Most of us have a clear idea of where we fall on the creativity spectrum. On the long journey from papier mache to professional, we figure out if we’re more actuary than Matisse or closer to concert pianist than astrophysicist.
While most of us accept our spot on the scale, researchers in Poland wanted to find out why there were such differences in creativity among people. Their study, which was published in Creativity Research Journal, compared 60 bank tellers and 60 artists on two points: temperament and divergent thinking.
In a nutshell, temperament is part of your innate personality. It includes things like introversion or extraversion and attention and persistence. Divergent thinking, which can be learned and improved during your life, is the process of generating ideas by exploring different options or solutions. It’s how your mind would answer a question such as:
How many uses can you make of a toothpick?
You can probably guess that the artists in the study blew the bank tellers out of the water on divergent thinking. Temperament, however, wasn’t very different between the two groups. But the most creative people had a winning combination—high divergent thinking and the temperamental trait known as activity. Activity is the tendency to seek out numerous activities that provide lots of external stimulation. The researchers suspect that the more experiences we have, the more we have to draw from when we need to be creative.
Makes sense. If you want to be more creative, do more stuff—crazy, random, irrelevant stuff—even if it’s not in your nature. Take a hike, go to the theater, talk to strangers, explore a new neighborhood. Because in the end, creativity may rely more on what you take in than what you put out.