Openness to experience key to creative success

Psychological studies lend credence to Mr Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan’s observation that entrepreneurs and innovators are people with innate creative and innovative skills (“Don’t let teaching innovation cause kids more stress”; last Saturday).

The “big five” personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) often used by psychologists to describe personality and the psyche result from an interaction of hereditary factors with the environment.

It has been found that openness to experience is a necessary ingredient for innovation and creative achievement.

Those high in openness tend to be imaginative, curious, perceptive, creative, artistic, thoughtful and intellectual.

They are driven to explore the world of ideas and constantly seek out and attempt to synthesise new meaning out of their environment.

Research by Dr Scott Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Centre, suggests that there are at least three major aspects of cognitive engagement comprising the core of openness.

Intellectual engagement is characterised by the search for truth, a love of problem solving and a drive to engage with ideas.

Affective engagement is associated with using instinct, emotions, empathy and compassion in decision-making.

Those possessing high aesthetic engagement tend towards exploring art and fantasy and experience absorption in beauty. Intellectual engagement is associated with scientific innovation while affective and aesthetic engagement often produces artistic creativity.

Dr Kaufman found that the desire to learn and discover seems to play a greater role in innovations than cognitive ability.

In fact, intellectual engagement was sometimes even a better predictor of scientific innovations than IQ.

In both scientific and artistic fields, it has been found that openness to experience is the single most important personal factor associated with creative achievement, trumping other factors traditionally linked to creativity, such as IQ, divergent thinking (the ability to explore many possible solutions to a problem) and other personality traits.

In essence, for innovation to occur,we need to be exposed to novel and unusual experiences, coupled with a mindset that is open to exploration and discovery. Our educational system is still largely concerned with paper qualifications.

I wonder hows chools are going to introduce programmes to encourage innovation without putting additional pressure on students,many of whom may not possess the necessary personality traits to be easily amenable to risk-taking and innovation.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe