A creative personality

Teachers’ perceptions of creativity are complex, but too often they are not complex enough. When asked what child creativity is, a great majority of teachers would probably define it with reference to at least one aspect of creative thinking. Most frequently, it would probably be originality (“non-schematic thinking,” “creates new solutions”) or fluency (“has lots of ideas”). Sometimes they would probably also refer to creative imagination (“fertile imagination,” “fancy”), as well as openness to experience (“curious about the unknown,” “eager to take up new challenges”).

Karwowski, M., Jankowska, D.M., Beghetto, R.A. and Kaufman, J.C., 2016. Four faces of creativity at school. Nurturing creativity in the classroom, pp.337-354.

Teachers would describe their creative students by reference to their ‘cognitive functioning, followed by personality and motivation… Unique or original, imaginative, curious, and open to experience’ (Karwowski et al, 2016). These definitions focus on ‘individual characteristics rather than by activity, process, or product factors’ (ibid). And Karwowski notes the danger in these limited definitions as ‘when teachers’ naive theories excessively focus on the person, they are dangerously close to the fixed mindset – the conviction that a child possesses a particular trait or not, and that not much can be done if the child does not exhibit it’.

Karwowski’s typological approach to creativity ‘focuses on the relationship between three dimensions crucial to creative activity and achievement, namely:

(1) creative abilities – cognitive characteristics that determine the effectiveness of generating, developing, and implementing solutions characterized by a high degree of originality and value, or divergent thinking and creative imagination, among other things; (2) openness – appreciation of intellect, learning, and willingness to meet new people and cultures; and (3) independence – nonconformity and low agreeableness, as well as readiness to oppose the situationally induced impact of the group and external factors. These dimensions are continuous: individuals are not creatively gifted and lacking this gift, open and rigid, or dependent and independent, but they differ in the intensity of these characteristics.


Karwowski goes on to define four types of creative:

  • Complex creativity: ‘it is… difficult to arouse enthusiasm in students characterized by this type of creativity and encourage them to take action, regardless of whether one uses rewards or more intrinsically rooted arguments. Creativity is not one of the values they appreciate the most, although they do enjoy intellectual autonomy and agency – dimensions that are important for creativity’.
  • Rebellious creativity: ‘individuals who have the cognitive potential to function creatively, but their low openness, coupled with high nonconformity, may form a barrier preventing the development their creativity. This type clearly shows that creative abilities alone are not enough for creative potential to be actu- alized when an individual lacks creative self-efficacy and creative personal identity as well as intrinsic motivation’.
  • subordinate creativity: ‘these individuals are well adapted to the surrounding reality, and although they are endowed with creative potential, they do not seek to achieve it at all costs, nor do they create in a revolutionary way. Therefore, one should not expect them to engage in activities that radically depart from the status quo’.
  • Self-actualising creativity: ‘students characterized by the self-actualizing creativity profile usually do not value creativity very highly and do not exhibit an especially high creative self-efficacy; as a result, they infrequently undertake creative activities’.

These are probably getting a little too close to learning styles, and we know how the sector has ridiculed such an approach; Karwowski does suggest after making an assessment of a child’s creativity type (creativity style?), ‘it is possible to plan the stimulation of creative potential in a way that is concordant with the profile of individual differences’. Karwowski does recognise, too, that ‘Individualization of activities [based on creativity type] that develop creativity during classes is a constant challenge for creative education’. But there could be value in recognising creative types in a class to enable the creation of groups ‘in a way that maximizes the potential of peer tutoring’.

A hugely important point for me made by Karwowski is ‘actual creativity is impossible without the individual having a sense of being actually capable of it and without this person’s high valuation of creativity’ and notes that ‘when one is creative and considers oneself as such, and when this is at the same time very important for him or her, then chances for involvement in creative activities and for succeeding in them increase’. This seems key for education and educators; how do we amplify this sense of being creative? But is it useful to attach further descriptors to creativity? It could be useful for teachers to identify creativity types to ensure they value all approaches (i.e. some ‘teachers perceive creativity negatively’). But being labelled as a particular type of creative might disable certain activities and opportunities.

This chapter by Karwowski helps enrich our creativity conversation. ‘We do believe that teachers usually define creativity by focusing only on its certain aspects and, consequently, having an incomplete picture of creative students’ is an important point and challenge is welcome; we need multifarious definitions of creativity, as educators, and need to be able to welcome a range of approaches in classrooms. We could do well to be open to a range of models that account for more than the process and product and consider social factors. Enriching definitions of creativity through the consideration of types strengthens our understanding of what we might see in classrooms; we can look out for difference and consider how we can enable it through creative endeavour. But I’d prefer we kept labels away from children and imagine the possibility that can be creative on their terms and not ours.


Karwowski, M., Jankowska, D.M., Beghetto, R.A. and Kaufman, J.C., 2016. Four faces of creativity at school. Nurturing creativity in the classroom, pp.337-354.

One response to “A creative personality”

  1. This piece is very interesting. I would argue however that there are four and not three ‘dimensions crucial to creative activity and achievement’ the fourth being ‘opportunity’. Without opportunity, creativity can be stifled, we must nurture and value creativity in our classrooms.

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