Want to Open Up The Creative Possibilities? Begin By Reexamining Openness Itself

Want to Open Up The Creative Possibilities? Begin By Reexamining Openness Itself

Create February 19, 2018 / By Larry Robertson
Want to Open Up The Creative Possibilities? Begin By Reexamining Openness Itself

Openness, while often noted as important to creativity, turns out to be vital and far more powerful than we think

“Openness” and “creativity” share a common encumbrance – they are both words so familiar that we take little time to understand their meaning. We need to change that, and this article is intended to give you reason to begin right now and continue to do so. Why? Because given a closer look, the evidence is overwhelming that, rather than some new age cliché, openness is elemental to creativity, to who we are, and to what and how we create.

While some of us have never questioned the relevance of openness to creativity, few have looked at proving it as carefully as George F. Kneller did in The Art and Science of Creativity. Kneller was a consummate researcher and writer in the academic sense of both words. He was the kind of scholar that those who need to “see to believe” trusted. In that style, Kneller scoured human knowledge and undertakings to understand creativity. Rather than rely on one or a few fields, he drew extensively form education, psychology, anthropology, mathematics, medicine, sociology, the arts, and the humanities. What we might call an “open” approach he regarded as “thorough”.

His matter-of-fact approach was scientific, precise, and dry. He laid out all the facts and accumulated the data to support them, only after which he drew his evidence-supported conclusions. More than any other pattern he saw, Kneller found openness to be regarded as vital to creativity.

But it was clear his appreciation ran far deeper. At times his comments come across less as findings, and more as an awaking. He concluded that creativity, because it relied so heavily on openness, represented “one of those rare meeting grounds of science and art that give practitioners heady glimpses of each other’s business.” He came to conclude not only that creativity relied on openness, but that creativity itself represented openness come to life. “Creativity,” Kneller wrote, “is the ability to remain open to the world.”

Today, most are aware, even if in small ways or small parts of their life, of the value of being open. But we tend to regard it as a choice. Many believe that it goes deeper in our make-up, however, regarding it not simply as a choice, but as a core function and need. Way back in time, between 60,000 and 30,000 years ago, a growing number of researchers believe humans began to consider openness (something our bigger, more evolved brains allowed for) as something important for reasons beyond day-to-day survival. In this period referred to by some as the Big Bang of Human Creativity, the “option” our bigger brains afforded became the default “function” for how we operated. We came to rely on that open capacity, and became not just more consciously creative, but indeed more dependent on creativity and the openness on which it is based. In this regard, humans aren’t just open by choice, we are open by nature. Whether or not we practice using that capacity is another thing and far closer to a choice.

There’s far more, that is if you’re open enough to consider it. Some, like psychologist E. G. Schachtel, have argued that openness isn’t simply important to human adaptability and ingenuity, it’s fundamental to being human. He believed that “man needs to be creative… because he needs to related to the world.” We want not only to survive and continue existing in a changing world, but to be a part of that change. This, Schachtel and others conclude, isn’t just a general truth about humans, it is precisely why we want and need to create. As psychologist Carl R. Rogers put it, “Creativity is self-realization, and the motive for it is to fulfill oneself. In this sense, a person is creative to the extent that he fulfills his potentialities as a human being.” Being open and creative was, to Rogers, how we come to understand what it means to be human.

Heady? Yes. Important? Arguably, more than anything else. Yet none of this is meant to say you ought to run out the door right now and be recklessly open as never before. It’s a message of balance – not being so orderly and formula-driven that you miss the next opportunity or fail to see the signs that your formulaic ways need adjusting, but not being so open that you never make what you see tangible and valuable. Simply consider that as you seek to be more creative, innovative, and adaptable, you might just want to add some openness to the balance.


Note: This article was derived from Chapter Six, titled “Openness is Where Breakthroughs Come From”, from Robertson’s book The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity.

The Language of Man: Learning to Speak Creativity, by Larry Robertson.

Impressionism, the iPhone, democracy, Uber--when we think about creativity, we most often think of things. We also narrow in on the few, those rare creators who seem to have something we lack. These tendencies quickly take us off track, perpetuating a myth and unknowingly pushing us further away from the possible. Here's the truth: Creativity is about the possible. It's the seed of any human advancement ever made or yet to be imagined. Most important and powerful of all, creativity is a uniquely human capacity that each of us possesses--including you. The story of creativity is the story of who we are, a story still unfolding. It's time we come to understand it and learn how each of us can contribute our verse. It's time we understand this language of man and learn to 
speak creativity. The Language of Man provides more than needed understanding; it offers a powerful framework for creating. If you want to create or innovate, this book is indispensable.

comments powered by Disqus