What is `creativity’ – and How Does It Work?


My 2016 PhD (a scientific study of: movie creativity) is on What creativity actually is, and – most importantly for screen storytellers – How it happened in the Top 20 most successful movies

And one big problem that needs to be gotten out of the way, up front, is that:

`Creativity is not what most people think it is.’

(McIntyre 2012, p. 3)

Creativity and Cultural Production: Issues For Media Practice (McIntyre 2011)

As Runco & Jaeger note, in their article “The Standard Definition of Creativity” (2012):

`The standard definition is bipartite:

              Creativity requires both originality and effectiveness.’

(Runco & Jaeger 2012, p. 92)

And so, when scholars and researchers and scientists study creativity – from one perspective (derived from Rhodes 1962) they examine the 7 P’s of creativity; namely:

  1. the creative person(ality) – their personality, character, traits, values, etc… ie Who are (or: were) they? What were they like?
  2. their creative potential (e.g. their talents, genetic / biological / psychological predispositions, etc. e.g. Did they display interest and/or aptitude at a young age, in the area in which they later were recognized as: creative?)
  3. their: creative process(es) (e.g. their cognition, their working methods, their techniques, strategies, work habits, etc)
  4. their creative product(s) – e.g. their: invention, or artwork, or novel, or movie, musical composition, or scientific theory or discovery, etc
  5. their (creative) place – e.g. geographical, temporal, socio-cultural environment, social networks, etc
  6. their creative persuasion (how did the Field become convinced that their product was indeed, creative? – i.e., new and useful? Or even: new, useful and surprising?)
  7. their creative press – (the many and various influences on the creative person’s behaviour…)

And noting also, the following table, in The Encyclopedia of Creativity 2nd Edn (Eds: Runco & Pritzker 2011):

The 5Ps and I of creativity - table in - Encyc of Creativity 2011

Encyc of Creativity - 2nd Edn 2011

Also, worth noting – the above excellent reference work was published in 2011…

It can be seen that there are 7 x P’s of creativity now:

Person(ality), Potential, Process, Product, Place, Persuasion and Press.

And, so…

…How do you do, creativity?

One Simple Answer:

Combine two old things, to make a new thing.

(AND – If it works, and is judged `new and useful’ by the Field in that Domain of culture – then: you’re golden! It is indeed, “creative”.)

Everything is a Remix Copy Transform Combine diagram & tinyurl

(c) K Ferguson (2015)

The above diagram  is from this great article. But there is also something missing from the diagram above…

Namely – see the diagram below!

Everything is a Remix Copy Transform Combine diagram & tinyurl JTV

In The Runaway Species (2018), Eagleman and Brandt suggest 3 great heuristics for doing creativity: Bend, Blend, Break. Bend = transform the idea, Blend = combine ideas, Break = make it modular. Which is the same 3 concepts as above!

A great video on it all – on creativity as a remix (Ferguson 2015) below:

And so – stated more formally, by Martindale (1989):

`Ultimately, all creative products have this quality: old ideas or elements are combined in new ways.

This is the case for all domains of creativity.

(Martindale, 1989, p. 212).

But this observation goes back earlier than 1989. In 1959, Hornell Hart published a book chapter called “Social Theory and Social Change”, stating:

`Every invention is a new combination of old elements.

For example, an airplane is roughly an adaptation of a box-kite, a windmill, a gasoline engine, a pilot, and the atmosphere, each of these (except the atmosphere) being adapted by various modifications.

Similarly, a telegraph is essentially an electromagnetic circuit, plus sending and receiving keys, plus two telegraphers, plus a Morse Code.

The automobile is essentially a carriage, plus a gasoline engine, plus transmission and steering gears, plus a driver, plus a road, plus a filling station, plus a repair shop. In a narrower sense, the automobile mechanism itself is a combination of previous inventions…

In some kinds of inventions, the crucial part played by ideas becomes particularly obvious. For example, Galileo’s telescope was not merely a combination of lenses and certain other physical parts, but also — and crucially — a combination of the laws of optics (as understood by Galileo) and the problem of seeing heavenly bodies more clearly. A slide rule is a combination of two rulers, the matched-lumber principle, a mathematician, and crucially the principle of logarithms.

Often the decisive factor in a new invention or discovery is the precedent created by a previous invention or discovery. For example, the discovery that certain molds in the earth secrete a chemical called penicillin, which kills off certain kinds of disease germs, provided a key idea which has led to the discovery of a whole series of antibiotics.

Scientific instruments and healing drugs, as well as machines, are invented by new combinations of old elements.

This same principle holds true in the invention of social institutions. When the Constitution of the United States was being drafted, the inventors of our form of democratic government were putting together a combination of various pre-existing institutions (such as courts of law, legislative bodies, and executive officers), with certain ideas and ideals (such as the ultimate sovereignty of the people, equality of voting rights, balance of power, and equality before the law).

Chapin’s chart, showing the elements out of which the commission form of government was invented in Galveston in 1900, illustrates the same fact on the municipal level.

All of these examples are seen thus to illustrate the one principle — that inventions consist of new combinations of previously existing elements.’

