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Photo by Sophia.

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 cleanly stating my own. At first it might not make sense, but give me/us long enough, and it will.


  • This is great, as a creative, I was both really inspired and humbled by this blog post. Not only did it give me a sense of freedom in who I am as a creative, but also showed me areas I could improve in my life and art. I really appreciate that!
    I’m gonna go find me some of that Mihaly Csikszentmihaly reading material. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Liz says:

      Great post – valid points. I see myself in much of that list!

    • GIANNI WISE says:

      whats a creative? Such corporate talk.

    • Ross says:

      Creative (Noun)
      1. Someone who generates new ideas and sales materials for marketing a product
      2. Materials produced for marketing or advertising

      Dictionaries are our friends.

    • b says:

      it was a rhetorical question. he’s commenting on how the word is a buzzword

    • Emma says:

      That’s generous of you. Sure sounded like a troll to me.

    • krismyth says:

      hahahahahaha. A creative is a cog in the gears

    • cch says:

      cogs are the teeth of a gear… try:

      a wrench in the cogs
      a wrench in the gears

    • Steven says:

      …but a creative could be a cog in the gears. A gear may be the functioning unit with the creative as one of the necessary components to allow that gear to function. A creative should never be termed as a wrench in gears. A creative does not hamper progress, he is there is help it grow be it through a varying perspective or idea. The wrench is the person who resists a broader scope and, therefore, is the antagonist to the creative. Just my perspective, but I understand where you are coming from too as a set of gears is very monotonous in its repetitive revolutions, where a creative would come along and challenge the gears to stop their mundane spinning and try something new. Oh my, I will sign off before I transcend any further into the the creative’s cliche. Haha.

    • erin says:

      i absolutely agree. freedom.

    • red says:

      Most creatives are resented by others, especially when they self-lionize, exalt and excuse. Barry and Amy consider themselves creatives in the destructive sense– they’re alt dark opposite “creators” who call themselves gods and luciferian agents and self-applaud when they degrade and ruin innocence, babies, and the human genome.

      I have learned from them and there is a plan in place to creatively destroy the dark ones. Interestingly, implementers of creative destructive plans don’t have to be lateral thinking or much of anything other than sufficiently intelligent, resourceful on the spot, and ruthless in the end.

    • J. Lennon says:

      Then you’re an idiot.

      This blog post states that artists are;
      Hyper, but lethargic
      Smart, but naïve
      Playful, but productive
      Imaginative, but logical
      Introverted, but extroverted
      Humble, but proud
      Rebellious, but conservative
      Passionate, but objective, and
      Euphoric, but depressed.

      The only creativity people possess who identify with these labels is thought twisting mind games when they can somehow relate their creative process into contradictory binaries simultaneously, which is impossible. And the blogger didn’t even try and mask how general all this is if it’s an either/or. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all some social experiment to make the self-indulgingly creatively inclined feel like dicks. And you should.

      Maybe you’re not an artist. Maybe you’re just a liar. Watch how you reply, because it might be telling.

    • ohdear says:

      and you must be a manager

    • Agree says:

      Thanks for this post. I was thinking the same thing as I went through the list.

    • Marla A. says:

      So sad that you anted to start off your New Year on such a negative note….and too bad you obviously live in a “this OR that” world….when most of we creatives live in a “this AND that” one. Black and white thinking is not only dangerous and immature, it doesn’t leave ANY room for original thinking–which is what we do and how we are! Most creatives (the ones I’m friends with from ALL genres—love to provide whats missing–therefor see the 360 in most situation—we like to provide harmony–thru music, color,writing,design, etc. etc—–AND it’s both a Blessing and a responsibility to use it wisely. Your cynical remarks are utterly revealing about YOUR mindset–the post was/is MAGNIFICANT—-but I guess one has to be OPEN to receive the TRUTH ,,,,and not everyone is.

