Creativity Theory


Dr. Kaufman has developed several creativity theories.

He is probably best known for the 4 C’s, developed with Ron Beghetto. In The Nature of Human Creativity (co-edited with Robert Sternberg), he writes:

“As I began collaborating with Ron Beghetto, the eminent-everyday split (often called little-c and Big-C) felt too limiting. What happens to people just starting out? Someone designing her first scientific experiment or writing his first play would be called little c by default because there was no other type of description. Even creativity researchers did not bother distinguishing between the nine-year-old playing with different colors, the neophyte college freshman drawing in his room, the aspiring artist showing her work in local coffee houses, and the young professional eking out a living by selling his paintings. They were all little-c, with Big-C reserved for Rembrandt or Van Gogh. Such a labeling issue may seem semantic, yet the implications were very real. Words impact how we think. If a teacher, parent, or friend is unconsciously accepting a ‘Monet-or-bust’ mentality, then beginners get overly punished and young professionals are still lumped with amateurs. We first proposed the idea of mini-c, or individual creativity (Beghetto and Kaufman, 2007, 2009), which represented the personally meaningful insights that inspired people. A mini-c idea might not be appreciated by others; it might not even be spoken aloud. But it matters. With appropriate mentorship, struggle, and understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses (Beghetto and Kaufman, 2013, 2014; Kaufman and Beghetto, 2013b), mini-c can be recognized by others. It is now little-c, the everyday creativity that is widely understood and studies. Even with the new construct, we felt that something was missing. Big-C was for legends – the creators who end up studied in school or on postage stamps. What about everything that does not quite reach that level? Where do we put those who may be destined to be footnotes or even forgotten, yet whose creativity brings pleasure, gathers acclaim, and is considered impressive in their time? We thus proposed Pro-c, or expert-level creativity (Kaufman and Beghetto, 2009, 2013a; Kaufman, Beghetto, Baer, and Ivcevic, 2010). The Four-C model of creativity has been widely adopted around the world; perhaps most gratifying has been seeing people expand their conceptions of what creativity can be. A child learning how to solve an algebraic proof or a retiree taking up the clarinet are creative, and it ‘counts.’ Debating the exact number of Cs or focusing on the gaps in the model (e.g., Beghetto and Kaufman, 2015) is beside the point; I don’t care if there are 4 Cs or 400. The important thing, to me, is that nearly anyone can be creative.” (pp. 125-126)

He also developed the Amusement Park Theoretical Model of Creativity with John Baer. Also from The Nature of Human Creativity (co-edited with Sternberg):

“Our own theoretical contribution to this issue has been our Amusement Park Theory (Baer and Kaufman, 2005, 2019; Kaufman and Baer, 2004b, 2005, 2006). We begin with some initial requirements for creativity that are true for anything (enough intelligence and motivation, and a tolerant environment). There are then general thematic areas, which are broad categories of interests that may draw someone’s interest early in life. These are one way of trying to establish a structure of creativity, much the same way that intelligence theories propose a core set of cognitive processes and abilities. Yet intelligence theories argue that a truly smart person would excel at many (if not most) categories (which, depending on the theory, might include acquired knowledge, practical intelligence, planning ability, or bodily kinesthetic intelligence). In contrast, people are unlikely to succeed at too many different general thematic areas because of their discrepant focus” (p. 127)

In addition, he has worked on the Propulsion Model of Creative Contributions with Sternberg and Jean Pretz; he is also working on several theoretical papers with Vlad Glăveanu.