Creativity & Potential: Lessons from a little bird

Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.”
Emory Austin

A little bird taught me a lot about taking an ecological approach to creativity measurement.  I am a week away from finishing my Master’s Program at Buffalo State’s International Center for Creativity Studies.  Today’s blog is part of my ‘Final Product’ assignment for a class called Creativity Assessment: Measures and Methods.  Luckily it is taught by a fun and creative professor  – Dr. John Cabra. 

Dr. John Cabra 

 He patiently tutored us for months to learn the difference between quantitative and qualitative data, various forms of reliability, validity, and usability, and the magic Cronback-Alpha cut-off (.70).  Now that we can all properly assess research methods and evaluate factor loadings, we get to prove we understand the concepts by creating a product which proves our proficiency.  If you didn’t get all that – it’s ok, because the fun stuff starts here!


April 16th – while doing my morning journaling – I got a vision of the direction I wanted to take for my product.  I sketched it out in my journal along with some notes – and the “egg” of my idea was born.  I know enough about creativity to let things like this incubate – so that’s what I did.  Creativity is a really complex phenomenon to try to evaluate.  Lots of smart people have tried, but most focused on just one aspect (the ‘seperatist’ approach) or only paid attention to process.  The new direction in research is called the Ecological (or interactionist) approach.  It looks at complex interactions in an attempt to understand creativity.

 “Creativity is imagining possibilities and making them real.”
Marta Davidovich Ockuly

 Are you still with me?  Ok. One of the articles in my textbook (shown above with photos of the authors: Dr. Mary Murdock who sadly passed away last year, but continues to teach us through her videos, and Dr. Gerard Puccio our department head and noble creative leader) tells a story about a little bird in a cage.  If you studied the bird and wrote down all your observations, how much would you know about the bird?  Not very much.  Do you think a bird that’s been kept in a small cage can still fly?  In the past creativity assessments looked at creativity like a bird in a cage.  They were measuring artificial settings and none of the complexity.  Fortunately – our caged bird WOULD fly. The ability is encoded.  Here’smore good news.  Guess what’s encoded in all of us?  Creativity!  Why?  Because we were not born with wings.  How else could we hope to soar (or even survive) without our ability to imagine?  Imagination is unique to humans. It is so powerful – that if we imagine we’re not creative, we can – to all external measures – make it look as if it were true.  Can it ever be true – really?  The answer is no.  All human brains are creative and have unlimited amounts of potential. Now the question becomes – how do we activate it?  No need for tests or assessments – just start using it.

Now back to my project.  I found a bird cage with a little bird to symbolize our creative potential.  There were eggs in a nest which represented all the dreams and ideas we haven’t ‘hatched’ yet.  I added a Buffalo State lanyard holding 4 shiny keys which stand for the widely accepted four components of creativity: person, process, product and press.  The keys are also to remind us we have the ‘key’ to open any door if we use our creativity.  The butterfly perched on the outside of the cage is a symbol of transformation and playfulness.  Lighten up. Have fun with creativity.  Play with ideas, and projects and things you are deeply passionate about learning.  These actions will give your creativity wings. 

 Part two of my product project was to create a collage which spoke to ecology and how we (people and birds) must interact with nature.  I used this quote by John Muir at the top: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature…one finds it attached to the rest of the world.”  Thinking in terms of the ecology of creativity I wrote: “Creativity is a 1000+ piece puzzle…as complex and evolving as nature.”  The ecological model of creativity shows four overlapping circles representing person, process, product and press, but I added a fifth circle called potential.  Every one of these aspects is made up of many, many puzzle pieces.  Just like we can’t look at a bird and know if it can fly, we can’t look at a person and ‘see’ their creativity.  Research points to certain personality traits and thinking styles which sometimes lead to creativity, but no measure right now takes into account a person’s history, birth order, personality traits, knowledge base, habits, attitude, blocks, fears, competencies, culture, environment, health, commitment, motivation, self-esteem, openness, tolerance of ambiguity, curiosity, playfulness, intuition, risk-talking, learning style, flexibility, originality, values, interests, preferences, passions, talents, and challenges.  Rather than blocking creativity – challenges and a level of anxiety can actually encourage it!

Now what happens when we put it all together?  Would the bird act differently outside than inside?  Would it feel excited or afraid seeing other birds?  Some people create well in groups, and others prefer to be alone.  To me the ecological approach makes sense when it comes to the study of creativity and anything else.  If you are in the academic world – I hope you will join me and calling for creativity assessments which follow the 3 priorities suggested by Drs. Murdock and Puccio:  (1) nurturing creative potential; (2) ensuring that the differences in how people exhibit their creativity are recognized and used; (3) exploring creativity as closely as possible to the way it happens in realistic settings.

“Reliance on a single measure to draw conclusions about creative potential is like holding one piece of a 1000 piece puzzle & attempting to describe the overall image from that single part.”
Murdock & Puccio (1998) Creativity Assessment:  Readings and Resources

 I hope you enjoyed this ‘lesson.’  In just three weeks I begin teaching my own course in Creative Process at Eckerd College in Sarasota, Florida.  Thanks for helping me complete my assignment in an original and elegant way.  The 10-week journey into uncharted creative waters we began in February is officially over.  I will continue posting about creativity – but it most likely will be once every other week or even monthly.  I encourage you to follow my creative prompts, encouraging quotes, and informative posts on Twitter by following me on QuoteJoy.   As always your questions, comments and feedback are blessed and appreciated.  You can use the comment form or simply write me an e-mail:  If you need positive quotes, you’ll find my 200 topic collection at  Create a joy and potential packed day, week, month!

 Marta Davidovich Ockuly

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