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Innate traits of creativity and how to harness so-called dangerous ones

So you want a creative team. How do you know if you have people with enough creative juice or if you need to hire them? David and Tom Kelley, IDEO founders, believe everyone is born creative. People are not equally creative, though. Early research into the link between genes and creativity validates some correlation between the two, with a pilot study in Brain Research showing that DRD2 gene and the TPH gene were associated with creativity, but explaining only 9% of the variance in test subjects. If genetic differences then account for very little of creative variances, it begs the question: what of the other 91% of creative variability?

To some degree, creativity variances hinge on discrepancies in personality traits, of course, which can be shaped by experience. Based on the Five Factor or Big Five Model, defined by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae, psychologists at the College of William and Mary conducted meta-analysis on the correlation between Big Five Factors and creativity, finding that creative people are more open to new experiences, self-accepting, less conscientious (in terms of planning and organizing), and relatively more aggressive and impulsive.

Impacting creativity to a lesser degree are the traits of less conventional, more self-confident, more ambitious and more dominant. Those of us who are highly creative or have worked with highly creative types will not find any of this surprising. Not only do genes and personality influence creativity, but also relative sensitivity to new information and stimuli. National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies show higher IQs and lower latent inhibition in individuals with greater creativity. Since latent inhibition is the ability to block out information the brain has previously deemed irrelevant, low latent inhibition enables more raw material for creative concepts.

After early adulthood, are we stuck with the creative level that our genes, personality traits, and sensitivity have bestowed upon us? Well, no. Millennials do not get to have all the fun. Recent longitudinal and cross-sectional NIH research has shown self-confidence, warmth, self-control, and emotional stability tend to increase with age, although naturally, specific life experiences render individual experiences unique (and there’s always Jack Lemmon and Walter Mattau). In a separate piece, we will address organizational structure and process, as well as the role of expertise and motivation in creativity, but here we are looking at innate traits, so when hiring or looking to put together a team to maximize creative output, look for those with openness to new experiences, self-acceptance, self-confidence, self-control, ambitiousness and emotional stability. While few would argue that it would be dangerous to blindly embrace more aggressive, less conventional, more dominant and impulsive poor planners as a discrete set of hiring and team-assigning attributes (and disruptive to say the least to hire for these traits alone), every individual is a make-up of various characteristics, so adding a mix of these traits into a team can infuse it with new thinking. Consider both these traditionally positive attributes (some of which are overlooked in hiring) and those that people might shirk from, because they just might ignite new ideas.

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