10 Characteristics of Creative People

In his 1996 book Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People, positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggested that "of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives."

Creativity allows us to stretch out minds, do new and exciting things, and engage ourselves in a way that takes us one step closer to reaching our full potential. So what is it exactly that makes a person creative? Are some people just born that way, or is it a skill that you can develop much like a muscle?

Csikszentmihalyi proposes that some people possess what he refers to as a creative personality. While some people certainly come by these tendencies naturally, incorporating a few of these creative practices into your daily life might just help you achieve your full creative potential.

Continue reading to learn more about Csikszentmihalyi’s research and the 10 skills he believes that creative people possess.


Creative People Are Energetic, but Focused

Creative focus

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Creative people have a great deal of energy, both physical and mental. They can spend hours working on a single thing that holds their attention, yet seem to remain enthusiastic all the while.

This doesn't mean that creative people are hyperactive or manic. They are imaginative and curious and spend a great deal of time at rest, quietly thinking and reflecting on the things that hold their interest.


Creative People Are Smart, but Also Naive

Sense of wonder

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Creative people tend to be smart, but research in 2013 has shown that having a very high IQ is not necessarily correlated with higher levels of creative achievement - personality traits are important too.

In Lewis Terman's famous longitudinal study of gifted children, for example, children with high IQs kids were shown to do better in life overall, but those with very high IQ weren't exactly creative geniuses. Very few of those involved in the study demonstrated high levels of artistic achievement later in life.

Csikszentmihalyi notes that studies suggest that there seems to be a cutoff point at around 120. Having a higher than average intelligence might contribute to creativity, but having an IQ over 120 does not necessarily lead to greater creativity.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that creativity involves a certain amount of both wisdom and childishness.

Creative people are smart, but they are able to maintain their sense of wonder, curiosity, and ability to look at the world with fresh eyes.


Creative People Are Playful, Yet Disciplined

Creative perseverance
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Csikszentmihalyi notes that a playful attitude is one of the hallmarks of creativity, but this lightheartedness and excitement is also mirrored by a major paradoxical trait — perseverance.

When working on a project, creative people tend to exhibit determination and doggedness. They will work for hours on something, often staying up late into the night until they are satisfied with their work. Consider what you would think when you meet someone who is an artist.

On the surface, it sounds both exciting, romantic, and glamorous. And for many, being an artist certainly does involve a great deal of excitement. But being a successful artist is also a lot of work, which is what many people fail to see. A creative person, however, realizes that real creativity involves combining both the fun and the hard work.


Creative People Are Realistic Dreamers

Creative dreamer

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Creative people like to daydream and imagine the possibilities and wonders of the world. They can immerse themselves in imagination and fantasy, yet remain grounded in reality. They are often described as dreamers, but that doesn’t mean that they live with their heads in the clouds.

Creative types, ranging from scientists to artists to musicians, can come up with imaginative solutions to real-world issues.

“Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present,” Csikszentmihalyi explains. “The rest of society often views these new ideas as fantasies without relevance to current reality. And they are right. But the whole point of art and science is to go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality.”


Creative People Are Extroverted and Introverted

Extroverts and introverts

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While we often fall into the trap of categorizing people as solely extroverted or introverted, Csikszentmihalyi suggests that creativity requires combining both of these personality types.

Creative people, he believes, are both extroverted and introverted. Research has shown that people do tend to be either more extroverted or introverted and that these traits are remarkably stable.

Creative people tend to exhibit characteristics of both introversion and extraversion at the same time.

They are both gregarious and reticent, sociable and quiet. Interacting with others can generate ideas and inspiration, and retreating to a quiet place allows creative individuals to fully explore these sources of creativity.


Creative People Are Proud, Yet Modest

Humble but proud

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Highly creative people tend to be proud of their achievements and accomplishments, yet they are also aware of their place. They have tremendous respect for others who work in their field and the influence that those previous innovations have had on their work. They can see that their work is often remarkable in comparison to that of others, but it is not something they focus on.

Csikszentmihalyi observes that creative people are often so focused on their next idea or project that they don't fixate on their past achievements.


Creative People Are Not Weighed Down by Rigid Gender Roles

Gender Roles
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Csikszentmihalyi believes that creative individuals resist, to at least some degree, the often rigid gender stereotypes and roles that society often tries to enforce. Creative girls and women tend to be more dominant than other girls, he suggests, while creative boys and men are less aggressive and more sensitive than other males.

"A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses," he explains. "Creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one, too."


Creative People Are Conservative, Yet Rebellious

Out of the box thinking

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Creative people are "out-of-the-box" thinkers by definition, and we often think of them as non-conformist and even a little bit rebellious. But Csikszentmihalyi believes that it is impossible to be truly creative without having first internalized cultural norms and traditions.

Creativity, he suggests, requires being both traditional and iconoclastic. Being able to appreciate and even embrace the past, while still seeking new and improved ways of doing things. Creative people can be conservative in many ways, yet they know that innovation sometimes means taking risks.


Creative People Are Passionate, but Objective About Their Work

Creative thinking

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Creative people don't just enjoy their work — they dearly and passionately love what they do. But just being passionate about something does not necessarily lead to great work. Imagine a writer so in love with his writing that he is unwilling to edit a single sentence. Imagine a musician reluctant to listen to her own performance and hear areas that need improvement.

Creative people love their work, but they are also objective about it and willing to be critical (and take criticism) of it. They are able to separate themselves from their work and see areas that need work and improvement.


Creative People Are Sensitive and Open to Experience, but Happy and Joyful


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Csikszentmihalyi also suggests that creative people tend to be more open and sensitive, characteristics that can bring both rewards and pains. The act of creating something, of coming up with new ideas and taking risks, often opens people up to criticism and even scorn. It can be painful, even devastating, to devote years to something only to have it rejected, ignored, or ridiculed.

But being open to the creative experience is also a source of great joy. It can bring tremendous happiness, and many creative people believe that such feelings are well worth the trade-off for any possible pain.

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  1. Csikszentmihalyi M. Creativity: the Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People. New York: HarperCollins; 1996.

  2. Jauk E, Benedek M, Dunst B, Neubauer AC. The relationship between intelligence and creativity: New support for the threshold hypothesis by means of empirical breakpoint detectionIntelligence. 2013;41(4):212-221. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2013.03.003

  3. Terman LM, Oden MH. The Gifted Child Grows up: Twenty-Five Years’ Follow-up of a Superior Group. JAMA. 1948;137(12):1095. doi:10.1001/jama.1948.02890460091043