The Four P's of Creativity

The Four P's of Creativity

Psychology September 30, 2012 / By Sandeep Gautam
The Four P's of Creativity

Many creativity research programs are narrowly focused on one aspect of creativity to the exclusion of others; an integrative focus will help move the field forward.

The study of creativity is sometimes classified as focusing on the little c, everyday creativity; or as aiming to entangle the enigma of genius or the big C creativity. In a recent post, I extended this to a middle c research paradigm where the focus is on mechanisms underlying the creative process. I aptly labelled the three paradigms, as focusing on Products, People and Processes. Today I want to extend this further by adding to this mix, a research paradigm that focuses on micro and macro environmental causes or conditions that encourage/inhibit creativity. This is also known as a focus on the environmental Press, thus completing our four P’s.

Now, when I was writing my earlier post, I wasn’t aware that a certain Mel Rhodes in his 1961/1987 article titled An analysis of creativity had already identified these exact same four Ps’ of creativity. These 4P’s have also, with some minor changes, been championed by Mark Batey lately [pdf]. My analysis, of creativity research paradigms, may thus not qualify as an instance of historical big C creativity, but merits recognition as an instance of individual little c creativity. I came up with a new (to me), surprising, useful, and beautiful (all P’s) model, but I was not the first to get there. To me, this everyday creativity is still a subject of study; though others may prefer to dismiss this and focus on how historical creativity or Genius functions.

All of the following questions are relevant to ask about creativity: what is (a) creative (product); how is creativity achieved (the process), who is creative/ what makes someone creative (the person) and finally what conditions (historical/everyday) are conducive to creativity (the press). Each of these questions sheds light on a different aspect of creativity.


To me, the little c, everyday, creativity research, has most focused and helped in identifying the creative aspects of a finished product- the typical little c responses (either to divergent thinking problems or to completed drawings/ captions/ sentences) are scored, on some basis, to assess the creativity of the product that has been produced. That is then taken as a proxy for the creativity of the person who produced such a product in an artificial, experimental condition. Much psychometrics is involved.

That research, and the scoring methods thereof, has shed light on what is (a) creative (product/idea, etc.) – In an earlier post I had delineated what makes something creative - it should be "surprising, original, beautiful and useful". I am gladdened to note, that again there is precedence, in people coming up with similar definitions. For ‘Novel + Useful’, there seems to be a universal consensus; some like Margaret Boden (in “The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms”), for e.g., define creativity as being ‘Surprising’ too:

“Creativity is the ability to come up with ideas or artefacts that are new, surprising and valuable”

Mark Batey, while discussing definitions of creativity, writes [pdf] :

There is the issue of whether any person can produce something that is entirely novel (Boden); instead, the requirement of surprise may prove a more fitting criterion. .... Fourth, as a requirement of novelty may be inappropriate for some scientific endeavours, a requirement of usefulness may not prove a fitting criterion for the arts.

Mark doesn’t elaborate, but it’s clear that he agrees, that while utility may be one criterion by which surprise in science can be judged; we require a different criterion of aesthetics or beauty while judging the originality of a work of art.

Thus to reiterate, Creativity (of Products) = surprise + originality + utility + beauty.


The middle C creativity, or the study of normal creatives and how they create on a daily basis, shed light on the creative Process.

Keith Sawyer, for e.g., in his study of Jazz musicians, was able to come up with the processes of improvisation, collaboration, and communication that underlay their creativity. On a different level, Margaret Boden (same book) has come up with processes like recombination, re-conceptualization/ transformations of conceptual spaces, etc. as processes involved in creativity.

My own list of processes involved goes like this:

1. Improve: Imitate and master existing forms/do incremental improvements/ change; this is related to recombination.

2. Innovate: Take time to incubate and based on chance and a prepared mind, notice/ create something original; this is related to transformations.

3. Insight: Look at things from new perspectives and points of view; overcome for e.g. functional fixedness; this is related to re-conceptualization.

4. Imagination: use your rich and fertile imagination to ask ‘why not’ questions; this is related to expanding one’s conceptual spaces.