(Hart 1959, pp. 208-9)

Interestingly, one of the greatest `boldface big-C’ Creatives in history, Charles Darwin, in The Descent of Man (1871) seems to have known how creativity worked, back in 1871…(!) No wonder he wrote some of the most creative books ever. (On: Evolution. About how, new species and even ideas and words and languages [i.e. units of culture – movies, books, jokes, words, languages, religions, scientific theories, songs, paintings, etc] get created.)

Darwin was the most boldface-C Creative (eminent genius creative) genius who lived.

5-C Model - Velikovsky 02020

The diagram (above) takes the 4-C model of creativity (Kaufman & Beghetto 2009, 2013) diagram that I created a few years ago for my PhD, and I’ve also now added in (at the far right) D K Simonton’s (2010) 5th category: Eminent Genius (boldface-C Creativity).

So the five creativity categories (from left to right on the bell-curve above) are:

  1. Everyday [mini-c] creativity – which we all do, sometimes, every day…
  2. Transformative [little-c] creativity – an insight that solves problems
  3. Professional [Pro-c] creativity – e.g. selling a million copies of something
  4. Genius [big-C] Creativity – changing a domain (e.g. science, or movies, painting, music)
  5. Highly-Eminent Genius – or [boldface-big-CCreativity [these folks are rare, they only come along, on average, around once every 7 years. In: the WHOLE WORLD..!!!]

Examples of Eminent Geniuses (or, [boldface-CCreativity) would be, folks like: Einstein, Darwin, Marie Curie, Stanley Kubrick, and so on.

So creativity is a spectrum.

(Let’s see it as: a bell curve. Though it is more like a Zipf curve. Long story, most people don’t understand statistics, probability and evolution very well.)

(We are all creative, to some degree, every day).

So, the above 5-C diagram of Creativity is what you get, when you combine these three things, below:

  1. Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. A. (2009). Beyond big and little: The Four C Model of CreativityReview of General Psychology, 13, 1-12.
  2. Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. A. (2013). Do people recognize the four Cs? Examining layperson conceptions of creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(3), 229–236.
  3. Simonton, D. K. (2010). Creativity in Highly Eminent Individuals, in J. C. Kaufman & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity(pp. 174-188). Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

The Four-C Model of creativity (Kaufman and Beghetto 2009. 2014)

In the wonderful psychological study of creativity, Darwin on Man, Gruber (1981) cites Charles Darwin (1871) on imagination and creativity:

`In The Descent of Man Darwin wrote of the combination of intellectual faculties forming “the higher mental powers”: curiosity, imitation, attention, memory, reasoning and imagination. (Descent, Ch 3). The list of topics Darwin covered reads almost like an inventory of subjects chronically neglected by twentieth-century psychologists until the upsurge of cognitive psychology beginning in the 1950s.

Of imagination he wrote,

“By this faculty he [man] unites former images and ideas, independently of the will, and thus creates brilliant and novel results.” (Descent, p. 74)

(Gruber 1981, p. 236)

This process Darwin mentions is BVSR (blind-variation and selective-retention). See D K Simonton’s excellent research on the BVSR theory of creativity, for a whole lot more on that. I also wrote about it (BVSR) in my 2016 PhD thesis, on creativity in movies.

It may well be possible that there are almost as many informal, non-standard definitions of `Creativity’ as there are people on this planet[1].

Many people make up – or guess at – their own definition, without knowing there is already a Standard Definition of creativity…!!! (e.g. see: Runco & Jaeger 2012)


Just Try this simple Exercise: Ask the next two people you see, “What is the exact-precise-correct definition of Creativity?”

(and – see if their two “adopted” definitions given, even match-?!)[2]

By Meusburger’s reckoning (Meusburger et al. 2009), there are over one hundred published definitions of Creativity…! [3] (That’s just: the published ones!)

But – since J P Guilford’s famous (1950) speech to the American Psychological Association, the domain of Psychology has been scientifically studying Creativity.

That’s over 67 years of research on creativity…

That factoid can come as a huge shock to some people (especially `creative’ artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers – who may have never actually been told about this widely-accepted, peer-reviewed, scientific, academic knowledge about: Creativity…)

But – it is helpful knowledge, for anyone who is trying to be professionally creative (e.g., a filmmaker, writer, musician, artist, a scientist, a painter, etc)…!

So, inspired by Runco & Jaeger (2012), noting Simonton & Boden, another definition of creativity I’m proposing, is:

A creative artifact (i.e., a meme, or unit of culture: an idea, or process, or product) is one that a consensus of people in a field finds `novel and appropriate’ (i.e., `new and useful’), and also solves a problem (or, problems) in a surprising way.

(Velikovsky 2017)

And now, to cite from: Dictionary of Creativity: Terms, Concepts, Theories & Findings in Creativity Research, compiled and edited by Eugene Gorny (2007):

Standard Definitions of: creativity

Most definitions of creativity found in research literature (Runco and Albert, 1990; Runco and Pritzke, 1999; Sternberg 1999) include the following structural elements:

1) novelty (originality, unexpectedness) of the creative work,

2) its value (relevance, appropriateness, significance, usefulness, effectiveness)…

Another two elements often found in definitions of creativity are

3) assessment of something or someone as being creative by an authoritative body (field) according to some criteria


4) communicativeness, i.e. communication of this value to an audience. (Gorny 2007)

Definitions of creativity.
Dictionary of Creativity: Terms, Concepts, Theories & Findings in Creativity Research / Compiled and edited by Eugene Gorny. Netslova.ru, 2007.

