Leveling Up Your Creativity

Can creativity be taught or are we born with it? The answer is not a simple as it seems.

Design tools background

There is much debate on whether creativity is a learned skill or a coveted gift reserved for a select few. People often will say to one another, "Oh I'm not creative," or "You are so much more creative than I am." Whether creativity can be taught or not, the reality is some people are more creative than others. But that's not the whole story.

The 4-C Model of Creativity

James C. Kaufman and Ronald A. Beghetto are two significant contributors to the creativity conversation and have elaborated on a classification system that is very interesting to professional designers and hobbyists alike. They call it the "Four-C Model of Creativity" and it is used to show how creativity develops over the course of one's life. The four stages of creativity are defined as: Big-C, Little-C, Pro-C, and Mini-C.

4 C's of Creativity

Let's look at Big-C first because it is the most straightforward. Big-C is the level of creativity reserved for the creative geniuses in the world. It includes all luminaries throughout the ages, from Mozart, to Einstein, to Hemingway. Their work lives on long after they've passed and they are remembered for their creativity.

Little-C and Mini-C are levels of creativity that are attainable for all of us. Mini-C is creativity that happens early on during the learning process, such as when a child first learns to draw. Little-C is the creativity that is inherent in everyday life, such as someone who writes music for fun or enjoys painting.

Pro-C is where many entertainers, designers and other individuals in the fields associated with creativity might fall. These individuals have achieved expert-level creativity and are making a living using the creative development they have built over the years.

Take this story about Linda, adapted from Kaufman and Beghetto's work, as an example of how we might progress through the four stages of creativity: Linda is a high school student who has taken an interest in design. She takes some classes and tries to recreate designs that she likes. This early work is not necessarily very good, but it has meaning to her so she continues. Linda is Mini-C.

As she hones her skills, perhaps as she approaches graduation, her designs get better. She publishes a side project on Behance that other people find value in. Due to this growth and expanded reach, Linda has achieved Little-C.

After deciding to pursue a career in design, she soon gets a job as a product designer. Over the years, she designs many products and gets better and better. As a person making a living using her creativity, she has reached Pro-C.

If Linda is very talented, and perhaps a little lucky, she might design products that will be produced and enjoyed for many years after her death. Her creativity could be recognized as Big-C.

Creative Distribution

In most professions, talent is not distributed equally; I've found this is not any different in the field of design. For each level of Kaufman and Beghetto's model, creativity is distributed more like a bell curve. There are a few outliers on either side of the curve in the "awful" and "excellent" categories, but most of the population falls somewhere in the middle. Individuals on the excellent end of the spectrum have the highest likelihood of advancing to the next stage of creativity.

creativity bell curve

Although it's true that some individuals are more creative than others, Kaufman and Beghetto's classification system provides a structure you can use to approach your own creative development. In what parts of your life are you pursuing Pro-C (or even Big-C)? What are the Mini-C and Little-C activities you do that can support your Pro-C work? In an upcoming post, we'll look at the importance of incorporating Mini-C and Little-C activities into your life and the impact they can have on your work and other parts of your life.

About this post: As makers of software for creative thinkers, we think about creativity a lot. What is it? Are there ways to be more creative? This article is the second in a series of blog posts where I break down creativity, explore different ways good ideas emerge, and hopefully along the way offer ideas on how we can all be more creative in our jobs and lives. Read Part 1 here.

Cover Image: Miguel Angel Avila

Perfectly reasonable business advice, delivered to your inbox.