I heard Penn researcher and Ungifted author Scott Barry Kaufman speak recently about redefining intelligence at Idea Festival, a local conference. Kaufman is a brilliant researcher who spent years in special ed because his kind of intelligence didn’t align with his teachers’ traditional view of what intelligence looked like.
Traditional intelligence tests measure skills located in the brain’s executive control network: working memory, processing speed, vocabulary, reasoning skills. But creative people have messy minds, and these tests are often poor at recognizing their intelligence. They don’t assess the brain’s imagination network, which is distinct from but just as important as the brain’s executive functions, and is responsible for a whole catalog of skills that traditional intelligence tests ignore.
The imagination network is associated with things like self-awareness, daydreaming, and imagining the future, and it is crucial to our best thinking. When you seek empathy, pull meaning out of your experiences, and reason about moral dilemmas, your imagination network is at work.
(When you read fiction, you rely on and strengthen your imagination network, because you must transport your mind into the mind of someone else.)
In creative types, the lines between discrete mental skills aren’t neat and tidy; they tend to blur. According to Kaufman, “They are really good at mixing and matching all sorts of seemingly contradictory emotions, ideas, and personality traits to produce something truly original and meaningful.”
Because of their ability to blur the lines, creative people are excellent at dreaming up new possibilities and envisioning alternate realities across domains. Being this kind of possibility thinker is a strong predictor of success across the board.
If you feel like your mind is messy, have no fear—that’s not a bad thing. It’s characteristic of creative minds, which are untidy and characterized by paradox.
8 paradoxes of creative people
1. MINDFUL DAYDREAMERS.
Creative types don’t view daydreaming as a waste of time. Letting their minds wander often results in their best ideas seemingly striking from out of the blue.
2. IMAGINATIVELY GRITTY.
Creative people can persevere against all obstacles when pursuing an issue they care deeply about.
3. PASSIONATELY INTROVERTED.
Creative thinkers may spend copious amounts of time alone, because solitude is a requirement for their best work.
4. OPENLY SENSITIVE.
These individuals are open to new experiences, ideas, and emotions. They also have sensitive nervous systems, and score highly on the Highly Sensitive Person scale.
5. PLAYFULLY SERIOUS.
Creative people can be playful and silly, embracing the absurdity of life, yet are highly focused on and serious about the issues that most concern them.
6. LOGICALLY INTUITIVE.
They heed their intuition, but can also think rationally when necessary.
7. VULNERABLY RESILIENT.
They are able to bounce back from trauma, learning from their hardships and channeling that new knowledge for creative growth.
8. REBELLIOUS EXPERTS.
These individuals are serious experts and rabble-rousers.
Kaufman will unpack these ideas further in his forthcoming book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Human Mind, due out December 29. As someone who relates all too well to his “messy minds” description, I can’t wait to learn more.
Do you have a “messy mind?” Tell us if these paradoxes ring true for you.
P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.