In my PhD and in this revolutionary (2017) Encyclopedia article – I have shown that the above (Evolutionary Algorithm) is: Selection (of 2 or more objects), Variation (combine them and you have their offspring, just like in biology) and Transmission (communication to an audience).

And – an excellent book is  Creativity: Understanding Innovation in Problem Solving, Science, Invention, and the Arts (Weisberg 2006)

Creativity: Understanding Innovation in Problem Solving, Science, Invention, and the Arts (Weisberg 2006)

In particular, noting the section from pp. 577-581 (of Weisberg 2006):

`Is All Creative Thinking Equivalent to Problem Solving?

An important question that remains in applying the cognitive perspective
to creative thinking is whether all examples of creative thinking can be
conceived of as exemplifying problem solving.

The case studies presented in Chapters 1 and 5 can help to answer that question. In Chapter 3, I raised the possibility that creative thinking might be based on ordinary thinking but not structured as problem solving, since not all ordinary thinking involves problem solving.

The second column in Table 12.1 analyzes each case study discussed in this book, in order of presentation, to determine whether it can be considered an example of problem solving.

As can be seen, the answer to that question appears to be yes:

All of the case studies can be considered to be examples of problem solving.

Watson and Crick were explicitly trying to analyze the problem of the structure of DNA (Watson, 1968). Picasso’s creation of Guernica also seems to be an example of problem solving, as it is reasonable to describe Picasso’s situation as grappling with the ill- defined problem of expressing in his art the feelings that were aroused by the bombing of the city (Chipp, 1988).Calder too was trying to solve a problem: that of creating moving sculpture in the abstract nonrepresentational style of Mondrian (Calder, 1966; Marter, 1991, p. 102).’

(Weisberg 2006, p. 577)

As noted earlier, creativity scholar Colin Martindale (1989) states:

`Ultimately, all creative products have this quality: old ideas or elements are combined in new ways. This is the case for all domains of creativity.

(Martindale, 1989, p. 212).

Creativity works the same way in Science as it does in the Creative Arts/ Humanities, given the systems model of Creativity. (see for example: Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity, 1996).

Notably however, `Big-c’ (eminent / genius-level) Creativity is different to `everyday’ creativity.

There is an excellent online article on creativity here:


See also Kaufman’s articles on the four C’s in creativity – such as:

Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. a. (2013). Do people recognize the four Cs? Examining layperson conceptions of creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(3), 229–236.

I created a diagram to represent (my own interpretation of) the 4-C model of creativity: this is a continuum of creativity, rather than 4 x separate categories. Sometimes, these categories can overlap (their edges can be fuzzy/blurred), depending whose judgement by consensus you use (e.g.: experts, critics, and general audience, do not always agree, etc!)

4-C model - K & B via V

But I should note in 2017 I added a 5th category:

5-C Model - Velikovsky 02020

(See this post for more.)

In the Handbook of Creativity (Sternberg 1999), Sternberg and Lubart find that `Creativity is the ability to produce work that is both novel (i.e. original, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e. useful, adaptive concerning task constraints)’[4]  (Sternberg and Lubart 1999: 3).

Distinguished Professor DK Simonton has done considerable research on `big-C’ Creativity, including his excellent book Great Flicks (2011).

See also, his excellent article: Simonton, DK (2013), ‘What is a creative idea? Little-c versus Big-C creativity‘, in K Thomas & J Chan (eds), Handbook of Research on Creativity, Edward Elgar Publishing, Northampton, MA, pp. 69-83.

So: Creativity is something that’s both novel and appropriate.[5]

Runco and Jaeger (2012) also wrote an excellent article on the standard definition of creativity. It’s called “The Standard Definition of Creativity” and it’s online here: Runco, MA & Jaeger, GJ (2012), ‘The Standard Definition of Creativity’, Creativity Research Journal, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 92-6.

Note: On quoting the standard definition of creativity, I now need to cite: Barron (1955), and especially Stein (1953), as recommended in (Runco & Jaeger 2012, p. 95)-!

i.e.: In the Conclusions, the authors write:

`Although there were hints that creativity requires originality and usefulness in publications before 1900, it seems to us that Barron (1955), and especially Stein
(1953), should be cited whenever the standard definition is used.
This does not imply that no further work is needed and that the standard definition is completely adequate.’

(Runco & Jaeger 2012, p. 95)

Also, another definition (that also correlates with this same definition of “new and appropriate”) comes from psychologist, Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Csikszentmihalyi (and, Wolfe) state that:

`Creativity can be defined as an idea or product that is original, valued and implemented.’

(Csikszentmihalyi and Wolfe 2000: 81)

General Model of Creativity color

Figure 1: General Model of Creativity

Source: (Csikszentmihalyi and Wolfe 2000: 81)

Essentially, this means that Society in that creative domain (i.e. other people who make up The Field of the specific domain of creativity, such as film, or, novels, or, science etc) has to recognize the new idea, process or product as: original, and valued, and moreover – it also has to be implemented.

