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CREATIVITY by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Pub Date: June 19th, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-017133-2
Publisher: HarperCollins

A mostly fascinating look at what makes creative people who they are, gleaned largely from interviews with 91 individuals from a wide variety of fields.

Despite the subtitle, social psychologist Csikszentmihalyi, who invented the idea of "flow'' and authored a book with that title, writes relatively little about the enjoyable, ego- and time- transcending absorption in a task that is conducive to creativity and high achievement. Rather, he focuses on the interplay between culture, the creative person, and the "domain'' (sociologese for "field''), including the receptivity of experts to new ideas and inventions. He quotes extensively--too much so--from the subjects he and his research team interviewed, but there are some gems among these passages, such as writer Madeleine L'Engle's observation that to produce good literature, "your intuition and your intellect should be working together...making love.'' Csikszentmihalyi's weakest section consists of detailing ten personality polarities that supposedly distinguish creative individuals, but that are also applicable to "balanced'' or "fulfilled'' individuals. His best sections consist of longer profiles of individuals as varied as poet Anthony Hecht, ecologist Barry Commoner and astronomer Vera Rubin. Also valuable is a concluding prescriptive section with some helpful advice to the average person on how to make his or her thinking and way of living more creative, particularly a passage on how to rethink and use a disappointing experiences, such as being passed over for a promotion. Unfortunately, redundancies make the work too long by at least a third, and some meaningless or fatuous generalizations also mar the presentation (e.g., "Recent studies suggest that the amount of dalliance, marital infidelity and sexual experimentation [among creative people studied] is much less than earlier estimates had suggested'').

Still, the rich anecdotal material Csikszentmihalyi has mined and analyzed make this an important study of a vital topic.