Co.Create

How To Tell If You're Creative (Hint: You Might Be A Bit Of A Jerk)

A new personality test determines the markers of a creative mind.

Forget Myers-Briggs. A study out of BI Norwegian Business School has determined the signposts of a "creative" personality. Conducted by Professor Øyvind L. Martinsen, the study posed 200 questions to 481 people. The subjects fell into three categories. One group of "baseline" subjects such as lecturers or managers, and two groups of people who are generally considered to be creative, such as students of advertising and performing artists. Martinsen says he found meaningful differences between the creative and noncreative groups.

There are seven elements of a creative personality, so if you’re thinking about quitting your job as a lawyer or stock analyst to go on tour with your band or finally write that novel, you might want to consider the list below.

You’re Creative If:

Your Mind Has an Associative Orientation. This means that you have an active imagination. "You can fluctuate between daydreaming and perceiving reality," says Martinsen. "You’re playful and have an experimental attitude." But you are also able to become deeply absorbed in your work. For example, you might be so involved in your work that you forget to eat lunch. Interestingly, the advertising students scored slightly higher with associative orientation than the artists. But both these groups ranked higher than the baseline sample.

You Hunger for Originality. The managers and lecturers were all about rules and systems. They lacked a rebellious spirit, which the advertising students and artists had in spades.

You’re Highly Motivated. All three groups were generally motivated to succeed, but the artists and ad students had just a bit more get-up-and-go.

You’re Ambitious. Artists demonstrated less of a craving for recognition and fame than the advertising students. Martinsen says this is because artists tend to be more introverted, which makes them less exhibitionist. Maybe he hasn’t heard of Lady Gaga.

You’re Flexible. Artists and advertising students seem more likely to be part of Generation Flux. They can take a "glass half empty" situation and rebrand or reimagine it as half full.

You’re Emotionally Volatile. Both the artists and advertising students were more neurotic than the noncreative subjects. "They sense the world around them very strongly, and they tend to worry," says Martinsen. "Some of them even like to worry," he adds.

You’re a Pain in the Butt. Both the marketing students and the artists were equally prickly when it came to interpersonal relationships. They demonstrated less concern for other people, were more critical and less friendly. "Creative people need to have distance from the world around them, so they can find something that can be improved," says Martinsen. "But that can have relational implications." And how. Steve Jobs designed brilliant products, but he wasn’t exactly fun to work with.

Creativity Training

Martinsen says that our personalities become fixed around the age of 25 or 30; if you’re inherently creative, you should know it--and display at least some of the seven tendencies-- by then. But if you’re not particularly creative and want to be, do not despair. "You can change the way that you behave in relation to the world around you," says Martinsen. In other words, you can teach yourself to be more creative.

Environment can have a particularly strong influence on a person’s creative prowess. Martinsen says that a typically noncreative person can become much more so when his or her surroundings encourage rule-bending and free thought. But be forwarned: Martinsen doesn’t know whether an inherently noncreative person would continue to display creative tendencies if put back in a boring work environment. You might miss having lots of great ideas, but at least people will like you again.

[Images Flickr users: Andy, Theilr, Patrick Denker, and Omer Wazir]

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39 Comments

  • songsofherart

    I am very creative as I have been told. I write poetry and am a storyteller. I paint pictures with my words and plonk them in reading minds as the flow of life colours me. I used to draw idly during classes and even before, loved the soft angular lines of my cousin's fingers as she folded paper in halves and then squares. I am sensitive to grace, but even more to the flowers flowing by the rapping artist as he draws his verse upon the rough Brooklyn walls. Graffiti lining each brick. I love art. I am not logical as I can picture things like a glass half filled with water, but then filled with cubes of colour, just touching the surface, without one sinking to the bottom of the clear glass. I am sensitive to certain sounds and nuances in voices. Some voices set me off and others calm me. I can feel vibrations and love to experiment with cooking when I cook.  I am prouder with my daughters if they focus more on developing artistic tendencies and logic is dry to me. Yet I feel and see in colour at times. No shades of grey. Can I see the blue? Lines of poetry whisper out of no where and I have to try to catch the verse. Creative? Or weird?

  • Liz Christian

    You are creative.....you could still come off as 'weird' to some people but in a good way! Well, personally I would be thrilled to work with someone who's got your personality, love for colour & artistic tendencies as compared to logic, and your perspective of things...to me--You are incredibly creative and your vivid imagination is very impressive!

  • David Hovgaard

    Couldn't disagree more. Truly creative people like highly intelligent
    people are usually not jerks because they have compassion for their
    fellow humans. The people that are jerks are those like Steve Jobs who
    are posing while taking advantage of the talents of truly creative
    people. They act like jerks because they know that they have very little
    talent or intelligence but they believe as you suggest in your article
    that talented and creative people are supposed to be assholes so they
    act the part. But the truly talented or intelligent have no need for any
    of this their work speaks for itself.

    I worked for a man once
    that was supposed to have had advanced degrees and be very intelligent.
    He was a bully and an ass. He made mistake after mistake that he blamed
    on other people when he was supposed to have been the expert. He could
    not grasp even simple concepts while at same time he proclaimed his
    greatness to anyone that would listen. But from what I can tell he
    barely had a high school level education. Geniuses are not assholes
    people pretending to be usually are. The sad little fact is that truly
    creative people are rare and unfortunately for all of us their true
    talents are usually not discovered until after they are gone while the
    self promoters with no talent are the ones we remember and do studies
    on. 