(For example: your movie screenplay may be judged “creative” by some or even all the people who read it, but – the movie itself also has to be produced, for it to be “implemented” – in other words, the creative artefact has to be a real, tangible thing/artifact. And what is more: in the case of say, film – people have to go and see the movie, and: have to agree that it’s “creative”.)

Or, they have to buy and read your novel, or hear your song, or experience your poem, or your videogame, your comic, your haiku, etc.[7]

In Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (Csikszentmihalyi 1996) presents the results of an empirical study of 91 exceptionally-creative individuals, across various domains (i.e. prize-winners and outstanding individuals in both the arts and sciences). Artists, writers, painters, scientists, etc. [8]

And in that (excellent) book – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi articulates the systems model of creativity.

(This is the best scientifically-verified model of Creativity that I can find, and I have searched the published literature on Creativity.)

Moreover, in 2010, creativity researchers Amabile and Hennessey published an extensive review of the literature on creativity from 1998-2008. The findings and conclusions of these researchers were that: a systems view of creativity is necessary to comprehensively describe how creativity occurs in practice (Hennessey and Amabile 2010: 571):

Amabile and Henessey

Figure 2: The increasingly large concentric circles in this simplified schematic represent the major levels at which creativity forces operate.

Source: (Hennessey and Amabile 2010: 571)

Creativity/psychology researcher Dean Keith Simonton has also conducted a comprehensive literature review, and an excellent analytical summary of the scientific and empirical research to date, on the factors that make a film succeed, in ‘Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics‘ – including screenplay, director, cast and other characteristics, concluding that: more research on story/screenplay characteristics is required (Simonton 2011: 113).

Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (2011) – DK Simonton

So: as a doctoral research project, I (JT Velikovsky) conducted an empirical research study of the film/story/screenplay elements on the Top – and Bottom – 20 RoI films.

Namely, enquiring:

– How did these films come into being? (well; along with, the 500,000 others that exist – see: Vogel 2014)

And: Why did they become the 20 most successful RoI films? (i.e., RoI = widest audience-reach / lowest movie-production-budgets)

Why did the 20 others become: the least successful RoI films?

And – (hint) …Was it primarily because of: their film stories?

…Why do some stories (or – any units of culture, for that matter) spread further in culture, than others?

That (2016) PhD is online here, anyway.

As I note in the PhD thesis, Csikszentmihalyi presents – and refines – a theory of creativity (1988, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2014), whereby:

`Creativity occurs when a person using the symbols of a given domain such as music, engineering, business or mathematics has a new idea or sees a new pattern[9], and when this novelty is selected by the appropriate field for inclusion into the relevant domain’

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 28)

Csikszentmihalyi Systems Model from Henry

Csikszentmihalyi – The Systems Model (from Henry: Creative Management, 2006)

Figure 3: A systems model of creativity

Source: (Csikszentmihalyi in Henry 2006: p 3)

And: to be specific –

From the 2nd edition of Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity (1997), creativity can therefore be seen as:

`A system – composed of three elements: a culture that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation.’ 

(Csikszentmihalyi 1997: 6)

Note also that Csikszentmihalyi states:

To function well within the creative system, one must internalise the rules of the domain and the opinions of the field, so that one can choose the most promising ideas to work on, and do so in a way that will be acceptable to one’s peers.

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1999:332)

This process (internalising the domain) takes – on average – ten years.

For more detail, see also the excellent article: McIntyre, P (2013), ‘Creativity as a System in Action‘, in K Thomas & J Chan (eds), Handbook of Research on Creativity, Edward Elgar Publishing, Northampton, MA, pp. 69-83.

Also `the Newcastle School’ (at University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia) has published a lot of excellent creativity research using these models of creativity:

Fulton J & McIntyre P (2013) `Futures of Communication: Communication Studies∼Creativity’, Review of Communication, 13:4, 269-289, DOI: 10.1080/15358593.2013.872805

The Abstract of the article above [Fulton J & McIntyre P (2013)] states:

`Futures of Communication: Communication Studies∼Creativity’ –


This paper proposes that applying models from within creativity research to the discipline of communication will provide innovative ways of examining communication that pushes current knowledge of cultural production beyond established research programmes.

At the University of Newcastle in Australia, researchers have been applying the systems model of creativity developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to different forms of media practice in an attempt to provide a more comprehensive view of communication.

Rather than focusing on either the producer or the receiver as the principal source of creativity, as other communication theories such as the transmission model and the cultural context model have done, this paper will demonstrate that the systems model of creativity allows both the producer and receiver to be examined as equal components within a creative system while also providing the contexts for creative production.

Csikszentmihalyi argued that creativity is the product of a system that includes three necessary, but not individually sufficient, elements: a domain of knowledge (the cultural context), an individual who understands and uses that knowledge to produce a novel change, and a field (the social context) that understands the domain and uses that knowledge to judge that the individual’s contribution is novel and appropriate. All three elements, domain, individual and field, are equally important in producing a creative outcome.

The authors contend that the future of theorising about communication may lie in this confluence-based approach and demonstrate this contention by summarising the findings of creativity research in the communication studies discipline at the University of Newcastle.’

