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The Creative Personality: Both Smart and Naive

“I’ll never be the artist I was as a child.” Willa Cather

We may value children, and our own child selves, as having more free and unrestrained creativity.

But how true is that notion?

How much do we benefit from having a child-like sense of play?

Don’t we need our adult intellect to be creative?

In her Creating in Flow blog post Creative Kids Learn to Flow (Part 1), Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. notes that a child so deeply involved in play they may ignore other people or an adult voice, is probably in a flow state, which “happens whenever you’re so absorbed in a task that you forget yourself.”

She adds that in flow, you’re more likely to be creative, according to, among others, Teresa M. Amabile, Ph.D., a Harvard Business School creativity researcher and author of Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity.

[In my audio podcast interview with Susan Perry; she talks more about flow psychology.]

Speaking of flow, in my earlier post The Complexity of the Creative Personality, I listed some of the characteristics of creative people noted by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high) from his research.

In his article The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality (from his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention), he writes that “Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility” and that “Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.”

He says that “a core of general intelligence is high among people who make important creative contributions,” but according to the studies of Lewis Terman, “after a certain point IQ does not seem to be correlated with superior performance in real life” – including level of creativity.

Csikszentmihalyi notes that Howard Gardner “remarked in his study of the major creative geniuses of this century, a certain immaturity, both emotional and mental, can go hand in hand with deepest insights.”

Gardner’s book is Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity as Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi.

Immature, playful, leisurely

Actor John Cleese (“Monty Python” and many movies) has pointed to research by the late UC Berkeley psychologist Donald MacKinnon, who studied creativity in architects, among others.

MacKinnon’s research looked at differences between highly creative architects with their less gifted counterparts.

The difference between them,¬†Cleese said, was “The more creative ones had a facility for switching into a more playful mode. It’s a leisurely mode.”

That might be another key to how a child-like approach to creating can be helpful: It is probably less “adult” and less frantic and pressured.

The Creative Personality: Both Smart and Naive

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2011). The Creative Personality: Both Smart and Naive. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 12, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Feb 2011
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