    • Lily says:

      As weird as it sounds, as a writer, I find most of these things true. It’s not how I try to be, it’s just who I am.
      I am full of energy, often bouncing off the walls and going crazy. However, when I sit down and write, I can focus for hours. I put on my headphones, open my word document, and write.
      I consider myself book smart. I have a lot to learn about the real world but I am often told I am intelligent. I do trust people more than I should. If someone tells me something, I believe them because why would they lie? I don’t see how this effects my creative process but it is who I am.
      As for playful yet productive, that is who I am. When I write, I am constantly playing. When I was younger, I had imaginary friends, all with backstories and their own lives. Now, I have characters, all with backstories and their own lives. I’m playing just as I did when I was little but instead of acting out the stories, I am writing them down. Though I won’t work late like the article suggests, I will start early. It isn’t uncommon to wake up at 5 AM because that is my most productive time.
      It talks about being imaginative but logical. I see these things going together. Sure, I come up with a lot of ideas, but many of them are thrown out because they logically would not work. I struggle to see how these things would not go hand in hand.
      I work alone. Too much time with people drives me crazy. However, so does not enough. In fact, I get most of my ideas from being around people. I learn how people act so that I am able to make believable characters around people.
      I will be the first to tell you my work sucks. I am my biggest critic. I will always be honest and tell you that my project needs some work… A lot of work. However, I am still very proud of it. For everything that I don’t like, there is something that I love. There is a character that I know I did well with. There is a chapter that I absolutely love. I still need to be my biggest critic to make my work perfect.
      Now, being rebellious but conservative… Maybe this is the one that I am least like. I tend to follow written rules. Social rules, not so much. My characters can and will go either way. Some are rebellious, some are not. Really, I personally don’t see myself on either side of this one. I like the idea of being rebellious but I’m just not rebellious.
      I already explained how I’m my biggest critic however, I love my work.
      As for the last one, I would not say I’m depressed but I would say writing takes me on an emotional roller coaster. I love every minute of it. I am happy and laugh a lot. I also cry a lot. I feel like I experience emotions in a different way than most people because of my writing.

      Maybe not everyone is like this and I totally understand that. I do have many sides to me and am completely unpredictable. Maybe that’s not normal. Maybe you shouldn’t judge so much. Different people have a different creative process.

    • Curious Cat says:

      The contradictions cover such a vast ground of qualities in existence that basically illustrate creatives as omnipresent…ahahaha [evil laugh]. Creatives are a compilation of EVERYTHING. Yes, creatives can also be idiots and liars at times…what human isn’t? But they can also be mind-blowing-ly (if you will) genius, at their best. Forget living in moderation.

      And please share. I’m curious how my reply is telling of me from a seemingly hater’s perspective. Challenges are the best way to grow…and what you say just might be right!

    • armyartist says:

      Well, I’m old enough to remember when being called a creative-type meant you were just weird. I went to a professional art school where most of us fit your descriptions, to some extent. I’ve also been diagnosed as ADHD, which has been associated with a higher degree of creativity, and which there have been new research into.

      Thanks for writing on the subject, it’s not discussed (or valued) as much as it should be.

    • Ameenah says:

      Grateful for this piece

    • Weird town says:

      I have never related to something I have read so much. I always told people that I know I contradict myself a lot. But I come up with new ideas and when two people are arguing I tend to understand all sides including my own and I change my mind through out the whole debat. Its frustrating
      I felt like for me it has to do with opening my perspective and empathy. Anyways I feel like I really needed to read this and I’m so grateful I did, and grateful that you wrote it, thanks so much for sharing

    • Andrea says:

      Love this! This pretty much describes how I feel about myself. Thanks for the great post!

    • Mike Rapp says:

      I have done creative work of all kinds for over 30 years. Having had to understand and communicate with virtually every personality type forced me to truly internalize the idea that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

      This, fundamentally, separates creatives from most all other types of people.

      When you must constantly balance your convictions with this reality, it changes the way you approach decision making. When you work around people who insist on linear decision making, where today’s answer is the answer we are going with until we change our mind, it is very clear why most people are frustrated with true creative professionals.

      Thanks for sharing this, keep up the great work.

    • Ficheye says:

      It’s going to take about 2 minutes for this comment thread to go sideways. People resent those who are creative.

    • Linda Laino says:

      This list resonates on many levels with this “creative”. As a visual artist for more than 4 decades, in recent years, I have understood how writing (poetry and essays) help clarify all these seeming contradictions in my own thought processes- and have written about similar discoveries in that process. Thanks. I am intrigued to read the book.

    • Julia says:

      Wow! Me too! Thanks for the post.

    • Rakib Ahmed says:

      nice post … it may take creative people more creative 🙂

    • Kim hinkle says:

      Yes you have nailed the creative! I consider myself a multifaceted diamond it depends on which way the light is shining that Will determine which light I reflect and show the beauty and brightness .