(Abstract – from article above, by: Fulton J & McIntyre P, 2014)

Re: Movies and Creativity 


In Creativity Across The Life-Span: A Systems View (1995) Csikszentmihalyi states:

`…creativity that changes a culture is the product of three sub-systems. One is the individual, which is what we usually study. But it’s not enough to know just about the individual. In order to know whether the novelty produced by a person is going to actually be effective in changing the culture, we also have to understand two other sub-systems: The culture, which is composed of a variety of domains, and the society, which is composed of a number of fields.

Let me give you a very simple example.

Let’s talk about creativity in a new domain, such as… the making of movies [film-making].

It is one of the more creative art forms of our time. Let’s call that domain A. Now, [film-making] did not start out cold. It did not spring from the brow of Jupiter, complete and ready to go. The domain of [film-making] is related to other artistic domains that existed for a long time, such as the theater, literature, and photography. These already existing domains were combined to make the first movies. Any culture is made up of thousands and thousands of domains like these.

To be creative one must have a domain from which one can learn a cultural tradition.

For instance, a person interested in movies may want to become a director, screenwriter, cinematographer, actor, film editor, or maybe a producer.

This person will turn to the already existing domain of [film-making] and bring to it something new that may change that domain.

The individual learns from that domain and tries to produce a novelty in it. Depending on whether the novelty is accepted by the field of [film-making], the person will be recognized as someone creative who has contributed to the domain.

The field of [film-making] is made up of producers, investors, directors, critics, script writers, and The Academy of Motion Pictures. These are the people who can decide whether a new film or a new cutting technique is or is not worth including into the domain of [film-making].

You could have a lot of very interesting and novel ideas about making movies, but unless those ideas are selected by the field, there will be no change and therefore no creativity.

Once the movie is accepted by the field, it is added to the domain and the contribution enlarges the domain from what it was before.

The new generation of movie makers will see the work as being part of the domain and react to it by saying something like, “Gee, look how well he cut the scenes or how well he used pan shots. I am going to try something like that, but different.”

This process is part of a continuing spiral.

A person absorbs certain rules or techniques from a domain and makes a change, which might or might not be accepted by the people who control the domain.

The field acts as a gatekeeper to the domain, and if the gatekeepers accept the new idea and add it to the domain, then it will become part of the culture. Then another cycle will start, and so on and on.

To be useful, this model has to generate new questions and has to suggest different ways of looking at things.

One can in fact play with this model quite a bit. For instance, one question that immediately presents itself is whether domains are all equally important to the culture. We will probably agree that they are not. Physics is much more important than a domain like chess. The importance of domains change with time.

Theology and religion were much more important in the Middle Ages, and now they have much less relevance to the culture in general. Let’s say that creative theologians, like Augustine and Aquinas, became centerpieces of European civilization in the 5th and 14th centuries, respectively. It would be difficult to make a similar impact nowadays, no matter how creative one might be, by changing the domain of religion. But, by changing the domain of physics one can become a world icon.’

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1995)

Here also is a diagram I created to represent the emergence (and, ongoing evolution) of the domain of Cinema as a trisociation of three pre-existing cultural domains that were combined – namely, Theatre, Photography and Literature:

Cinema as a combination (or trisociation) of Theatre, Photography and Literature. (Velikovsky 2014)

Cinema as a combination (or trisociation) of Theatre, Photography and Literature. (Velikovsky 2014)

In fact Cinema is a relatively complex domain as it is itself composed of many sub-domains in culture. These include: screenwriting, producing, production management, directing, cinematography, lighting, sound recording, production design, costume design, acting, wardrobe, hair and makeup, stunt performance, special effects, editing, sound design, sound mixing, music, special visual and sound effects, animation, titles design, cinema distribution, cinema exhibition, marketing, and more.

All these domains in Cinema also have further sub-domains within them.

On big-budget film productions, this can amount to hundreds of cast and crew personnel, across the various nonlinear stages of: (1) scriptwriting, (2) script development, (3) script and film financing, (4) film pre-production, (5) production, (6) post-production, (7) distribution and (8) exhibition. On low-budget movie productions some – or even many – of these various cast and crew roles can be shared by one person…

On the Top 20 RoI movie Primer (2004) Shane Carruth was: writer, director, producer, actor, editor, and music composer. The film won the Sundance Film Festival award, and is also possibly one of the most intelligent science fiction time-travel films created to date; its onscreen narrative also (intentionally) portrays the process of scientific discovery and creativity more accurately and realistically than most films. It is a truly remarkable movie.

(Just as an aside, here is a film I recently did 6 x Crew roles on – including Script Editor.)

This overall research project is concerned primarily with the creativity of the movie writer, as – without a story – and script – to turn into a movie, there is: no movie to be financed, and, made; no `timeless human universals’ for actors to portray, onscreen; no images and sounds for a director to interpret and oversee; in short, no movie to make without a script; no `plan for making a movie’ without a story to tell onscreen.

