StoryAlity #44 – Evolution and Creativity: Film


So – The Systems Model of creativity is an explicitly evolutionary, bio-psycho-socio-cultural model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999, p. 316; Csikszentmihalyi & Nakamura, 2006, p. 245; Csikszentmihalyi & Wolfe, 2000, pp. 83-84).

Two quotes illustrate this evolutionary concept, the first from 1999:

`The systems model is analogous to the model that scholars have used to describe the process of evolution… creativity can be seen as a special case of evolution; specifically, it is to cultural evolution as the mutation, selection, and transmission of genetic variation is to biological evolution…

The same considerations apply to creativity when the latter is seen as the form that evolution takes at the cultural level: To be creative, a variation has to be adapted to its social environment, and has to be capable of being passed on through time.’

(Csikszentmihalyi in Sternberg, 1999, p. 316).

In this view, bottom 20 RoI movies are not well adapted to their environment, and are deselected by that environment, and become archive; top 20 RoI movies by contrast are very well adapted to their environment, that is, to the minds of those in the field, or the mass cinema audience, and thus become retained as canon, and are therefore transmitted through time via ongoing viewings, by both existing and new audiences.
The second Csikszentmihalyi quote (below) is from the year 2000, noting the slight changes in phrasing to the above although the argument is identical, namely that the systems model is an evolutionary model of natural selection, involving the evolutionary algorithm of selection, variation, and transmission, operating on culture rather than merely on biology:

`The systems model of creativity is formally analogous to the model of evolution based on natural selection.

The variation which occurs at the individual level of biological evolution corresponds to the contribution that the person makes to creativity; the selection is the contribution of the field, and the transmission is the contribution of the domain to the creative process (cf. Simonton 1988; Martindale 1989)… creativity can be seen as a special case of evolution.

Creativity is to cultural evolution as the mutation, selection, and transmission of genetic variation is to biological evolution.’

(Csikszentmihalyi & Wolfe, 2000, pp. 83-84).

Taking the broader view of bioculture than merely examining the domain of movies, this evolutionary natural selection view of how culture works also correlates with Sir Karl Popper’s (1963, 1999) and D. T. Campbell’s Evolutionary Epistemology (D. T. Campbell, 1974b), and thus appears to apply, in a general sense, to how all socio-cultural domain-knowledge or, retained information in a domain, works.

So – it can be observed that – as with biological evolution – the creative system functions by meme (as opposed to gene) selection, variation and transmission, both on a macro scale by the field, and on a micro scale by individual writers/filmmakers.

For a book chapter on the structure of the meme, (the unit of culture), see:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

Here is the systems model of creativity:

Biological Evolution

Biological Evolution

Figure 1: Model of Biological Evolution

Source: (M. Csikszentmihalyi and Wolfe 2000: 83)

Csikszentmihalyi states that:

`Creativity is the engine that drives cultural evolution.’

(M. Csikszentmihalyi and Wolfe 2000: 84)

One example of meme selection, variation and transmission from the Top 20 ROI Films (from this ongoing doctoral research study) is: Writer-Actor Sylvester Stallone, using the real life 1975 Muhammad Ali-Chuck Wepner title fight as the inspiration for the story of the film Rocky (1976) (Sanello 1998: 63). It can be observed that the characters of Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed are inspired by (a variation of) real-life characters of Chuck Wepner and Muhammad Ali, including lines of dialog, and their (implied) character backstories.

All top 20 ROI films in the doctoral research study can also be shown to have evolutionary precursors and inspirations in this manner. (For more on this, see: this StoryAlity post.)

Creativity and cultural evolution `work’ the same way, because they essentially are the same thing: Biological Evolution uses genes, and Cultural Evolution uses memes (i.e. “units of culture” / ideas / concepts)

Creativity and Cultural Evolution

Creativity and Cultural Evolution

Figure 2: The Systems Model of Creativity

Source: (M. Csikszentmihalyi and Wolfe 2000: 84)

Csikszentmihalyi refined the model from 1998 to 2006, moving through several iterations and resulting in this model:

Csikszentmihalyi Systems Model from Henry

Csikszentmihalyi Systems Model – from Creative Management (Henry 2006)

Figure 3: A systems model of creativity

Source: (Csikszentmihalyi in Henry 2006: 3)

Another example of the systems model:

The Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi). Source: McIntyre 2008: http://www.artofrecordproduction.com/content/view/172/109/

Fig 4: The Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi). Source: McIntyre 2008 

Figure 4: The Systems Model of Creativity

Source: McIntyre (2008) http://www.artofrecordproduction.com/content/view/172/109/

In Musical Creativities in Practice (Burnard 2012) Burnard combines Bourdieu’s practice theory and Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of creativity, with respect to musical creativities:

Fig 4: A synthesized framework for understanding multiple musical creativities integrating the theories of Csikszentmihalyi (1999) and Bourdieu (1993).Source: (Burnard 2012, p. 223)

Fig 5: A synthesized framework for understanding multiple musical creativities integrating the theories of Csikszentmihalyi (1999) and Bourdieu (1993).
Source: (Burnard 2012, p. 223)

Fig 5: A synthesized framework for understanding multiple musical creativities integrating the theories of Csikszentmihalyi (1999) and Bourdieu (1993).