    • Siani says:

      Brilliant and obvious at the same time = I was once told that true intelligence was the ability to see 2 points of view.
      From a personal perspective I spent the first 40 yrs of my life as able bodied.
      The last 20 have been spent paraplegic (from T5)
      What do I want out of life NOW! Exactly what I wanted when I was 16 – I have more time to smell the roses, and when people say
      “Oh! what an interesting life you’ ve had I want to say “still having”
      “Why don’t you write a book? Because, I’m too busy living my life
      I do wish I did not swear so much because it “makes me what I’m not”
      And by the way I have been asked to attend a N.A.P.P.I course and no its not an aid to alleviate incontinence.

    • KES says:

      I was just trying to explain this to someone yesterday. Could not sum up all my contradictions better myself. Good to know it is not just me LOL

    • Nima says:

      It was worth reading your article , I felt sooo insprired ! Thanks for such a GOOD feeling

    • Brent Rogers says:

      Creatives really do have to be humble- we can’t help but aim for the stars so we have to learn to appreciate the journey and not get cut up about all the arrow stuff that fall short of the moon. Be the star you are…

    • I am the way you described. I am so relieved to know that I’m not going crazy but to get my family to understand this would be a major accomplishment. I have also been thought to be slightly ADA, and also told I’m depressed. I do agree with that because I have some health problems.But I have a hard time when it’s quiets settling my mind,it constantly jumping from one thing to another, even in my dreams that are so vivid ,my mind just keeps going until something else wakes me up. I have so many ideas about things to paint or make but I can’t find I in me to get up and do things anymore. I feel very sad for that loss. I’m going to continue to read your comments and I am hoping and praying to pull out of this air of quicksand that I feel stuck in.
      Sincerely , C.C.

    • Salomé Malherbe says:

      PARADOX… at heart

    • Maxeen says:

      Now I now why people sometimes says I don’t make sense to them

  • Matthew says:

    Yeah, I felt the same way, it was nice to find out that who am is actually very normal, for a creative. The awareness of those contradictions really helped me understand how I can bring less confusion to other people. Glad you liked it!

    • Eric says:


    • Jean Fogel Zee says:

      Language has been compromised for quite some time and has consistently been a litmus for the heart of the culture. Considering the definition that art is culture, language is at the hands of brand at this point. People who over react without comprehension, may point to the more present day use of language. In other words, if it isn’t a brand, it is lacking, and if it is a brand, it is lacking. To state being a “creative”, well, it makes sense to me. And then I realized that only if you actually are a creative, would it make sense. Because the descriptions in Matthew’s article, well, they are true. And I have never assumed a label of any kind. I will take being a creative though. Matthew’s well thought out analysis fits like a glove. I am 63 years old. I have lived my life as professional dancer, choreographer, poet and now sculptor. It is who I am. It is not often someone observes appropriately the functionality of the creative mind in our culture. In my life experience, it has either been over indulged or trivialized. At best, misunderstood, unless of course, one is a creative. Good on you Matthew.

  • angie stimson says:

    this really resonated with me. While deep into my last project a well meaning friend sent me some meditation dvds to help “balance me ” while I was working. I had to tell her, I can’t be balanced while working , I have to be manic, insane, consumed by the piece to the exclusion of all else. I’ll leave the dvd’s tip after the exhibition when I can then return into the real world.

    • Suheena says:

      Oh My. this is so true. When you are working creatively on something / a large piece of work, it becomes a mania that consumes you to the expense of all else. Nothing matters. The rest of the world can float away on a cloud. The only thing you can see in front of you is your work.

  • Mostly spot on for me! Thanks for breaking that down for those who don’t always understand us!

  • Gwen Uszuko says:

    Such an incredible post, and a ridiculously well-timed read for me. I want to wrap this up as a Christmas gift to every person in my life who doesn’t understand my particular brand of crazy. It was a gift for me, too! Thank you, Matthew.

  • Kristin says:

    I wanted to reach out and tell you how popular this article has been with my creative friends on Facebook. I read the article and had to share – it is spot on and really resonates with artists of all mediums. There has been excellent feedback and sharing from my network of friends in the entertainment industry in Hollywood – from writers to producers, graffiti artists to photographers, wardrobe stylists to dancers – we can all relate! It is helping us to understand ourselves better and also to explain our artistic process to our friends, families, and coworkers. Thanks for this excellent insight into an artist’s mind!

  • Donna Pugh says:

    “Made Perfect Sense to me…as a CREATVE PERSON, I consider myself as being a Genius, that did not quit come into full blossoming until I turned 63. Always been Creative in some way or nother. I keep Re-inventing myself ALL of the time. Life is a DREAM…it’s how you want to play inside the RAINBOW..~Dona~another BEING on this COSMIC PATH.

