Creativity - By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


The idea for this book emerged in a conversation with Larry Cremin, then president of the Spencer Foundation. We agreed that it would be important to study creativity as a process that unfolds over a lifetime, and that no systematic studies of living creative individuals existed. With its customary vision, the Spencer Foundation then financed a research project, which was to last four years, to remedy this gap in our understanding. Without this grant the laborious task of collecting, transcribing, and analyzing the lengthy interviews would have been impossible.

The other contribution without which this book could not have been written is the assistance of the ninety-one respondents whose interviews form the bulk of the book. All of them are extremely busy individuals, whose time is literally invaluable—thus I deeply appreciate their availability for the lengthy interviews. It is indeed difficult to express my gratitude for their help, and I can only hope that they will find the results were worth their time.

A number of graduate students helped with this project and often contributed creatively to it. Several have written or coauthored articles about the project in professional journals. Especially important were four of my students who have been involved in the project since its inception and who have since earned their doctorates: Kevin Rathunde, Keith Sawyer, Jeanne Nakamura, and Carol Mockros. The others who took an active part are listed among the interviewers in appendix A, which describes the sample.

While we collected and analyzed the data, I had many opportunities to consult with fellow scholars whose specialty is creativity. I should mention at the very least Howard Gardner, David Feldman, Howard Gruber, Istvan Magyari-Beck, Vera John-Steiner, Dean Simonton, Robert Sternberg, and Mark Runco—all of whom contributed, knowingly or not, to the development of ideas in this book.

Several colleagues helped with earlier drafts of the manuscript. I am particularly glad to acknowledge the inspiration and critique of my old friend Howard Gardner, of Harvard University. As usual, his comments have been exactly on target. William Damon, of Brown University, made several excellent suggestions that helped reorganize the contents of the volume. Benö Csapó, from the University of Szeged, Hungary, brought a different cultural perspective to the work.

Three chapters of the book were drafted while I was a guest of the Rockefeller Foundation in its Italian Center at Bellagio. The rest were written while I was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant #8900078, and the National Science Foundation grant #SBR–9022192. I am grateful to them for the opportunity to concentrate on the manuscript without the usual interruptions—and in such glorious surroundings.

In the later stages of the work, Isabella Selega, who had the good grace to consent to marry me some thirty years ago, oversaw the editing of the manuscript and many other important details. She did the same when I wrote my doctoral dissertation in 1965 on the same topic. It is difficult for me to admit how much of whatever I have accomplished in the years in between I owe to her loving, if critical, help.

None of the shortcomings of this book should be attributed to any of those mentioned here, except myself. For whatever is good in it, however, I thank them deeply.



This book is about creativity, based on histories of contemporary people who know about it firsthand. It starts with a description of what creativity is, it reviews the way creative people work and live, and it ends with ideas about how to make your life more like that of the creative exemplars I studied. There are no simple solutions in these pages and a few unfamiliar ideas. The real story of creativity is more difficult and strange than many overly optimistic accounts have claimed. For one thing, as I will try to show, an idea or product that deserves the label “creative” arises from the synergy of many sources and not only from the mind of a single person. It is easier to enhance creativity by changing conditions in the environment than by trying to make people think more creatively. And a genuinely creative accomplishment is almost never the result of a sudden insight, a lightbulb flashing on in the dark, but comes after years of hard work.

Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives for several reasons. Here I want to mention only the two main ones. First, most of the things that