While group creativity is obviously also an essential part of movie-making, given the size and complexity of a movie, group creativity is not the primary focus of this project of enquiry, rather: the screenwriter, and their role in the creation of successful, or `creative’ movies. Notably – all 20 of the top 20 RoI key filmmakers were writer-hyphenates (either a writer-director, a writer-actor, a writer-producer, and sometimes, all 3 at once! This multi-skilling requires mastery of many domains in culture, all at once. These are all examples of `big-c’ Creativity. These films all reached audiences so wide, they made over 70 x times their budgets! Notably, none of the top 20 RoI films are adaptations of novels. They are primarily, `cinema – conceived and intended as – cinema’.)

In 2014, in The Wiley Handbook of Genius (Ed: Simonton 2014) Csikszentmihalyi updated the DIFi (Domain Individual Field interaction) systems model, renaming it the `DPFi (Domain, Person, Field interaction) model.

DPFi systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi in Simonton (ed) 2014 p. 538)

DPFi systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi in Simonton (ed) 2014 p. 538)

One of my own applications of the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996, etc) to the feature film domain is as follows:

The Feature Film Domain as a System
The Feature Film Domain as a System – using Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model (1988-2014) – Velikovsky 2012

Also in the excellent Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea (2013), Ian W. Macdonald includes a diagram, adapting Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model, and including also the doxa (from Bourdieu, 1996) in the domain:

Macdonald 2013 - systems model

The creative process of screenwriting, after Sawyer 2006 (Macdonald 2013, p. 115)

Also, as an aside, Sawyer (2012) is a 2nd edition of Sawyer (2006) noted above in Macdonald’s diagram, namely: Sawyer, R. K. (2012). Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press..

Also, here is another (more detailed) version of the Creative Practice Theory systems model – as an algorithmic process over time for an Individual / Person, in the Cinema system:

The `Creative Practice Theory' systems model of creativity -as an algorithm - over time (Velikovsky 2014)

The `Creative Practice Theory’ systems model of creativity in Movies – as an algorithm (and, a systems loop) – over time (Velikovsky 2014)

And – here is essentially the same concept as the algorithm above, illustrated as a cycling GIF, over time:

CPT General Model Diagram (Velikovsky 2012)

CPT General Model Diagram (Velikovsky 2012)

[If the details are hard to make out or the text is hard to read – a bigger version of the GIF is here]

And the steps in the process, over time, for a creative individual are as follows:

Creative Practice Theory (The steps all Top 20 RoI Movie `writer-hyphenates' passed through) (Velikovsky 2013)

Creative Practice Theory (The steps all Top 20 RoI Movie `writer-hyphenates’ passed through) (Velikovsky 2013)

Also, Dr Susan Kerrigan of The Newcastle School has also published an excellent revision of the DPFi systems model of creativity in her 2009 thesis: (the `agent’ is the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s term for `Individual’ or `Person’.)

Revised systems model of creativity incorporating creative practice. (Kerrigan p114)

Revised systems model of creativity incorporating creative practice. (Kerrigan p.114)

Note also that – in this systems process above, when films are selected by a consensus in the field (ie – the cinema audience!), to either become canon – or are de-selected (i.e., films that are not liked or admired or respected for their `originality and usefulness’) there are various sub-types (categories) of canon, as per the diagram below.

8 Types of Creativity in Movies (StoryAlity 2013)

8 Types of Creativity (or: canon) in Movies (StoryAlity 2013)

Some of these types overlap. But – some (in fact many) movies constantly move between all of these categories, as a `consensus of opinions’ change over time. One prime example is how, recently, after 50 years `at the top’ – the Orson Welles film `Citizen Kane’ moved from position #1 in the Sight & Sound Critics Poll, and Hitch’s `Vertigo’ moved into the #1 spot…  This also shows how tastes and fashions change over time as culture evolves. Also `the Field’ in this specific case is not composed of the exact same people as it was 50 years ago: people both enter, and leave, the Field constantly (e.g. as they retire, or die, etc – and new ones emerge to take their place!).

Also, it should be noted that poll is just one subsection of the Field. R K Sawyer in his excellent `Explaining Creativity’ (2012, 2nd edn) has an excellent diagram of `nested audiences’ in the Field, which applies to most cultural domains.

Nested Audiences (Sawyer 2012, p. 218)

Nested Audiences (Sawyer 2012, p. 218)

Sawyer (2012) writes:

`Sociologists have discovered that all audience members aren’t the same. They can be grouped depending on their level of expertise and how connected they are to the creators who work in the field… Works selected by the intermediaries …[at the centre of the field]… pass outward, to connoisseurs, amateurs, and the broad public…

The audience’s inner circle is filled with the connoisseurs, those people who know the most about the domain. Connoisseurs have been socialized into the domain almost as thoroughly as the intermediaries of the field. They play a disproportionately important role in the audience, they know more,  they’re more active, they’re more opinionated, and less experienced people trust their opinions.’

(Sawyer 2012, pp. 218-9)

And – to see this same systems model of Creativity in the Movie Domain `in action’ in realtime (as, an agent-based model, and combining Bourdieu’s practice theory of cultural production – or, in synthesis – Creative Practice Theory, Velikovsky 2012), please click the link below:


Figure 1: Practice Theory Narratology: the agent-based model online computer simulationAnalysis: the author (Velikovsky 2012f)

`Creative Practice Theory’ – in Movies: the agent-based-model online computer simulation (Velikovsky 2012)

Instructions for running the online agent-based-model, in your java-enabled web browser:

1)    Press RESET –

2)    Press GO.

