Creativity is a Choice, NOT a Gene:


Sternberg’s “Investment” Theory of Creativity

by Shlomo Maital




  My next book will be about Building Your Creativity Muscles.  The book came about as a result of my interactions with young people in many countries.  Many of them were frustrated by boring jobs and by the total rejection their organizations provided, for any of their creative ideas.  As a result, many had simply given up.  Why bother?   And they felt they had lost the creative spark forever.

   So – my mission was to revive that spark, and to show them that creativity is a kind of muscle, that gets stronger, faster, and more flexible, as we use it.  My book will contain stories of people who have changed the world with their creativity, along with exercises to emulate them.   Creativity is YOUR choice, it is NOT some gene you inherited.   But sometimes, you need to work out really hard, to get your creative brain in shape – much as you do when you train for a marathon, especially if you’re flabby and out of shape.

   I found much support for this idea in the work of American psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, past president of the American Psychological Association, and someone who struggled in high school.  His article “Creativity is a decision” (his Presidential address) appeared in the APA journal in Nov. 2003.  In it, Sternberg says: 

     “….my colleague Todd Lubart and I proposed an investment theory of creativity,  according to which creative people are like good investors: They buy low and sell high in the world of ideas. In other words, they propose ideas that others initially reject (buy low). Then they metaphorically raise the value of their investment. When they finally have convinced others of the value of their ideas, they move on to their next, usually unpopular idea (sell high). Creative people, then, are ones who are willing to defy the crowd.  And indeed, in all domains of intellectual and other pursuits, creative people find that, rather than being rewarded for their creative ideas, they usually are punished.”

  Perhaps this is the toughest creativity “workout” of all.  Are you prepared to put forward ‘weird’ non-conforming break-the-rules ideas?  Are you prepared to struggle to implement them, despite huge opposition?  It will be like climbing a high mountain, with thin oxygen, your brain telling you to quit at every step, your muscles screaming they can’t go any farther… and still you go on.  And reach the summit.   A great many people who changed the world went through this ‘exercise’ – more than once.  Sternberg himself is one.  And he’s edited a book, Psychologists Defying the Crowd, about other psychologists who did the same. 

    Become who you are, Nietzsche wrote.  Inside every one of us, is a creative world-changing person.  Become that person.  Practice becoming him or her.  Above all, don’t ever stop with just the idea.  That’s worthless.  Follow through, at least some of the time.  Having new ideas is easy and fun. So much so, many people just live off the sweet nectar of ideation.  It’s a waste.  If you have a good idea, if it’s born in your head, it deserves to grow up to become something many people use and love. 

    Work out your creativity muscles daily. You’ll be amazed how fit you become, in no time.