  • David Hovgaard

    Couldn't disagree more. Truly creative people like highly intelligent people are usually not jerks because they have compassion for their fellow humans. The people that are jerks are those like Steve Jobs who are posing while taking advantage of the talents of truly creative people. They act like jerks because they know that they have very little talent or intelligence but they believe as you suggest in your article that talented and creative people are supposed to be assholes so they act the part. But the truly talented or intelligent have no need for any of this their work speaks for itself.

    I worked for a man once that was supposed to have had advanced degrees and be very intelligent. He was a bully and an ass. He made mistake after mistake that he blamed on other people when he was supposed to have been the expert. He could not grasp even simple concepts while at same time he proclaimed his greatness to anyone that would listen. But from what I can tell he barely had a high school level education. Geniuses are not assholes people pretending to be usually are. The sad little fact is that truly creative people are rare and unfortunately for all of us their true talents are usually not discovered until after they are gone while the self promoters with no talent are the ones we remember and do studies on. 

  • AMANDAD

    YES THESE ARE ME. AS FOR THE 'JERK' PART I'M AN EBB AND FLOW WITH THAT. SOME MOMENTS I REALLY, REALLY NEED RELATIONSHIPS AND OTHER TIMES I JUST WANT EVERYONE TO LEAVE ME TO MY THOUGHT PROCESSES. USUALLY THESE FEELINGS FLUCTUATE IN WEEK PROCESSES. MEANING ONE WEEK I'M NEED HIMAN CONTACT AND THE NEXT WEEK IM IN CREATION MODE AND JUST SIMPLY DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR CONVERSATION.... I MIGHT LOSE THE VISION!

  • Teresina White

    I know lots of uncreative artists, and some very creative managers. And yes, science is super dooper creative!
    As for 'jerkiness', people don't tend to like me very much at first and I am labelled 'weird' more often than I'd like, but I thought this was because I think differently and say odd things, which seems confronting to some, not because I'm innately 'jerk-ish', mean or rude.

  • Jule Dunne

    Everyone is crazy --  its just how you handle your " crazy "  that matters in life.  And only Jerks think everyone else is a Jerk.

  • Susan Quilty

    I'm surprised at so many commenters reacting to the "jerk" part of the title. That didn't faze me, since I thought the traits were presented in a more positive light. As if to say that creative types are perceived as jerks, when it's really a matter of others not understanding them. Even the "pain in the butt" section was useful in describing the distance and objectivity needed to be creative. 

    But maybe that's me rebranding a half-empty glass situation as a glass half-full.

  • Christy Weiss

    Great article!  I think the reason us creative types are seen as jerks is we don't understand people who refuse to change.

    I work in higher education and I see ways we can improve processes all the time to make things easier and more fun.  Sadly, the older types (aka professors that were considered innovative when they stopped drawing on cave walls), fail to understand that you should always change.  They are happy with the status quo (but the status is not quo), and hate when I bug them until improvements are made. 

  • Liz Christian

    Quite true Christy! I work in higher education as an EA and constantly observe similar attitudes to change or creativity. I have learned though that the H.E world 'appreciates' 'creativity and change' but friend they have an odd way of defining it and no I wouldn't call their version anything close to creativity!

  • Jeff Gates

    You know, I think that's very true. I commented over at Lifehacker, where they posted this story, that I fit this profile perfectly except for the jerk part. But, I must admit, I do get frustrated with people who never adjust to new stimuli. That being said, as a former manager (which I eventually gave up to go back to a more creative endeavor), I learned the "Golden Rule" is wrong. Instead of doing unto others as you'd like done to yourself, if you want to be heard by others you need to learn how to talk to them in ways they will hear you. So, while I feel that the most powerful endeavor a person can undertake is to be creative (no matter what you do), I also feel I should take responsibility to make sure people understand what I'm talking about and that I understand them.

    I spent many years researching contemporary stereotypes of artists in our society and have worked to get artists to be a bit less self-enclosed and prone to follow these stereotypes because they think that's the way artists are.

  • Karenwyld01

    Great article and the title certainly grabbed my attention. I have been known to demonstrate all seven of the above tendencies. Luckily, with age comes learning, so I have tamed some of them - being a creative person is no excuse for being a jerk 24/7. 

    Often we act like jerks because stuff gets in the way, when we would rather be creating. My biggest barrier at the moment is working in a non-creative environment and lacking energy to write when I get home. No excuses though (as I say in a recent post), I just need to jump in:
    http://karenwyld.wordpress.com...

  • Robbie Hunt

    It would be really great to get a citation on some of these - especially the being a jerk thing.

    Some people get it when I explain, some don't. It would be neat to just hand someone an science journal with all the parts about why I'm a jerk highlighted.

    Then I can get back to my mind palace more quickly.

  • Eric Pomert

    Ouuuuchhhh!  I hates to admits it, but "prickly" is more than fair to describe me when I go into the creative bubble of silence and a boisterous extrovert wants pop in with an urgent update about the latest episode of Ad Men.