    • jane says:

      Donna, loved hearing from another creative ‘older’ person. I am 61 and have spent most of my life raising kids and living for others at the expense of my sanity! Now I can let go and be that eccentric old lady, wearing whatever I grab first from the floor of my closet, and heading out to my yard sales and flea markets in search of the next treasure or inspiration for my recycle-art. This blog makes total sense to me.

    • This explains a lot! i always felt so pretentious when trying to explain myself…yes, i am an artist, but i never identified with the stereotyped artist. its only since i have hit that 60 mark that i am beginning to come to terms with my own ‘eccentricities’.
      @jane & donna- i can so relate to you both! where ARE you???

    • Susan Stephens says:

      OMG YES!! ME TOO! formerly artist, entrepreneur for 1/2 my life and always ‘out of place’ – now retired restless and bored at 64 – have found new passion in writing and have 5 children’s books coming out, plus 2 non-fiction! Don’t give up the dream 5mins before it manifests!! this article was vindication, there IS reason to my madness LOL thank you Matthew and Mihaly!

    • Mary says:

      Jane:In 2013 You were 61 yrs old and I was 75. “Now I am honestly about ME. I’ve spent a lifetime to become a happily eccentric old lady finding another putting on the first thing she finds on the floor and dashing out to find out if anything new has happened on the block over night. Other than today you are 66yrs old and I am 80.

  • Interestingly enough, my first book of poetry was precisely about this multiplicity and was called Book of Aliases. I found this article about Mihaly Csikszentmihaly research very reassuring. Until I wrote Book of Aliases I was really puzzled about all the contradiction in me and it helped me as a kind of therapy to get lots of parts of me on paper despite the contradictions. Thanks Mathew for sharing this work with us. It certainly helps make sense of things that can seem wrong with creative types. Can I use this in court for a sanity plea?

    • Char says:

      Kudos, Jerry !!!Mike Francesa = &#alr0;t82k-2adio bloviator” … Spot on, Mate !!! Mike is all about Mike and more than sometimes he’s as out in left field as Billy Packer was … the difference is that CBS got smart where NBC and YES have not !!!I annually take particular umbrage with Francesa when his talk show devotes only a modicum of time to March Madness … even when there are local teams playing !!! Right on, Mate !!!

  • Lisa says:

    Wow, thank you for explaining me to a tea! And I thought I was just plain CRAZY, now it all makes sense!

  • Picasso says:

    Thank God an article came around that said so much and nothing at the same time. It really resonates with me, a super creative genius who has nothing interesting to say in the comments except how this vague list of half-traits so accurately reflects super-original me. As much as this morning’s horoscope. As I sit a computer surfing Facebook.

    Obviously every commenter so far lacks the self-awareness described in the article.
    – Non-Creative Luddite

    • Eli says:

      Thank you. I was intrigued by this article, and then as I read the comments, I became very annoyed. Humility anyone?

    • Leonardo says:

      Did no one actually see this…?

    • Renee says:

      Amen. Can’t believe how many people here are channeling Kanye and referring to themselves as geniuses. But as contradictory trait #06 claims, I’m sure they’re all “genuinely humble”…

    • Lisa says:

      “channeling Kanye” LOL

    • Raphael says:

      Creative people often assume that their minds are utterly incomprehensible to “them,” a terrible, amphibious, amorphous entity of simplistic individuals. The existence of “them” as never been scientifically confirmed, though reported sitings abound.
      And by creative people, I mean humans.

    • Laramie says:

      Could you translate your gibberish critique into something that makes semantic and logical sense? That would be great. Thanks.

      Something less amphibious. At a drier site, as it were. Go grab a dictionary and look up some of these words, please. Oh, “creative people” is a rather amorphous entity, I find it itterly uncomprehenisble. They are no terrible amphibian Lovecraftian Cathyloos. Just people who create thangs. A little like you, a little like me. A lot like them. Your generalizations contain multitudes. And by generalizations, I mean aliens.

    • red says:

      Seemingly less but still amphibious and smushy in the hard streets of Houston per your Lovecraft alluding comment : You, Laramie Eliot Leavitt, are a toadie. No frog you living inToad Hell, I mean, Hall.

      Itterly– a portmanteau of an utterly bi- or tri-?

    • Rogue says:

      hahaha most accurate comment thus far

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