Source: (Burnard 2012: 223)

Other scholars have also found Bourdieu and Csikszentmihalyi’s theories to be similar: (McIntyre 2006) (Kupferberg 2006), (McIntyre 2008), (Novrup Redvall 2012), (McIntyre 2012: 197).

What this means is – that – Bourdieu’s and Csikszentmihalyi’s theories (practice theory and the systems model of creativity) can be combined – to describe the Feature Film System in action.

Fig. 5: Creative Practice Theory: Film (Velikovsky 2012)

Fig. 6: Creative Practice Theory: Film (Velikovsky 2012)

Figure 6. Creative Practice Theory: Film

Source: Velikovsky 2012

Note – in the model above:

Habitus – is the overlap of the person’s/agent’s bio-socio-cultural history, and their experience with the Field – including the overlapping Social System/s.

The person’s/agent’s creativity – occurs in the overlap of the Cultural and Social systems. This is because, as Csikszentmihalyi states, Creativity does not occur until/unless the innovation is both implemented, and then recognized by the Field. The final stage in Creativity therefore ultimately (`finally’) occurs outside the Individual.

The 4 stages are:

1) the initial stage – involving internalising the domain, (learning and practising in the chosen art form/discipline)

2) the second stage involves bisociation by the individual, (Arthur Koestler’s notion, of combining two previously unrelated contexts)*

3) the third stage is the implementation of the innovation (within the domain – for example the domain of Film, and the sub-domain thereof, of: Screenwriting),

– and the fourth and final stage is:

4) recognition/validation of the innovation (as `novel and appropriate’) by the Field. (it is estimated that, if 40% of people share an opinion it becomes the prevailing mainstream opinion)

Symbolic capital – emerges/occurs/exists in the overlap/intersection of the Individual’s/Agent’s Bio-Socio-Cultural History, and the intersection of the Cultural and Social systems. Bourdieu has noted that symbolic capital (awards, peer recognition, honours, titles) are closely related to Social and Cultural capital. 

And thus – when we then also include in this Creative Practice Theory model (above): memes, holons and narratology, we arrive at: Creative Practice Theory Narratology.

CPT General Model Diagram (Velikovsky 2012)

Fig 7 – CPT General Model Diagram (Velikovsky 2012)

Figure 7. Creative Practice Theory: General Model

Source: (Velikovsky 2012)

In other words, a model – and an empirical content analysis methodology – to describe why some films (also: novels, songs, poems, etc) are more viral/popular than others.

See also:

StoryAlity #131 – Why Things (like, some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle

For more (in fact, almost too much) detail on CPT (Creative Practice Theory) and CPTN (Creative Practice Theory Narratology), see:

Creative Practice Theoryhttps://storyality.wordpress.com/creative-practice-theory/

Creative Practice Theory Narratologyhttps://storyality.wordpress.com/practice-theory-narratology/


…Thoughts/Comments/Feedback most welcome.


JT Velikovsky

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/


* For more on Arthur Koestler’s notion of `bisociation’ (from The Act of Creation, Koestler 1964) see here

And for more on Universal Darwinism, see:






Burnard, Pamela (2012), Musical Creativities in Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press) xv, 308 p.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). `Implications of a Systems Perspective for the Study of Creativity’ in Robert Sternberg (ed) Handbook of Creativity, 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, M., & Nakamura, J. (2006). `Creativity Through the Life Span from An Evolutionary Systems Perspective.’ In C. Hoare (Ed.), Handbook of Adult Development and Learning (pp. 243-254). New York: Oxford University Press.

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

Kupferberg, F. (2006), Rethinking the Pedagogical Sociology (Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels).

McIntyre, Phillip (2006), ”Paul McCartney and the creation of “Yesterday”: The systems model in operation”, Popular Music, 25 (2), 201-19.

McIntyre, P. (2008) ‘The Systems Model of Creativity: Analyzing the Distribution of Power in the Studio’, 4th Art of Record Production International Conference, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Nov 2008: published in Journal of the Art of Record Production, Issue 4: Supplement to ARP08, The Peer – Reviewed Proceedings of the 2008 Art of Record Production Conference http://www.artofrecordproduction.com/content/view/172/109/

— (2008), ‘Creativity and Cultural Production: A study of contemporary western music songwriting’, Creativity Research Journal, 20 (1), 40-52.

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

Novrup Redvall, E. (2012), ”A systems view of film-making as a creative practice’ ‘, Northern Lights Yearbook of Film and Media Studies [Film and Media Production: Convergence, Creativity and Collaboration]. , 10 (1), 57-73.

Sanello, Frank (1998), Stallone: A Rocky Life (Edinburgh: Mainstream).


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