Psychologists tend to see creativity exclusively as a mental process. In this chapter, I will propose that such an approach cannot do justice to the phenomenon of creativity, which is as much a cultural and social as it is a psychological event. To develop this perspective, I will use a “systems” model of the creative process that takes into account its essential features.
Creativity research in recent years has been increasingly informed by a systems perspective. Starting with the observations of Morris Stein (1953, 1963) and the extensive data presented by Dean Simonton (1988, 1990) showing the influence of economic, political, and social events on the rates of creative production, it has become increasingly clear that variables external to the individual must be taken into account if one wishes to explain why, when, and where new ideas or products arise from and become established in a culture (Gruber, 1988; Harrington, 1990). Magyari-Beck (1988) has gone so far as to suggest that because of its complexity, creativity needs a new discipline of “creatology” in order to be thoroughly understood.
The systems approach developed here has been described before and applied to historical and anecdotal examples, as well as to data collected to answer a variety of different questions (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988b, 1990, 1996; Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993; Csikszentmihalyi & Sawyer, 1995; Feldman, Csikszentmihalyi, & Gardner, 1994).