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Most people and organizations value creativity but very few understand it. In this blog post, I will talk about one reason for this misunderstanding – the paradox of the creative mind.

Highly accomplished, creative people seem to possess contradictory attributes. For example, they strive to succeed, yet not afraid to fail. They are incredibly smart, yet possess a child-like state of mind. They dream big, yet able to work within realistic constraints to get things done.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research, (pronounced mee-hy cheek-sent-mÉ™-hy-ee), a distinguished professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, studies happiness and creativity. He is the author of the best-selling book Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. In his book Creativity, Csikszentmihalyi interviewed 91 highly creative people – from artists to architects to designers – and identified the following 10 paradoxes of the creative mind:

  1. Creative people have a great deal of personal energy, yet they are capable of quiet and deep concentration.
  2. Creative people tend to be smart and naïve at the same time.
  3. Creative people combine playfulness with discipline.
  4. Creative people are capable of fantasy and imagination, yet rooted in reality.
  5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.
  6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.
  7. Creative people escape gender-role stereotyping.
  8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.
  9. Creative people are passionate and objective about their work.
  10. Creative people’s capacity for empathy enables them to feel suffering and pain deeply as well as have a great sense of enjoyment.


Creative people are different, not to be different, but to just be.

The artist Eva Zeisel says, “This idea to create something is not my aim. To be different is a negative motive, and no creative thought or created thing grows out of a negative impulse. “

However, creativity has risks and there are no guarantees. As Nobel Prize-winning economist George Stigler says, “In innovation, you have to play a less safe game. If it’s going to be interesting, it’s not predictable.”

What does this all mean for leaders who want to foster creativity while managing these contradictions in their organization? This is the topic of my next blog post Creativity at Work.

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