Thursday, November 5, 2009


Some individuals seem to have an intuitive sense, as they begin their creative work, about what their final product will be like. Indeed, evidence from several sources confirms the role of intuition in the creative processes of artists and scientists; among these sources are autobiographical testimonies, analyses of historical evidence, psychometric assessments, and experimental studies.

In combination, this evidence supports the notion that early intuitions may guide decision making in the process of attaining creative results. But at least three issues remain. First, there may be various forms of intuition. Second, there may also be various forms of creativity. Third, it might well be the case that only certain forms of intuition are related to certain forms of creativity. It is important to develop a clear conceptual framework for distinguishing various forms of intuition as well as for explaining whether and to what extent they interact with one another and with various forms of creativity.

It is also relevant to distinguish intuition from insight, although the 2 phenomena sometimes overlap. Intuition entails vague and tacit knowledge, whereas insight involves sudden, and usually clear, awareness. In the context of creativity, intuition may precede insight. (See INSIGHT)

Earlier intuition was defined as a tacit form of knowledge that orients decision-making in a promising direction. In the context of innovation, a promising direction is one that leads to potentially creative outcomes. For example, Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, and medicine refer to their own scientific intuition as “a metaphorical seeing of the phenomenon searched for, an anticipatory perception of its shape or its gross structure.”

In time line between an early intuition and its final articulation might very from a brief period to many years, depending on various factors, such as the nature of the problem or the subject’s knowledge base. Jean Piaget, for instance, commenting on the creative process of Charles Darwin, said that he found two results most interesting: the time that Darwin needed to become aware of ideas already implicit in his thought, and the passage from the implicit to the explicit in the creation of new ideas.

In fact, Darwin seems to have implicitly prefigured some of his most relevant ideas in his early writings. Highly creative individuals in other domains, such as Picasso (visual arts), Freud (psycho-analysis), and Cantor (mathematics), appear to have moved along their own creative processes in a similar sequences – starting off with generative intuitions and ending up with more explicitly articulated products after long periods of persistent work (See FREUD, SIGMUND)

This leads us to a further question. If some individuals have an early intuitive sense about their final product will be like, why does it take them any longer to reach the ultimate goal? In other words, how can we explain a creative process in which the beginning is in a way also the end, given that we have a tacit estimate of the end state right from the start?

Perhaps the creative process unfolds as a developmental sequence of representational changes, from vague, syncretic, and implicit forms of knowledge into more differentiated, integrated, and explicit ones. In more technical terms, it is conceivable, at least, that the creative process might operate as a developmental translation – from an implicit code of associative strengths among neural units into an explicit code of symbolic rules. In this cognitive system, implicit neural networks might precede and constrain the generation of symbolic rules.


A number of scholars hold that divergent thinking (multidirectional and open ended) is the essential feature of the creative process. But, we may wonder, what prevents divergent thinking from becoming mere rambling as the person considers an infinite sequence of potential alternatives? (See DIVERGENT THINKING)

As we all know, any creative process involves a long series of choices: each decision one makes will affect future options, and one’s alternatives at any given will depend on previous decisions. If individuals had to consider each option that arises in any creative search, the growth of alternatives would become astronomical. In other words, the sequence would lead to what cognitive scientists call a “combinatorial explosion,” and it is very unlikely that the creative process would get to the desired result in any reasonable amount of time.

Creative intuitions may fulfill an important cognitive function: By setting the preliminary boundaries for promising exploration, these initial intuitions may keep the creator’s divergent thinking from generating a combinatorial explosion. That is why creative intuition may be technically defined as a tacit form of knowledge that broadly constrains the creative search by setting its preliminary scope.

Although cognitive scientists have widely acknowledged the need to check a combinatorial explosion in a problem space, they have not considered intuition as a potential constraint for the creative search. Instead, they have focused on heuristics.

Creative intuition may fulfill a similar role to that of heuristics by making the search for possible solutions more selective and efficient. Heuristics, however, are explicit rules of thumb, or particular strategies that, for example, deliberately move away from an old path and look for conflicts and resolve them. Conversely, creative intuitions appear to be implicit rough estimates of the final solution or goal, and advances in this problem space might be measured in terms of how close the subject is to achieving a clear symbolic representation. (See HEURISTICS)

Creative intuition has always been difficult to define, explain, and measure. Conceptualizing it in terms of search in a problem space may be a valid and operational alternative for investigating this phenomenon. But it still leaves many questions unanswered.


Encyclopedia of creativity, Volume 2

By Mark A. Runco, Steven R. Pritzker

Publisher: Academic Press (9 Aug 1999)