Componential Theory of Creativity

by Teresa M. Amabile

Overview — The componential theory of creativity is recognized as one of the major theories of creativity in individuals and in organizations, serving as a partial foundation for several other theories and for many empirical investigations. It was first articulated by Teresa Amabile in 1983 and has undergone considerable evolution since then. In essence the theory is a comprehensive model of the social and psychological components necessary for an individual to produce creative work. The theory specifies that creativity requires a confluence of four components: Creativity should be highest when 1) an intrinsically motivated person with 2) high domain expertise and 3) high skill in creative thinking 4) works in an environment high in supports for creativity. Key concepts include:

  • Many managers have relied on tools and techniques developed from the theory to stimulate creativity and innovation within their organizations.
  • According to the theory, domain-relevant skills include knowledge, expertise, technical skills, intelligence, and talent in the particular domain where the problem-solver is working.
  • Creativity-relevant processes include a cognitive style and personality characteristics that are conducive to independence, risk-taking, and taking new perspectives on problems, as well as a disciplined work style and skills in generating ideas.
  • The third central tenet is the intrinsic motivation principle of creativity: People are most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself - and not by extrinsic motivators.
  • The social environment can stimulate creativity through offering a sense of positive challenge in the work; work teams that are collaborative, diversely skilled, and idea-focused; freedom in carrying out the work; supervisors who encourage the development of new ideas; and so on.
  • Of the three intra-individual components, intrinsic motivation should be the most directly influenced by the work environment. However, it is also important to note that the work environment undoubtedly has effects on domain-relevant skills and creativity-relevant processes, in addition to its effects on intrinsic motivation.

Author Abstract

The componential theory of creativity is a comprehensive model of the social and psychological components necessary for an individual to produce creative work. The theory is grounded in a definition of creativity as the production of ideas or outcomes that are both novel and appropriate to some goal. In this theory, four components are necessary for any creative response: three components within the individual - domain-relevant skills, creativity-relevant processes, and intrinsic task motivation - and one component outside the individual - the social environment in which the individual is working. The current version of the theory encompasses organizational creativity and innovation, carrying implications for the work environments created by managers. This article defines the components of creativity and how they influence the creative process, describing modifications to the theory over time. Then, after comparing the componential theory to other creativity theories, the article describes this theory's evolution and impact.

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