3 Types of Creativity

As defined by Margaret Boden in 1992:


Taking two disparate ideas and bringing them together to form something new. In a sense, I think of this type of creativity as the realm of metaphor extended beyond the explanatory realm and into the realm of realization. It’s maybe more hegelian (I’m a little out of my league here) in that it’s two ideas coming together to form something higher.

Exploration of conceptual spaces

Creativity loves constraint. This type of creativity happens within, or expands upon, a cultural framework. A bladesmith inventing a new design for a sword. An architect a new design for a home. A new strategy in Chess or Go. A programmer discovering a new algorithm.


Take the conceptual space we just mentioned in exploration and expand upon or change boundaries or constraints of the space itself. This is the realm of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It’s a new type of poetry a la e.e. cummings. It’s going from linear books to Choosing Your Own Adventure.

More here.


Creative Cauldrons

Sometimes when the right circumstances evolve or are intentionally created, an environment is where creativity can run free appears. I don’t know if there’s a name for this already, but I call these special times and places “creative cauldrons.” Here are a few of them along with some very brief descriptions:

The Harvard Psychedelics Club

In the 1960’s Steward Brand, Andrew Weil, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), Timothy Leary, Huston Smith defined psychedelic culture (for good and ill) for the next 50+ years. Read more about it in Don Lattin’s book The Harvard Psychedelic Club.

Vienna at the turn of the 20th Century

Painters Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, Egan Schiele. Writer Arthur Schnitzler. Sigmund Freud. Read more in The Age of Insight by Eric Kandel.

Gustav Klimt – Fir Forest I, 1901

Compton, CA. 1980’s and onward

A relatively small town with a population of about 100 thousand was the starting place for a disproportionate number of of great and influential rappers. Among them, MC Ren, N.W.A., YG, Coolio, Eazy-E, Dr Dre, Ice Cube, Tyga, Kendrick Lamar.

Paris in the Late 18th, Early 19th Century

The movie Midnight in Paris does a great job of imagining the vibe: Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, Juan Belmont, and Gertrude Stein.

The University of Utah in the Late 1960’s

John Warnock, Alan Kay, Jim Clark, Ed Catmull. These computer science luminaries all came from an environment that specifically catered to fostering innovation.

University of New York at Buffalo English department in the 1960’s

As described in Evolution of Desire, a book by Cynthia Haven about René Girard, this English department, through the intentionality of Albert Cook, attracted critic Leslie Fiedler, playwright Lionel Abel (whom Sartre called the most intelligent man in NYC), novelists John Barth and Raymond Federman, posts Robert Creely and Robert Has, and of course René Girard himself.


How to Create a Creative Cauldron

A couple of days ago I finished the book Creativity, Inc. One section in particular stood out to me:

[Ivan] Sutherland and Dave Evans, who was chair of the university’s computer science department, were magnets for bright students with diverse interests, and they led us with a light touch. Basically, they welcomed us to the program, gave us workspace and access to computers, and then let us pursue whatever turned us on. The result was a collaborative, supportive community so inspiring that I would later seek to replicate it at Pixar.

One of my classmates, Jim Clark, would go on to found Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Another, John Warnock, would co-found Adobe, known for Photoshop and the PDF file format, among other things. Still another, Alan Kay, would lead on a number of fronts, from object-oriented programming to “windowing” graphical user interfaces. In many respects, my fellow students were the most inspirational part of my university experience; this collegial, collaborative atmosphere was vital not just to my enjoyment of the program but also to the quality of the work that I did.

Reading about that group and the environment created by Sutheland and Evans made me feel a twinge of jealousy. How awesome would it be to find yourself in an environment like that? How awesome would it be to create one?