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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: February 2016

9 - Processes, Strategies, and Knowledge in Creative Thought: Multiple Interacting Systems



To a naïve person, creativity looks to be a lot of fun. You get to make up something new – something that might, in fact, change the world. However, the evidence we have gathered in recent years suggests that for those actually doing creative work, although it may be fun, it is also challenging. Most creative efforts fail (Huber, 1998). Creative people look to the past and, potentially, past failures (Antes & Mumford, 2009). Criticism, including self-criticism, appears critical to the success of creative efforts (Cropley, 2006; Gibson & Mumford, 2013). Creative people must worry about constraints on their solutions (Medeiros, Partlow, & Mumford, 2015) and the acceptance of their ideas by others (Rubenson & Runco, 1992).

Although many factors contribute to the difficulty of creative work, the fundamental nature of creative thought may also play an important role. Ultimately, creativity is a complex form of performance involving the production of solutions of high quality, originality, and elegance (Besemer & O'Quin, 1993; Christiaans, 2002) to problems that are complex, novel, ill defined, and poorly structured (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988, 2012). It is commonly held that the production of these problem solutions depends on three key cognitive capacities: (1) knowledge, (2) strategies used in working with this knowledge, and (3) the processes these strategies are being used to execute. Each of these components of creative thought has been studied in isolation. For example, Finke, Ward, and Smith (1992) have studied the impact of knowledge on creative problem solving. Mumford et al. (1997) have studied the impact of processing activities on creative problem-solving. The impact of both cross-process strategies, such as divergent thinking, and process-specific strategies, such as feature search and mapping, on creative problem solving has been examined in studies by Acar and Runco (2012) and Baughman and Mumford (1995).

This research has begun to provide us with a sounder and stronger understanding of the nature of creative thought. By the same token, the difficulty of creative work may lie not only in the difficulty of executing each of these discrete cognitive operations, but also in the nature of the interactions observed among these cognitive capacities as people seek to generate creative problem solutions. In this chapter, we examine some of the interactions likely to be observed among knowledge, processes, and strategies as people seek to generate creative problem solutions.

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