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The Difference Between Creativity and Intelligence (Explained)

There’s a big difference between intelligence and creativity. Creativity is the process of creating something new or using existing resources in a new way, such as inventing a new technology or business idea or creating a painting or sculpture that’s never been done before. Intelligence is the ability to acquire, store, and apply knowledge and skills to accomplish tasks, such as solving problems.

What Is Creativity

Something creative is characterized by having new or surprising properties. Something that’s never been done before.

Depending on the field in which the term is used, there are different ideas of what exactly creativity is. For example, in business or science, a creative idea must be useful or have value. Those more involved in the art world tend to focus on originality, while those involved in design tend to consider other aspects of creativity.

That said, there are some generally accepted criteria by which to classify something as creative. For example, creative work must be original and show something new or unexpected.

What Is Intelligence

The dictionary definition of intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. People’s intelligence can vary widely, and some are brilliant in certain areas but have difficulty in others.

Intelligence is important because it’s the foundation for almost everything we do in our lives. Without intelligence, we wouldn’t be able to use computers or smartphones or read.

Intelligence is measurable and can be developed and improved through education. There are different types of human intelligence, including emotional intelligence.

The Main Difference Between Creativity and intelligence

The main difference between creativity and intelligence is that creativity is about new concepts and creating them, while intelligence is about using existing knowledge to solve problems.

Creative people may be able to figure something out from experience, such as how to turn an idea into a new product, while most other people use knowledge, such as a certain mathematical formula, to calculate likely outcomes.

In my opinion, intelligence allows for more efficient and effective ways of doing things that are usually well understood, whereas creativity uses completely new ways of thinking about something and is much more associated with visionary ways forward.

Intelligence often takes a step-by-step approach, while creativity involves large steps or even huge leaps forward.

Different Approaches to Thinking

Creativity and intelligence tend to use different ways of thinking.

Creative thinking is often characterized by an abandonment of references, and often of logic also. This means that new creative ideas aren’t constrained by the ideas of others. This is part of what distinguishes creativity from intelligence.

Intelligence incorporates existing knowledge into problem-solving. This knowledge can be acquired through experience or education.

Another important difference is the goal and scope of thinking outcomes. One of the hallmarks of creativity is divergent thinking – developing multiple possible solutions and new ideas.

Intelligence, on the other hand, often focuses on finding a single best – or even the only – solution to a given problem, in a process known as convergent thinking.

Measuring Intelligence and Creativity

There’s more agreement on the measurement of intelligence than on the measurement of creativity. Despite a significant degree of interest to devise effective creative tests to assess creative potential in the workforce.

This is because intelligence is more objective than creativity and can be measured in terms of other people. However, the creative arts and creativity are difficult to measure because the process is often subjective.

For example, there’s the classic intelligence test, the Intelligence Quotient IQ test, which assesses a person’s IQ level through a series of questions designed to test a person’s general intelligence.

Related: How to Measure Creativity

The creative process isn’t as objective as solving a mathematical problem or puzzle. Therefore, measuring creative ability is often more complicated and the subject of ongoing scientific debate and investigation.

Related: Why Creative Process Matters

The Relationship Between Creativity and Intelligence

The scientific evidence on how and why creativity and intelligence are related is complex and the subject of ongoing debate and investigation. Some research has shown that people with higher levels of intelligence tend to be more creative than the other way around.

Although the question of whether creativity is a subset of intelligence or vice versa, or even whether they’re completely separate, is still the subject of ongoing research, it appears that there’s overlap between creativity and intelligence.

For example, both intelligence and creative thinking involve the ability to understand and solve problems and to develop abstract thinking.

One of the leading researchers in this area is Robert Sternberg. He distinguishes between “creative intelligence” and creativity, pointing out that the demands of creativity require much more of someone than creative intelligence. He says that creative people are willing to go beyond the “crowd” and their own prior lives in order to create.

In his wonderful book on creativity, Creativity – A Short and Cheerful Guide, comedian John Cleese references Guy Claxton’s ideas in Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind, calling slow, dreamy, playful thinking not only faster than hare brain thinking but also associated with creativity and wisdom because it tends to look at complicated and ambiguous situations.

