The editors’ stated goal of The International Handbook of Creativity was to present a genuinely international and diverse set of perspectives and insights into the psychology of human creativity. As such, they assembled a renowned cast of scholars from around the globe and had them prepare chapters that cover both historical and contemporary glimpses into creativity research and theory. The resulting volume not only gives readers access to North American and English-speaking flavors of creativity history and research, but crisscrosses the globe to share Western European (i.e., French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swiss), Eastern European (Russian, Polish) Northern European (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish), Latin American, Israeli, Turkish, Chinese, Korean, Indian, and African perspectives as well.
As the title implies, this really is a handbook and it deserves to be reviewed as one. I will begin by briefly comparing The International Handbook to Sternberg’s Handbook of Creativity (1999), also published by Cambridge University Press. In this earlier work, Sternberg assembled distinguished scholars to present a comprehensive and authoritative review of creativity research and theory. Moreover, the chapters in this book were aimed at addressing a broad audience and giving readers a thorough overview of the field of creativity, albeit from a largely US-centric perspective. For example, the first part of the book provided an important historical overview of creativity research and helped situate the contributions that followed in subsequent chapters. Then readers were introduced to a diverse set of methods used for studying creativity, some thoughts about the origins of creativity, some theoretical frameworks for framing and organizing research findings, followed by some special topics, including a thoughtful chapter by Todd Lubart on creativity across cultures. Overall, the book was and remains a tour de force, presenting a rigorous and deep source of information and perspectives that address creativity across both the arts and sciences.
Given its nature and intent, the current volume lacks the organizational structure and thematic coherence that contributed to its predecessor’s accessibility and success. Rather, it comprises 15 thematically different chapters from the assembled scholars, with an introduction by Sternberg and a summary by another highly eminent creativity scholar, Dean Keith Simonton. Both Sternberg’s and Simonton’s contributions provide strong hints about the book’s many strengths, but also some of its limitations.
Sternberg showcases several interesting insights on creativity from around the world, reflecting on unique contributions, as well as noting where work has built upon or extended research and theory from English-speaking countries. For example, he points out a general tendency among Scandinavians to pay more attention to potential and less to productivity than Americans; mentions changing Chinese attitudes and behaviors resulting in an increased value on attempts to make society and people more creative; comments on the tendency in German-speaking countries to focus on creative processes triggered by attempts to confront problems; and notes earlier Soviet and more recent Russian investigations of environmental conditions that could initiate creative thinking. These are just highlights of the book’s rich contents.
When Sternberg looks for commonalities across the contributions, he characterizes them at a high level, e.g., suggesting that creativity involves the generation of novel ideas or products, with both domain-specific and domain-general elements, with some degree of measurability and opportunity for development, and with a sense that creativity is less highly rewarded in practice than in theory. I think this reflects the fact that although all the contributions provide interesting reading, it is quite challenging to readily apprehend common patterns among them. Similarly, Simonton’s attempt to examine core themes also resulted in just a few high-level observations.
Specifically, Simonton divides the chapters based on whether they fall into the "applied" versus "basic" category, noting that the majority of contributions are best described as applied research, i.e., either aimed at solving practical problems or addressing potential practical applications. The majority of these applied contributions focus on educational applications. Simonton further notes that the basic research can be described by work done in cognitive, developmental, differential, and social psychology. He argues that another high-level category, theories of creativity, has played a small role in empirical investigations, given the dominance of applied research. Where theory has been investigated, it has tended to be along psychoanalytic, Gestalt, combinatorial, Piagetian, and Marxist lines. And finally, Simonton notes that the research described in this handbook has adopted a broad range of techniques for studying creativity, with psychometric approaches dominating, e.g., in attempts to test for creativity. To summarize, I believe that both Sternberg’s and Simonton’s chapters reveal much of the rich, diverse nature of the contributions, but also signal how difficult it is to fairly and systematically organize and comment on such diversity.
Here is a quick sampling of findings and observations to consider from this volume to entice readers to take a closer look at the book.
- Many parts of the world lack the necessary infrastructure for investigating creativity scientifically, ranging from lack of facilities to unavailability of scientific publications. However, these same cultures routinely produce marvelous expressions of creativity.
- Ideas from the Russian inventor Altshuller have been widely popularized in Poland. For example, his small-people technique helps inventors model a problem in terms of intelligent and self-sufficient dwarfs, while his technique of principal antinomy encourages inventors to look for paradoxes and contradictions in task descriptions. (See also Altshuller’s And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared (1994) for many other techniques, as well as various writings on TRIZ, e.g., www.aitriz.org and www.triz.org).
- The majority of studies from English-speaking countries have not uncovered significant gender differences in creativity, irrespective of culture and background.
- Brainwalking was a technique developed in Germany to merge the advantages of brainstorming and brainwriting. The technique helps participants change perspectives and overcome cognitive inhibitions and fixations by having them walk to different parts of a room to generate issues on large posters.
- Research has shown that relaxation techniques coupled with increased use of mental imagery has resulted in increased performance in mental-synthesis tasks.
- Metacognitive strategies can help children become more-creative problem solvers, e.g., by helping them learn to ask themselves questions, such as "What type of situation is this?" "Which (creative) strategy could I adopt?" and "Which is the most relevant strategy to be used?"
In closing, for someone with a background in current creativity research and theory, I recommend this book. It provides a fascinating look at many different approaches to creativity across the world. For someone without such a background, the book could still be of interest, but might be less accessible. Before tackling it, I would first recommend reading a review chapter on creativity or sampling from one of the other excellent books on creativity, e.g., Runco’s (2004) review "Creativity" in the Annual Review of Psychology, volume 55, pp. 657-687, or chapters from Sternberg’s Handbook of Creativity (1999).
Finally, for practitioners more interested in applied-creativity tools than summaries of recent academic research, I would highly recommend the following: Michalko’s Thinker Toys: A Handbook of Business Creativity (1991) and Cracking Creativity: The Secret of Creative Genius (2001), Van Gundy’s Techniques of Structured Problem Solving and Idea Power: Techniques & Resources to Unleash the Creativity in Your Organization (1988), Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (2003), and Goldenberg and Mazursky’s Creativity in Product Innovation (2002).
About the Reviewer
Mark Detweiler is currently director of design and research methodology at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, California. He and his user-experience team are responsible for defining and supporting SAP’s user-centered design process worldwide. Prior to working for SAP, Mark spent 25 years contributing to and managing many areas of HCI research and development at companies including Adobe, Ariba, Interval Research, Oracle, Bellcore, and Honeywell. Mark has an MS in human factors from the Stevens Institute of Technology and a PhD in cognitive psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.
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