usually the focus when creativity is examined. In fact, this aspect is very important, but not the only decisive one. In divergent thinking, already existing knowledge is restructured and linked, and the traditional is questioned. This is a sensible step to produce not only new ideas, but also ones that are really better.

Auto beim Querparken
© artusius –

Convergent thinking is contrasted with divergent thinking and is often left out of the discussion of creativity, but the two go hand in hand, as we will see later: Convergent thinking belongs to phase four of the above-mentioned creative process (while divergent thinking is rather located in phase two). In convergent thinking, i.e. logical-analytical thinking, ideas are tested for their logic and usefulness: Each of them must stand up in practice.

You can't do it without knowledge

According to Manfred Spitzer, the German neuroscientist and psychiatrist, creativity does not mean smearing walls with finger paints. You have to know something, otherwise you can't think of anything, he says. That means creativity is not merely generating ideas. The fact that you absolutely have to have prior knowledge also applies to the first step of the creative process, the gathering of information. If we don't know anything, we can't Google anything, Spitzer continues.

And we also need to have accumulated knowledge for the further process in order to link it in new ways. Therefore, we should accumulate knowledge in the course of our lives, but also constantly practise what we have learned in order to bring about something truly creative. The ten-year rule has become established: it has been found that researchers, artists and other creative people spent an average of ten years working on a topic until they achieved a breakthrough.

Whereas knowledge can actually also have a negative influence on creative performance: If you know too much, you are tempted to follow paths that have already been taken when finding a solution, because the existing knowledge leads you in a certain direction of thinking.

From reader of novels to writer

Knowledge and intelligence are one of the prerequisites for creativity to emerge, but they are not enough. Just as it is not enough to read novels avidly or look at works of art in order to automatically write a good book or paint a high-quality picture. However, looking at other works of art can provide the impetus to try one's hand at it.

Teenager taking notes
© who is danny –

Another question that arises in connection with creativity: Will someone who has a talent for painting/writing also be creative in other areas? Does he have a universal form of creativity that extends to different areas? This may indeed be the case in individual cases, but for the most part it is the case that one is only creative in one area and should also specifically promote this area.

Together we are strong?

What about creativity? Does it tend to emerge when we think about something together with others or are the best ideas hatched in the privacy of our own rooms? Well, that is also disputed. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Leonardo da Vinci or Galileo Galilei did not work in a team - and still achieved great things. According to Tanja Gabriele Baudson, psychologist and creativity researcher, creative solitude is an important prerequisite for being creative. Bas Kast, German-Dutch science journalist and author, points to studies on how smart people fail in teams. Julia Sophie Haager, assistant professor working in the field of creativity research, also believes that creativity cannot necessarily be increased in a group. Rather, everyone should brainstorm for themselves, only then can a fruitful discussion take place in the group. In this way, demonstrably better results are achieved.

On the other hand, as already described, new ideas build on existing ones. In concrete terms, this means that they build on the ideas of others. In his book "Steal like an Artist", Austin Kleon even goes so far as to say that nothing is truly original, but always a mix of what has gone before. Therefore, it can be useful to sit down with people from different fields to think about a problem. Everyone contributes different impulses with their view and approach that can contribute to the solution of the problem. It is often the case that in such a group session it is mainly the assertive participants who take the floor. Those who are not quite so confident (but still have good ideas) may not even get a chance to speak. That's why it's important to promote exchange in a team meeting; this also promotes creative potential.

When is a group at its most successful?

Bas Kast refers to a study that found that empathic people make a group smart. They recognise who is about to say something clever. Mostly it is women who fill this role well.

In his TEDx Talk, Cyril de Sousa Cardoso, entrepreneur and author, talks about his observation that people tend to hide and guard their ideas from others so that they don't use them. But that is precisely what creativity thrives on: numerous people who have ideas and cross-fertilise them. He regrets that ideas have to come from certain people, often those who have worked for it or who were born into a certain position. Yet his father, a bricklayer by trade, also had a number of useful ideas, as I'm sure many other people do who belong to the "mainstream". Often the best ideas come from people at the grassroots level - whether in companies or elsewhere - because they are closer to the problem. It's just that they often don't think they are creative because they are not used to dealing with creativity. And they keep their ideas to themselves.

Worker on assembly line
© industrieblick –

In general, it is not so easy with creativity in companies: basically, creative employees are wanted in all areas, because machines will gradually take over all non-creative activities. However, creative people don't have it easy in companies: most CVs start at the lowest hierarchical level, where creativity is rather out of place. There, as a worker or employee, you do what is required of you. At the same time, creative people are very headstrong and not very obedient. An artist or creative person is already by definition someone who is outside the system - people who create within a system cannot be creative at all. It's a difficult situation, because you're giving employees instructions that they can't follow because of their personality. At the top, where decision-makers sit, much more creativity is required, but many creative people are screened out at the lowest level and do not rise to the top.

Business and creativity are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary. Company founders are also creative in any case, because they dare to do something new with their project.

The creative personality

What distinguishes a creative personality? In addition to the expertise they should have in a particular field, they have a strong intrinsic motivation and thus greater ambitions than an "average person" - and additionally the ability to think divergently. Creative persons rarely think conventionally. They often pursue ideas little considered by society, which requires a strong will and self-confidence, because on this path one tends to be on the margins of society rather than in the middle of it. Artists are often marginalised. When they break new ground, they take a risk and often find it difficult to make a living from their creativity, despite their outstanding skills.

