• Katie Trowbridge

Four Ways of Understanding Creativity

Updated: Jan 4


Over the past few blogs, we discussed the definition of creativity and the benefits of being creative. Together, we discovered that everyone is creative. But, the lingering question remains - how do we instill creativity in our everyday lives?


Reflect on this for a moment - What is your daily routine or process? When your alarm goes off do you head to the bathroom and brush your teeth? Head to the kitchen for that coveted cup of coffee? Do you read the newspaper? Jump in the shower? Get the kids up and ready for school? Walk the dog? Or just head to work? What do you need in order to accomplish a task at work or at home? Are these tasks centered around a specific goal in your life?



Most of us have some kind of routine or process we use to get through the day - although it may vary depending on if it is a workday or a day off or whether you are at home, work, or playing, We might not even be completely aware of the routine if we have been following it a long time, or if we sort of “fell into it”. But check out Micheal Phelps’, 28-time Olympic medalist in swimming, strict routine:

  • 6 AM ~ Wake Up

  • 7 AM-9 AM ~ Swim

  • 9 AM-10 AM ~ Weightlift

  • 10 AM-12 PM ~ Eat

  • 12 PM-1 PM ~ Nap

  • 4-6 PM ~ Swim

  • 6 PM-8 PM ~ Dinner

  • 8 PM-10 PM ~ Spend time with family

  • 10 PM ~ Bedtime

Having a routine may seem boring and uncreative, but remember our definition - creativity is the process of bringing something new into being. As one of the most successful and decorated Olympians of all time, Micheal Phelps definitely brought something new into being. And he has a deliberate routine - a process - specifically designed to help him reach a very difficult goal. He makes sure that every ingredient for building a champion is addressed in his recipe for success.

We don’t have to be Olympians to benefit from tapping into a process to produce something new and valuable. But are there other things that affect our ability to create?

Let’s dive into the details!

Mel Rhodes, in 1961, first described how complex creativity is by looking at it from four angles: person, process, product, and environment.



  • Creative person - What are the qualities of a creative person? What traits are associated with creativity? Gary Davis analyzed studies going back to 1961 and found 16 categories used to describe a creative person, including Original, Independent, High Energy, Curious, Sense of humor, open-mindedness, Perceptive, and Thorough. Of course, no one creative person has every trait. Also, people need to have a great amount of training and experience in their field to make a significant creative contribution. Simone Biles, another highly successful Olympian and world champion in women’s gymnastics, was already a master of existing techniques when she introduced a unique element to her sport that featured a double layout ending with a surprising and difficult half-twist. Now known as the “Biles”, it is officially listed in the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Code of Points--along with three other innovative moves!



  • Creative process - What are the steps we take when we want to achieve a difficult goal? What stages do we go through when we are thinking creatively? What do we do when we run into an obstacle? One of the hallmarks of a creative process is that it supports the generation of many ideas. This is important because often the first ideas we come up with are things other people have already thought of. Truly unique ideas are rare! By taking the time to come up with many, many ideas we increase the opportunity for original ideas to arise. Also, by staying open to novelty we can learn to find the value in things that are unfamiliar, rather than rejecting them right away. Consider David Armbruster, the coach who introduced his swimmers to the dolphin kick in the 1930s at a time when the frog kick was the standard. It was new and strange, but effective. In fact, mastery of this innovative technique helped Michael Phelps win medals.