Examples of Creativity and Intelligence

Some examples of intelligence would be:

– Learning a new language quickly

– solving a Rubik’s cube

– use acquired knowledge to solve a mathematical equation

– preferring a greater reward to a short-term gain

– recognizing a gap in the market

Some examples of creativity would be:

– painting in a completely new style

– inventing an elven language and story (we’re looking at you, Tolkein!)

– inventing a revolutionary new product, like the smartphone

– invent a new scientific theory (like the theory of relativity)

– create a wonderful and original jazz performance, such as Round Midnight by Miles Davies

– build a new kind of animal with Lego

Different Kinds of Creativity and Intelligence

There are multiple intelligences and creativities.

Types of intelligence include:

Fluid Intelligence: the ability to solve novel problems through general reasoning.

Analytical Intelligence: the ability to process and apply logical reasoning.

Practical Intelligence: the ability to adapt optimally to an environment.

Interpersonal Intelligence: understanding and interacting with others.

Emotional Intelligence: being able to deal with one’s own emotions and those of others.

Creative Intelligence: creating an original idea or product.

Crystallized Intelligence: using past experience and knowledge to solve problems.

Creativity is usually divided into three main types:

Exploratory Creativity: going beyond current knowledge boundaries.

Combinatorial Creativity: bringing together different ideas or inspirations.

Transformational Creativity: incremental changes in an area of activity or enterprise.

Is Giftedness Creativity or Intelligence – or Both?

We call someone gifted when they appear to have exceptional skills or abilities compared to their peers. However, we distinguish between innate abilities and the actual use of those abilities (and eventually using them to their full potential).

Gifted people can be highly intelligent (and become famous for their work), good at sports (we’re looking at you, Messi and Andy Murray!), or gifted in music (and become world-famous).

I think it’s fair to distinguish between someone who’s highly intelligent and someone who has a high level of creativity.

Bill Gates, for example, is undeniably highly intelligent and has done many humanitarian projects, but I’d question if his creativity compares to that of Picasso.

On the other hand, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones is undeniably highly creative, but you wouldn’t put him in the same intelligence category as Albert Einstein.

I don’t think it just has to do with how someone expresses their talent, but what they’ve done with it in the past. How their curiosity and willpower drove them.

Bill Gates may indeed be creative, but he chose to spend years of his life in science, programming, and business. Pablo Picasso, on the other hand, was intelligent but chose to pursue art.

Both Picasso and Bill Gates are very talented – gifted – but each made a different choice about how to express themselves.

Small c and Big C Creativity

There’s a theory (Beghetto & Kaufman) that says there are two basic areas of creativity. The small C represents the adaptive, everyday things that move a project forward in a creative way.

The big C, on the other hand, stands for the real bangers: the light bulb, Claude Monet’s lilies, Mozart’s Requiem.

Experience and practice can play a role in how someone progresses from small C to Big C over the course of their life. Einstein, for example, didn’t wake up as a child and have the Theory of Relativity as a flash of inspiration; it was the result of years of study and thought and his profound knowledge of the landscape of physics formed over centuries by other scientists.

Miles Davies played Round Midnight spontaneously – after thousands, tens of thousands, of hours of experimentation and performance.

I believe that a special form of intelligence and creativity belongs to those who understand the connection between practice, reflection, and creation.

And I’d add that an even higher recognition belongs to those who engage in this practice with a spirit of compassion, empathy, and humanity. For me, that represents the highest form of an intelligent and creative human.

Can One Be Too Intelligent to Be Creative?

The Threshold Theory posits the idea that up to an IQ of 120, there is a positive correlation between intelligence and creativity.

However, a concept called interference theory states that extremely high intelligence can interfere with creativity, because although the two have some things in common – including problem-solving and conceptual thinking – intelligence has other components that get in the way of creativity when it’s practiced to a high degree. So, you might have a very high IQ at the expense of being a highly creative person.