Chapter Three—The Creative Personality

In this chapter Csikzentmihalyi speculates on what makes an individual creative. So we move to the other half of the what determines where creativity happens; we’re now approaching the idea of the creative individual to try to ascertain what kind of person, mind, self is behind the creative. We might also ask what is personality. What are we looking at or to when we use the term personality. The term seems to imply some sort of individual uniqueness, based on traits, character, “the set of emotional qualities, ways of behaving, etc., that makes a person different from other people.”


At the outset

Csikszentmihalyi asks “what sort of person” is likely to be able to “internalize the entire system that makes creativity possible”

This internalization of the system already suggests that we may be looking at a person who understands some sort or complex set of relationships.


The answer:

“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.”

This “ability “distinguishes them from the rest of us.”

They are different

Yet, no particular characteristics or “traits” seem necessary for someone to come up with a creative outcome, product, idea, work, or invention that is valuable to the larger culture . . .

So CM there may be no one type or absolutely distinguishable type of creative person.


First he asks:

Might genetics predetermine creativity in a given domain?

He answers yes, to some degree . . .

But then he backs off from that by giving examples of historically creative people who were born with diseases or who developed sensory deficiencies, as examples of how genetics may not be that important.

So before defining for us, the characteristics of creative types, or personalities, Csikszentmihalyi, offers a disclaimer—there is no one type, but with that we can still attempt to establish traits or characteristics of the creative personality.


But, he vacillates once more and claims “a sensory advantage may be responsible for developing an early interest in the domain.”

Thus genetics may not determine creativity, but genetics may determine an interest in a domain. Perhaps, some people are born with an interest in art or music, or mathematics, or science?


Further, Csikszentmihalhyi adds

“Curiosity, wonder and interest,”

“Openness to experience

“fluid attention that constantly processes . . . environment . . .”

Make for “recognizing interesting problems”

And “recognizing potential novelty”

These may all be attributes of a creative person. Clearly there is nothing new of profound here yet. There must be a myriad of other factors.


Beyond individual interest and intelligence

As well as interest a “person also needs access to a domain.”

A significantly creative person must have “cultural capital”

A creative person must learn what it takes work in a domain and to know the rules and codes of a domain. Whether cultural capital stems from being born into affluence, having a great coach, or mentor, or having access to a good education. All the intelligence in the world won’t matter without cultural capital. That said, some significantly creative people fight their way to creative prominence from poverty, personal tragedy, trauma and turmoil.


Likewise, CM claims

One must also have access to a “field,” Such access can come about in a variety for ways, for example, through . . .

A benefactor

Creative cohorts

University resources and positions

A field is often

limited by stiff competition, an overabundance of people vying for the same positions or

Gatekeepers who restrict access

Because of these factors “access to a field is often determined by chance, or irrelevant factors, such as having good connections.”

“. . . since creativity is the property of a complex system, and none of its components alone can explain it,” CM is hesitant about defining the personality of the creative individual.

And the “personality of an individual who is to do something creative must adapt itself to the particular domain, to the conditions of the particular field which vary at different times from domain to domain”

This suggests that though interest and resources are crucial to creative success, one must have a bit of flexibility to adapt to changes in systems and circumstances.


So it is not about a particular “personality style.”

A way of behaving, or speaking, or acting are not determinants here. And as Csikszentmihalyi tells us, it is not a matter of greater intelligence, a higher IQ,


Creatives in Csikszentmihalyi’s view are different

Because their personalities are complexities

“Instead of being individuals they are multitudes . . .”

“ . . . they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves.”

So how does one become a multitude and how can any one person hold the entire range of human possibilities within . . . are we talking about higher humans? How could this be possible?


All that aside

For Csikczentmihalyi creatives must have certain characteristics which encompass what he calls “Ten Dimensions of Complexity.” Further these ten dimensions are antithetical to each other.

The Ten Dimensions

Abundance of physical energy/while often quiet and at rest


Convergent/Divergent thinkers





Convergent thinking is measured by IQ tests and involves the ability to solve problems that have one correct answer. Divergent thinking leads to no agreed upon solution, suggests flexibility and fluency, or the ability to change views and perspectives




Ambitious/Selfless are other terms applied here.

Masculine/Feminine—Psychologically Androgynous

Rebellious, Independent/Traditional, Conservative

Willing to take risk, but recognize the importance of previous contributions to a domain


Particularly about their work

Suffering, Pained/Joyful, Exhuberent

Linked to sensitivity as well pleasure in process of creating

Refers to a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. Here we might do away with terms that hold gender to types. CM clearly does not.


In the end Csikszentmihalyi admits these ten dimensions are “arbitrary,” and might have excluded other important characteristics of creative people.

But, he maintain the creative person must “operate at both ends of these polarities. . .”

So as I close here I wonder is Csikszentmihalyi on to something here. Or are the assignments of lists and categories to creative types more than arbitrary, but rather based on a limited perspective that continues to want to apply reason, clear designations to complexities that remain almost unnameable, encrypted in unknown workings of mind, body, even spirit, drawn from some unknown dimension . . .