(And perhaps then, please read all the text, underneath the model if you would like to understand what the agent-based model is, and does.)

So – My Question to you:

Do you know of a better (more scientific, a better approximation to reality) explanation – and definition – of Creativity than Csikszentmihalyi’s ?  [10]

Also notably, in The Act of Creation (1964) and also in Janus: The Summing Up (1978) creativity researcher and author Arthur Koestler demonstrates the idea of `bisociation’, showing that in a general sense, creativity in Humour, Science, and Art all works the same way:

Koestler 1964 - 3 x domains of creativity - The Act of Creation

So – What is `bisociation’? Here’s what Koestler says:

`I have coined the term `bisociation’ to make a distinction between the routines of disciplined thinking within a single universe of discourse – on a single plane, as it were – and the creative types of mental activity which always operate on more than one plane. In humour, both the creation of a subtle joke and the re-creative act of perceiving the joke, involve the delightful mental jolt of a sudden leap from one plane or associative context to another.’

(Koestler 1979, p. 113)

For examples of bisociation in science and technology, see this post.

And, a terrific diagram from R K Sawyer’s great book, Explaining Creativity (2012), showing the 8-step algorithm (formula, recipe) for creativity:

Sawyer 2012 p89 - Eight Stages of the Creative Process

Also, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but – in the fascinating book, The Dark Side of Creativity (2010), D H Cropley:

“…map[s] the six Ps [of creativity] onto seven phases in the emergence of an effectively novel product (Preparation, Activation, Generation, Illumination, Verification, Communication, and Validation).”

(TDSoC, Cropley, Cropley, Kaufmann & Runco (eds) 2010, p. 12)

And if the study of creativity is of interest (i.e. What it is, How it works, and Why), perhaps see also:

  1. StoryAlity #7 – On “the 10-Year Rule” and Creativity
  2. StoryAlity #8 – More on the 10-Year Rule” and Creativity
  3. StoryAlity #9 – How To Be More Creative
  4. StoryAlity #9B – Creativity in Science (and – The Arts and Film)
  5. StoryAlity #10 – About The Creative Personality
  6. StoryAlity #11 – Wallas and the Creative Process
  7. StoryAlity #12 – Combining Practice Theory and the Systems Model of Creativity
  8. StoryAlity #13- Creativity and Solved Domain Problems
  9. StoryAlity #14 – On Romantic Myths of Creativity

And: on `The unit of Culture’: (or, the meme.)

  1. Practical Memetics: `A Hierarchy of Memes’ (Velikovsky 2014)
  2. StoryAlity #100 – The Holonic Structure of the Meme – the unit of culture
  3. StoryAlity #101 – A Science of Memetic Culturolog
  4. StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And also:

On Systems Theory – and Evolution – and Creativity:

  1. StoryAlity #70 – Key Concepts in Systems Theory, Cybernetics & Evolution
  2. StoryAlity #70B – The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Capra & Luisi 2014)

As an aside there is a great documentary online on Kanopy where Howard Gardner interviews Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow: Psychology, Creativity, & Optimal Experience.

Csik and Gardner 2004

And ok so I know this seems kinda dumb (and – I am no huge fan of McDonalds – or any corporation). But – this recent ad for Big MacChicken was a great example of creativity as per Martindale (1989): ie Creativity – combine two (or more) old things, to get a new thing, and it works…

Also two interesting quotes:

`Creative professionals in the arts strive to create works that are novel enough to capture and hold the attention of their various audiences and that also, for example, inform, entertain, evoke aesthetic and intellectual pleasures, elicit powerful feelings, provoke new thoughts, or deepen understanding of self and others.’ (Harrington, Creativity Research Journal · January 2018, p. 120)


`Although the passage of time may bring with it changes in the criteria that judges use in evaluating creative work and creative people, the passage of time will also bring changes in the artistic-scientific-cultural-intellectual-economic-social-material-technological contexts in which creators work—changes that may, themselves, affect the pattern of demographic, personality, and cognitive characteristics that facilitate, impede, or are spuriously associated with creative success and reputation—whether success would be measured by the types of creativity indices currently used or by the types of value-free indices based on intentional novelty that Weisberg (2015) has proposed.’ (Creativity Research Journal · January 2018, Harrington p. 121)

…Thoughts / Comments / Feedback always most welcome.


JT Velikovsky

Evolutionary Creativity Guy

& High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/

[1] (i.e. Approximately 7 billion.)

[2] (I expect, they don’t match. Seriously. – Try it. Did you try it yet? Go on. Please try it: Ask two people at random, to `Define “Creativity”‘… The domain of Psychology certainly has a very good handle on what it is. Yet much of this knowledge has not – as yet – permeated many other Disciplines, such as those in the Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences.)

[3] Perhaps, what this possibly means is: Most people are also very `creative’ about the way they view Creativity. (See what I did there.)

[4] This definition of Creativity also correlates with (and, does not contradict) Csikszentmihalyi’s definition.