Creatives are open in their way of seeing the world and very interested in new ideas. Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, even goes so far as to see creativity and openness as possible synonyms. In his dealings with artists, he has hardly encountered any who were not interested in ideas. Creative people often consider several ideas or possible solutions in parallel. According to Peterson, it is difficult to be creative if you are diligent, neat and organised. Manfred Spitzer also confirms this: you cannot be accurate and creative at the same time, says the scientist.

Girl having a dip
© nazarovsergey –

The creative personality is full of contradictions: sometimes she is full of energy, sometimes she works with high concentration; sometimes she is disciplined, then again playful; proud of her work results, but at the same time humble; independent and at the same time entrenched in traditions; intelligent and then again full of childlike naivety and a thirst for discovery. She is extra- and introverted at the same time, sometimes emphasising her feminine, then again her masculine side. Sometimes she tries things out aimlessly and playfully, sometimes she is completely a workhorse. Often she is full of passion and emotion for a project, then again she takes an objective position. In the creative process she feels joy, but can also be unhappy or depressed from time to time. - All these character traits and states of mind can be found in creative people, even if not all at the same time. They are all meaningful and have their right to exist.

Van Gogh and his ear

Genius and madness lie close together, as the saying goes. Not only with van Gogh, but also with rock stars this often seems to be true: One thinks of drug and alcohol excesses, demolished hotel rooms, smashed guitars, clearly younger lovers. Do you really have to be completely out of character or even crazy to achieve outstanding creative achievements? Or do creative people simply suffer more often from mental illness? There are no clear studies so far that would confirm this. Certainly, people with a mental disorder have a different way of looking at things. According to Julia Sophie Haager, however, creativity functions more as an outlet for madness. The two authors Melina Marseille and Tanja Gabriele Baudson also describe that through painting and writing one can express things that lie in the unconscious. Both contribute to overcoming trauma. Through this kind of processing, the affected people can even grow from their mental problems. That is why it is important to integrate creative exercises into the lessons. Especially young people who are going through a central phase of finding their identity are helped if they can process the emotions involved in a creative way.

Rock star smashes guitar
© moodboard –

Ingenious madness

Especially with regard to craziness, the creativity aspect mentioned at the beginning, usefulness, is of particular importance, according to Julia Sophie Haager. If this criterion is disregarded, it becomes difficult to distinguish creative expressions from eccentric or schizophrenic ones.

But why is there so much fuss about creativity these days? Even the PISA study has been testing creative abilities for the first time since 2012. "Creativity is expected of everyone these days, and coming out as uncreative would be about the same as admitting to putting cheap salami from the discount store on your bread," writes Tanja Gabriele Baudson. Why is creativity so important, why is there such pressure to be creative?

Learning to learn

The answer takes us far back, to the time of industrialisation, when factories dominated the cityscape - and there were workers whose central task was to function. They did exactly what they were told. Creativity and self-realisation were out of place. These times still shape us today and have left clear traces, especially in the school system: There, it is still about children acquiring certain knowledge in a predetermined way within a predefined period of time in order to survive in the world of work (see the article “Learning Has to Become Awesome” – Of Finger Games and Laptops). As we saw at the beginning of the article, knowledge in a specialised field is important to be creative. But apart from that, it is not necessary to absorb information indiscriminately, because knowledge is already in our pocket - as Ugo Cavenaghi, school director in Québec, puts it. He is referring to the ubiquitous smartphones.

Since the production sites are mostly in Asia these days, there are hardly any factory workers left to function. Therefore, creativity is one of the most important resources in this country, and with it all innovations in the technical and social fields. Innovations are particularly important in today's world, not only to make progress economically, but also as a society. In today's companies, the focus is not so much on capital, but rather on the quality of ideas. Industrial production power is no longer central; creativity and innovation take on at least as much importance - especially since Germany will soon develop into a society in which there are more old than young people. This community is less efficient, costs a lot and produces little. In the resource-poor countries of Europe, ideas are an important resource for precisely this reason. Even the OECD has counted creativity as one of the core elements of our knowledge society since 2000.

Even though many patterns from the industrialisation era are still present in our education system, a change is slowly taking place that is increasingly gaining momentum: We are talking about the digital revolution, in which robots will take over many standardised jobs. What remains are jobs that focus on problem-solving skills, a key competence of our time. To solve problems, you need creativity, because you don't get very far in conventional ways. That is why it is also at the forefront of many employers' minds: they want employees who work independently and are full of ideas to solve issues in creative ways.

Girls on school trip
© halfpoint –

For this reason, children should be taught to learn for themselves as early as possible. It is important to teach them how to acquire things independently. What awaits them in their later lives are jobs that we don't even know about today: Who would have thought twenty years ago that nowadays people would earn money with podcasts? Or that the job description of a social media manager could exist? Paul Collard, CEO of the British foundation "Creativity, Culture and Education", predicts that we still have no idea of 60 percent of the job profiles that will exist in the future. Moreover, he assumes - and this trend has already been prevalent for some time - that no one will stay in one company for their whole life or do the same job for decades. Therefore, the labour market will no longer demand job seekers, but job creators.

Creativity should not be used exclusively as a preparation for working life. It is still a means of self-realisation. Claus Martin, a director and composer who works with children and young people, sees art as a means of getting in touch with oneself. He understands the term art to mean not only the visual arts, but also the performing arts, music and literature. Children and young people in particular, who gain access to their very own emotions and associations through the arts, recognise their own value and develop a value system in an informal way. When dealing with art, the whole person is educated, because only when emotion and rationality come together are we able to recognise the value (or worthlessness) of an art object. By fostering creativity, we therefore promote the creative parts of each personality.

Are children creative geniuses? Read on in part two.


All sources can be found at the end of Part 4.


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