The Nature of Creativity: Mayflies, Octopi, and the Best Bad Idea We Have

  • Jeffrey K. SmithEmail author
  • Lisa F. Smith
Part of the Creativity Theory and Action in Education book series (CTAE, volume 1)


What is creativity? This chapter explores various definitions of creativity that have been proposed since the inception of creativity research, along with models and measures of the creative process. Classical approaches to creativity focus on what are known as two-criterion and three-criterion models. All models include some variation of novelty and usefulness as two of the three criteria, with three-criterion models employing surprisingness or quality as a third criterion. We propose a definition of creativity that focuses on the process through which people arrive at good ideas, and argue for a “1.5” criterion model. Specifically, we argue that creativity involves novelty (that becomes surprisingness toward the high end of the spectrum) as one criterion. And we argue that the .5 of a criterion relates to the notion that an idea has to have the potential to be useful in order for it to be creative. That is, an idea does not have to ultimately prove to be fruitful in order for the process that generated it to be considered to be creativity; it only needs to have a possibility of being useful. This allows for great ideas that did not come to useful fruition (e.g., Leonardo’s “helicopter”) still to be considered creative, while relegating fundamentally silly or inappropriate ideas to the non-creative bin. We show how this definition and approach to the criterion problem solves a number of thorny issues in creativity scholarship.


Criterion Model Creative Idea Selective Retention Reality Check Creative Behavior 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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