CREATIVE ELITE AND SOCIAL REJECTION

Creativity is viewed from four different perspectives: chance, genius, logic, and zeitgeist (“the spirit of the times”). Many ideas emerge by happy accident than by design or deliberation. Some fortunate discoveries by accident include Luigi Galvani’s animal electricity, Humphry Davy’s laughing gas anesthesia, Alfred Nobel’s dynamite, Louis Pasteur’s vaccination, Wilhelm Rontgen’s X-rays, Alexander Fleming’s Penicillin. Some discoveries are purely accidental; the discovery of Penicillin is the prime example of true serendipity. Some discoveries are not unintended but the discoverers managed to do so via some unexpected route, and usually not without considerable trial and error. It will be unfair to say that these discoverers are lucky scientists. Dean Keith Simonton reminds us, “some scientists appear to be consistently luckier than others, it is probably more correct to assert that scientific genius includes a capacity for the exploitation of chance.” Creativity requires some special abilities or traits that set a genius apart from others. Genius is a ‘creative elite’. A creative person can connect the ‘seemingly dissociated’ and can see ‘patterns where others see chaos’. Creativity requires intellect to generate unusual associations and analogies as well as rich imagery. Few have this capacity. Creative processes generally are more illogical than logical. It is said that new ideas are generated by “an artistically creative imagination.” There is a view that scientific creativity is the product of mere logic. The supporters of this view say, “Nothing really special is required”; a computer programme can duplicate the achievements of so-called geniuses. It suggests that if one can master the logic of science, creativity is assured. The zeitgeist perspective suggests that the inevitable product of scientific creativity arise from emerging social needs. This perspective reduces a genius to a “mere agent of sociocultural determinism”. Some believe that “substantially all ideas are second hand”. They are already in the air, and for someone to pick them doesn’t require great intelligence. Some cite several instances of ‘multiples’ (for example, the theory of evolution by natural selection by Darwin and Wallace almost at the same time), to support their argument that these discoveries could have been discovered only when they have been discovered. Simonton says that scientific creativity is a joint product of logic, chance, genius, and zeitgeist – with chance the first among equals. But, as Mark Twain said, ideas are drawn consciously and unconsciously from various outside sources. We want to make new and original things. There are so many originals already floating around. When there is so much to learn from them, where is the time to be original? In other words, it is possible to produce the best work based on borrowed ideas. What if copying, and not originality, were the prime talent that enables us to make the work we make, asks Mark Earls. Is not imitation the greatest source of learning? Our lives depend upon copying genetic material from one generation to the other. Let us also not forget that we made deliberate mistakes during copying while going from one generation to the other because we wanted to be different. Let me now come to well-known Adda sessions where talks range from idle gossip to substantially creative and intellectual discussions. In Adda sessions, though everyone supposedly enjoys equal status, there are always a few ‘central personalities’ who navigate these sessions. The central personality, as described by Nripendrakrishna Chattopadhyay, is someone who “has no office to go. His only job is to sit there like the immobile image of a deity lighting up the Adda.” These good-for-nothing bekars of the para (neighbourhood), however, have proven to be most useful as and when the need arose. These bekars are often more useful than most ‘useful’ are. The so-called ‘losers’ can be society’s most creative thinkers. This is what the studies indicate. They say rejection bolsters creativity. The study highlighted the benefits of being different and found that the people who have a strong “self-concept” are creatively productive in the face of rejection. “If you’re in a mindset where you don’t care what others think, you’re open to ideas that you may not be open to if you’re concerned about what other people are thinking”, researchers argue. The researchers recognize the role of diversity in facilitating creativity in an organization. “For the socially rejected, creativity may be the best revenge.” One should, however, know the right way of managing rejection as social rejection is a subjective experience. Some people are highly sensitive to social rejection. Some feel it even when it is not present. No one likes to get social isolation, but some level of rejection is an inevitable part of life. The paradox is that the need for uniqueness is also a fundamental human motive. Divergent ideas and remote associations are hallmarks of creative thinking. Perhaps, those who like to distance themselves from others are more likely to also recruit associations from unusual places and think beyond conventional ideas. Barry Kaufman writes, “Maybe those with a high need for uniqueness are less sensitive to social rejection.” Many creative minds are the products of social rejection and isolation. It is quite likely because these people are unconventionally creative, these characteristics make them social outsiders. It is understood that rejection depends on a person’s self-concept. “For those who are highly invested in belonging to a group by affirming their feelings of independence, rejection may constrain them. But for those scoring sky high in a need for uniqueness, the negative consequences of rejection on creativity may be mitigated and even reversed.” It is quite likely that rejection fuels creativity, but it is also equally important to investigate other environmental conditions that can simulate the experience of rejection without actually making the person go through such a painful experience, which is what Kaufman thinks about rejection vis-à-vis creativity.

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© 2017 by Dr Purnendu Ghosh