Why creative people sometimes make no sense

We’re all creative people in one way or another, I do believe that. But of course David in particular came to mind when I read this article. 🙂 Would you guys agree?


Why Creative People Sometimes Make No Sense

Posted by Matthew in for us

I’ve been having an insightful shuffle through Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People. Mihaly is a seminal professor of Psychology and Management, and is the Founding Co-Director of the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont. He writes:

“I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude.”

Nine out of the ten people in me strongly agree with that statement. As someone paid to be creative, I sometimes feel kaleidoscopic in my views or opinions, and that “multitude” of expressions sometimes confuses those around me. Why does that happen? My thoughts make cohesive sense to me, yet others sometimes feel that I am contradicting myself or switching positions. What is wrong with me?

Mihaly describes 9 contradictory traits that are frequently present in creative people:


Most creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but are often quiet and at rest. They can work long hours at great concentration.


Most creative people tend to be smart and naive at the same time. “It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure, and that most creativity workshops try to enhance.”


Most creative people combine both playfulness and productivity, which can sometimes mean both responsibility and irresponsibility. “Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.” Usually this perseverance occurs at the expense of other responsibilities, or other people.


Most creative people alternate fluently between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. In both art and science, movement forward involves a leap of imagination, a leap into a world that is different from our present. Interestingly, this visionary imagination works in conjunction with a hyperawareness of reality. Attention to real details allows a creative person to imagine ways to improve them.


Most creative people tend to be both introverted and extroverted. Many people tend toward one extreme or the other, but highly creative people are a balance of both simultaneously.


Most creative people are genuinely humble and display a strong sense of pride at the same time.


Most creative people are both rebellious and conservative. “It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.”


Most creative people are very passionate about their work, but remain extremely objective about it as well. They are able to admit when something they have made is not very good.


Most creative people’s openness and sensitivity exposes them to a large amount of suffering and pain, but joy and life in the midst of that suffering. “Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.”

Sometimes what appears to be a contradiction on the surface is actually a harmony in disguise. My problem has been primarily one of communication. I am learning to let people know what I am thinking and why, and explaining myself in a way that helps them understand why I am discussing multiple perspectives instead of just cleaning stating my own. At first it might not make sense, but give me/us long enough, and it will.


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14 Responses to Why creative people sometimes make no sense

  1. Kizzi says:

    “…They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude.”

    Yes, Definitely and Absolutely!!!

    I agree. Contradictions abound. Being able to see all sides and find a side that has never been seen before is the creative person’s essence.

    TOfan, I adore this post. It resonates deeply. Thanks. I will read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book. Thanks so very, very much!

  2. WOWZER, what a great article! It was almost as if they had David in mind when they made the list!

    One item that really jumped out at me was, “Most creative people tend to be both introverted and extroverted. Many people tend toward one extreme or the other, but highly creative people are a balance of both simultaneously.” David has always been an enigma to me with the way he can go from being so shy at times yet get up on a stage in front of so many people and perform the way he does. I’ve come to find that this is very common with many creative people (Michael Jackson is an example that comes to mind).

    One of the many things I love about David is the way he uses his hands when he is trying to articulate a thought. It’s obvious from reading this article that he’s simply trying to guide us “lame brains” (that would be ME) through the intricacies of his creative mind’s thought processes because he knows we’d never “get it” without some assistance! 😆

    Finally, is it just me or does the guy in the picture on the “source” article look like he hijacked David’s ensemble from the Fort Wayne tree lighting ceremony? Apparently creative people also dress alike! 😀

  3. missbianca says:

    Oh my gosh, that is one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books! Wayyyyyyyy back in the “MySpace” era, I did a series of blogs about these exact characteristics and how they fit–and explain–David. “Creativity” is just packed with great research and intriguing conclusions drawn from them. I hope everyone reads it.

    Well, some of it. A lot of the book is case histories of the subjects of their study and I can use that part as sleeping medication.

    In addition to the contradictions evident in creative people, Csikszentmihalyi devotes significant pages to his concept of Flow which he calls the highest state of human happiness. Ever love doing something so much that the world slips away? You were probably in Flow. I lack the words to do this justice tonight but it’s a very valuable concept and one that you will easily be able to relate to David.

    Anyway, go Deb! for reminding me of this great book. Maybe I’ll do a little reading myself.

  4. trace says:

    Interesting analysis. And spot on!
    “Contradictory extremes – introverted and extroverted – joy in the midst of suffering – playfulness and productivity – smart and naive …”
    Flow -absolutely!
    I wonder if this book is on sale in my part of the world. Have to resort to Amazon, I guess.

  5. TOfan says:

    FYI Fellow Canucks:

  6. refnaf says:

    Wow I agree!!! This sounds so much like David>>> also sounds like a very interesting read…

  7. Fan Dja says:

    TOfan, This is so spot on. David confuses the heck out of many. I remember reading that jamba jim thought after the AI finale when the David’s were being interviewed that Cook was not a good interviewee yet David was engaging, funny, witty…(he was the real winner 🙂

  8. peppertara says:

    Great write up TOfan. Sounds like an interesting book. Yes, there can be contradictory extremes when that creative flow is happening and just makes creative people that much more fascinating.
    David fits the bill in many ways. Glad that David is such a unique, creative individual.
    Thanks for posting the info on Typhoon Haiyan. Had seen that so had to donate again.
    So important to help in whatever way we can. ❤

  9. awestruck says:

    Very cool TOfan – this especially jumped out at me in terms of David “originality in picking unusual associations of ideas” I will be doing some ‘insightful shuffling’ as well. Thanks!

  10. missbianca says:

    One last comment on the book “Creativity.” The author uses a very specific definition of a creative person, one whose creativity has the power to change the world. The “upper echelon” of the creative, if you will. It completely enthralled me when David met every facet of the author’s description and at such a young age. Now we just have to wait for the world to change (oh…wait!).

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