Blooming Ideas & Beautiful Outliers
Updated: Mar 16, 2020
My favorite course from college was “Psychology of Creativity”. I chose this seminar to meet degree requirements, but more so because a professor I adore and respect, Teresa Amabile, was teaching it. As always, Dr. Amabile did not disappoint.
I love psychology because I’m relentlessly curious about why people do what they do. Whereas Psychology taught me about known and explored patterns of behavior, it also introduced me to the role and reality of statistics in research: there is great variation behind the common threads identified mathematically, but this commonality – the “norm” – is not equivalent to the definition of “truth”.
Statistics, whether applied to measures of behavior, disease prevalence, treatment outcomes, or the relationship between test scores and human potential, are useful for identifying patterns that help make sense of the world. That being said, it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are outliers, those who don’t follow the expected patterns, for whom the outcomes don’t apply. Subject demographics and the methods used to administer, measure and interpret data directly affect the meaning behind the math. In a society bombarded with information, that which claims to be “backed by research” can be very unreliable: when diluted into digestible chunks, being creative with the numbers to prove a point - known as “massaging the data” - makes it easy to get swept up in hype and unsubstantiated opinions.
Dr. Amabile was my statistics professor, too.
Numbers don’t lie, but the way they’re interpreted is critical to their usefulness. For me, psychology mirrors real life in that no matter how much knowledge we gain over time, at the end of the day there are always more questions than answers…and that’s where life gets really interesting. Fantastical ideas and a burning desire to understand the world around us is what humans do, who we are. Looking, listening, feeling, considering, and making our own meaningful connections drive curiosity and creativity in real-time – including the exploration of statistically significant patterns and their outliers.
So what is creativity? Research-based theories abound, many of which Dr. Amabile thoughtfully continues to explore. But for me, this is where spirituality and science gracefully dance in synchronicity. Every observation and experience is an opportunity to embrace new ways of seeing. Our desire to strengthen and form relationships, explore our environments, and to generate ideas – as outlandish and outlier-ish as they may seem – is the creativity that changes the world.