Now, given a criterion for assessing creative output and given some understanding of the processes involved, it might even be possible to program computers to create art. Aaron is one such example.


Coming to big C creativity, here the focus is squarely on People and what makes some people eminent or genius or more creative than the rest of us.

While small c, creative products approach, is amenable to psychometrics: precise measurements and testing; middle C, process, and press approaches, relies mostly on theorisation and experimentations to confirm/ reject hypothesis about mechanisms and environmental influences involved; big C creativity, people approach, has to by necessity rely on case study approach. Now, there are many fanatics out there who would not want to go a mile near anyone who is employing case study designs- I’m not one of them; I have equal respect for all approaches.

After all, Fordyce, with his studies of happy people, advanced the positive psychology field, by not only identifying the traits of highly happy people, he also provided rich material, by which we can test the correlations and see the direction of causality- for e.g. does happiness cause success or success happiness.

We need some good research on this – without any prejudiced opinions that suffering creates art or happiness is conducive to it. We need a list of factors that creative people have in common and then look at the direction of causality – does being creative lead to the liberty to be an a**hole or being an a**hole is necessary for creativity?

I have my own ideas on what factors are necessary for Genius:

1. Ability (intelligence, Divergent thinking)

2. Self-control, hard work

3. Grit, drive to succeed/ create

4. Right (growth/ creativity/ openness to experience) mindset

This parallels the research by Dr. Mark Batey and also my ABCD model.

Research by Dr Mark Batey of the Psychometrics at Work Research Group at Manchester Business School has suggested that the creative profile can be explained by four primary creativity traits with narrow facets within each

(i) "Idea Generation" (Fluency, Originality, Incubation and Illumination)

(ii) "Personality" (Curiosity and Tolerance for Ambiguity)

(iii) "Motivation" (Intrinsic, Extrinsic and Achievement)

(iv) "Confidence" (Producing, Sharing and Implementing)

This model was developed in a sample of 1000 working adults using the statistical techniques of Exploratory Factor Analysis followed by Confirmatory Factor Analysis by Structural Equation Modelling.


Teresa Amabile, amongst others, has studied the conditions conducive/ prohibitive for creativity, a lot. Some of her research paradigm focuses on the effect of environments on middle C normal creative types or little C everyday creative persons- like the employees and managers in an organisation. To some, such an organizational focus, on creativity exhibited in an everyday work context, may be trivially useful or attractive, but I think the basic principles of environmental influences on historical creativity can be easily extrapolated from the principles involved in everyday creativity.

I am paraphrasing, in my own words, from her article ‘managing for creativity’ [pdf] the environmental factors enabling creative achievement:

1. Organisational culture: Risk-taking vs. Status -quo preferring; accepting and encouraging (to learn from) failures (and move on); valuing creativity and innovation; appropriate rewards and recognition; open and honest communication of ideas; orientation towards (defining/ creating) the future; pride in culture and enthusiasm about work.

2. Organisational (resource) pool: availability of domain experts, role-models, mentors – that provide enough skills and knowledge exposure; patrons - that provide adequate time and monetary/ other resources to indulge in creative activity.

3. Organisational (best) practises:

a. Autonomy: given adequate rope and freedom.

b. Mastery: work is challenging, yet of interest and matched to skills.

c. Relatedness: working in teams composed of diverse people, all committed and supportive; constructive challenge of ideas (not people); trust and open communication.

d. Purpose: clearly set and defined goals that are communicated properly highlighting the big picture; timely feedback on progress made.

We can easily see that the same principles apply to historical environmental effects as they apply to organizational, everyday effects. For example, if an enabler is, support and encouragement from a supervisor, then this can be conceived in historical terms as encouragement from parents, teachers, mentors, or patrons.

In the end, it is important to realize that creativity is all things to all people, but still needs desperately, and would benefit from immensely, an integrative research paradigm; otherwise, like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, we may end up getting narrow and useless conceptions of creativity and ignore the big elephant in the room.

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