10 Paradoxical Traits Of Creative People

Creative people are humble and proud. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. Creative people are rebellious and conservative. How creative are you?

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I frequently find myself thinking about whether I am an artist or an entrepreneur.

I am simply trying my best to create my own unique path.

It is safe to say that more and more entrepreneurs are artists, and artists of all kinds are entrepreneurs. And the trend is only on the rise as all things (art, science, technology, business, culture, spirituality) are increasingly converging.

Creativity is the common theme that drives both entrepreneurs and artists alike. But creative people are often also paradoxical.

Over this past Labor Day weekend, I found myself reading excerpts from distinguished professor of psychology and management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (pronounced me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee) seminal book Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People (HarperCollins, 1996).

He writes:

“I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it's complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude."

Mihaly describes ten traits often contradictory in nature, that are frequently present in creative people. In Creativity, Mihaly outlines these:

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they're also often quiet and at rest.

They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm.

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.

“It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure and that most workshops try to enhance.”

3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

But this playfulness doesn't go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, and perseverance.

“Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not. Vasari wrote in 1550 that when Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello was working out the laws of visual perspective, he would walk back and forth all night, muttering to himself: "What a beautiful thing is this perspective!" while his wife called him back to bed with no success.”

4.Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.

Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present.

5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.

We're usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

It is remarkable to meet a famous person who you expect to be arrogant or supercilious, only to encounter self-deprecation and shyness instead.

7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.

When tests of masculinity and femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.

It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it's difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.

9.Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility. Here is how the historian Natalie Davis puts it:

"I think it is very important to find a way to be detached from what you write, so that you can't be so identified with your work that you can't accept criticism and response, and that is the danger of having as much affect as I do. But I am aware of that and of when I think it is particularly important to detach oneself from the work, and that is something where age really does help."

10. Creative people's openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

“Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.”

Paradoxical or not, what I have learned most is that there is no formula for individual creation. As Mihay says, “creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.” So, more than anything else, what it takes to be creative is resourcefulness and the courage not to give up.

[Image: Flickr user Justin B]

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258 Comments

  • Wow barnum statement after barnum statement not everybody's stupid. this article is written to fit everyone "Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted." lol what else is there, fool? you can't label people or yourself both, sure at times you can be classed as either but they are used to describe "over all".

  • This article is spot on and pretty much has me down to a T. Such a shame about the negative comments, but obviously we can see who the creative readers are.

  • '...what it takes to be creative is resourcefulness and the courage not to give up.'

    The last paragraph is pretty much spot on. 'Paradoxical or not, what I have learned most is that there is no formula for individual creation. As Mihay says, “creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.” So, more than anything else, what it takes to be creative is resourcefulness and the courage not to give up.'

    Everybody knows that necessity is the mother of invention.

  • Roberto Santiago

    So basically being creative you have dual personality; you use both sides of the brain and sometimes at the same time resulting in the tortured artist, the bipolar genius...

  • Kelly

    I like the article, it's interesting. I just find it annoying that the photo chosen to portray a creative "type" is a person with a bunch of tattoos, ear gauges and two color dyed hair. Huh?? Then you scroll down after the article and find another creative person who wrote the article and he is clean cut.

  • rachel

    most people are ambiverts, both extroverted qualities and introverted qualities.. so i'm not so sure about #5

  • Matt Saunders

    Don't be ridiculous. You can't define what creative people are in 10 stupid little analogies. You're an idiot

  • Name

    This article is a mirror of myself its crazy! I'm creative and make art sometimes for fun people think I'm weird in general, I'm very calm but very energetic at times, I'm moody and nice to people, i feel different from others i don't enjoy what 99% of people enjoy, I have great taste people tell me and I keep having new ideas for businesses but i don't know if I should go toward entrepreneurship or a creative job. and I'm also introverted and extroverted at the same time and very sensitive, I'm often bored in life but when i work on something i love I will do it non stop for hours and hours without even wanting to go for a break, but its true that often people are not open minded, they have difficulty putting themselves in another persons mind to interpret a though instead of being against an idea just because you don't like the concept.

    Great article!

  • Daniel Jacobs

    I agree that I am everything this article describes, yet if I'm not paradoxical I'm not creative, which means I agree that I'm something that I'm not, and therefore who ever thinks they have to be a paradox just to call themselves creative is not actually that creative, but another sheep trying to squeeze into the label and say "hey, I fit in!" I'm not a paradox... I just do paradox things. Eat shit appropriately like you were taught in finishing school.

  • Anthony James

    I think it is particularly important to detach oneself from the work, and that is something where age really does help."