[5] So, what this means is: if you write a novel – and it’s for a “G-rated” audience and then some G-rated people read it, it’s unquestionably a: `novel, and appropriate’. (That was a joke.) For more definitions of creativity, see: http://creativity.netslova.ru/Definitions_of_creativity.html

[8] Runco, Weisberg and Pope have offered critiques of the systems model, primarily noting that it potentially privileges the individual as creator, over group creation Phillip Mcintyre, Creativity and Cultural Production: Issues for Media Practice (Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) vii, 233 p. at 80-5.. For more on group creation, see work by R Keith Sawyer such as Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation R. Keith Sawyer, Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation (2nd ed. edn.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[9] This phenomenon of `creative innovation’ also relates to Thomas Kuhn’s notion of anomaly. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn’s theory about how paradigm shifts occur – is that “discovery commences with the awareness of anomaly, i.e., with the recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science” Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Phoenix Books; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962) xv, p52.. However this theory had many critics (Popper 1963, Nelson 1993, Martin 1991, Schiebinger 1999 and Longino 1994) when transferred from the natural sciences to the social sciences. Alexander Bird, ‘”Thomas Kuhn”‘, in Zalta Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, 2011).

[10] (If so, please let me know.)



Bird, Alexander (2011), ‘”Thomas Kuhn”‘, in Zalta Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University).

Csikszentmihalyi, M (1995), ‘Creativity Across the Life-Span: A Systems View’, Talent Development III, vol. Gifted Psychology Press, pp. 9-18 (http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10009.aspx)

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996), Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1st edn.; New York: HarperCollins) viii, 456 p.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1997), Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1st HarperPerennial edn.; New York: HarperPerennial) 456 p.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1999), Implications of a Systems Perspective for the Study of Creativity, in R. Stenberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity (pp. 313-335) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly and Wolfe, Rustin (2000), ‘New Conceptions and Research Approaches to Creativity: Implications for a Systems Perspective of Creativity in Education’, in K. A.  Heller, et al. (eds.), International Handbook of Giftedness and Talent (2nd ed. edn.; Amsterdam; Oxford: Elsevier).

Csikszentmihalyi (2014) `The Systems Model of Creativity and Its Applications’ in Simonton, DK [Ed] 2014, The Wiley Handbook of Genius, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, West Sussex.

Fulton J & McIntyre P (2013) `Futures of Communication: Communication Studies∼Creativity’, Review of Communication, 13:4, 269-289, DOI: 10.1080/15358593.2013.872805

Gruber, H. E. (1981). Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hart, H. (1959) “Social Theory and Social Change”, in L. Gross, (ed.), Symposium on Sociological Theory, New York: Harper & Row, 196-238.

Hennessey, Beth A. and Amabile, Teresa (2010), ‘Creativity’, Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569–98.

Henry, Jane (2006), Creative Management and Development (3rd edn.; London: SAGE) xii, 259 p.

Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. a. (2013). Do people recognize the four Cs? Examining layperson conceptions of creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(3), 229–236.

Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. A. (2009). Beyond big and little: The Four C Model of Creativity. Review of General Psychology, 13, 1-12.

Kerrigan, S. (2011). Creative Documentary Practice: Internalising the Systems Model of Creativity through documentary video and online practice. PhD, The University of Newcastle Newcastle. http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/929852

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Phoenix books; Chicago: University of Chicago Press) xv, 172 p.

Macdonald, I. W. (2013). Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Martindale, C. (1989). Personality, Situation and Creativity. In J. A. Glover, R. R. Ronning & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), Handbook of Creativity: Perspectives on Individual Differences (pp. 211-232). New York; London: Plenum.

McIntyre, Phillip (2012), Creativity and Cultural Production: Issues for Media Practice (Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan) vii, 233 p.

McIntyre, P 2013, ‘Creativity as a System in Action‘, in K Thomas & J Chan (eds), Handbook of Research on Creativity, Edward Elgar Publishing, Northampton, MA, pp. 69-83.

Meusburger, Peter, et al. (2009) Milieus of Creativity: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Spatiality of Creativity [online text], Springer <http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9877-2>

Runco, MA & Jaeger, GJ (2012), ‘The Standard Definition of Creativity’, Creativity Research Journal, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 92-6.

Sawyer, R. Keith (2012), Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation (2nd ed. edn.; New York: Oxford University Press).

Simonton, D. K. (2012). Creative Thought as Blind Variation and Selective Retention: Why Creativity is Inversely Related to Sightedness. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 33(4), 253-266.

Simonton, Dean Keith (2011), Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Simonton, DK 2013, ‘What is a creative idea? Little-c versus Big-C creativity’, in K Thomas & J Chan (eds), Handbook of Research on Creativity, Edward Elgar Publishing, Northampton, MA, pp. 69-83.

Sternberg, Robert J. (1999), Handbook of Creativity, ed. Robert J. Sternberg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) ix, 490 p.

Sternberg, Robert J. and Lubart, T.I. (1999), ‘The Concept of Creativity: Prospects and paradigms’, in Robert J. Sternberg (ed.), Handbook of Creativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 3-15.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema: A comparative study of the top 20 Return-on-Investment (RoI) Movies and the Doxa of Screenwriting’. PhD Thesis, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia.

Vogel, H. L. (2014). Entertainment Industry Economics – A Guide For Financial Analysis (9th ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

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