What Is Creativity?

What Is Creativity?

By Eric Michael ’96

Creativity transcends disciplines. Whether pushing the boundaries of artistic expression or pioneering innovative solutions to scientific problems, creativity is both a tool and a process — an inspired state of mind that can improve pursuits of every kind. We asked a broad spectrum of UCF faculty: What is creativity?


A Search

A. Dale Whittaker
Provost and Executive Vice President

“Creativity is bringing something to life that doesn’t exist because you’ve challenged yourself to think and act differently. At UCF, a place that advances knowledge, creativity is essential to everything we do. So the question we always ask is, ‘How do you go beyond what you think you know and think in a way you haven’t thought before to develop an answer that doesn’t yet exist?’ ”


An Association

Rick Hall
Production Director, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy

“I think creativity is a very trainable, improvable skill. I teach my students to try to understand where it comes from. What are creative inspirations, and how can you leverage what you know to improve your odds of being creative on demand? There’s a process — and it’s not putting your fist to your forehead and waiting for a lightning bolt to strike. Creativity is really just your ability to associate two disparate ideas in a way that others haven’t thought of before. You’ve got to proceduralize creativity. And never let a good mistake go to waste.”


A Practice

Brooks Dierdorff
Assistant Professor of Photography

“Creativity comes from working hard and doing it regularly. I think about it as a practice where you show up every day and make things. And even if you don’t feel particularly creative or inspired that day, you keep going and going, and eventually your mind is unlocked. But it takes all that hard work to get to that place. You might make a lot of bad stuff, but you can’t skip that effort.”


“Creativity comes from working hard and doing it regularly. I think about it as a practice where you show up every day and make things.”

A Process

Debra Reinhart ’74
Associate Vice President for Research and Scholarship; Pegasus Professor of Environmental Engineering 

“When I worked with students in the STEAM project — which challenged artists to collaborate with scientists and engineers on artistic expressions of their research — I discovered that their creative processes were very similar. Whether it’s finding a solution to a math problem or creating a painting, creativity is figuring out the process required in a way that may not be obvious or is completely new — a discovery, perhaps. As an engineer, you have to use creativity to solve problems within certain constraints. It’s a process of meeting criteria in ways that aren’t apparent, and thinking in ways that other people haven’t considered. That’s creativity.”


An Expression

Stella Sung
Director, Center for Research and Education in Arts, Technology and Entertainment; Pegasus Professor 

“Creativity is the expression of an individual’s way of looking at the world and translating that viewpoint into something shared with the greater human community. I’d like to think that people are much more creative than they give themselves credit for. We express it in different ways, and it can come in many forms. I wrote a piece of music called ‘The Circle Closes,’ and I think that perfect form of the circle where creativity, inspiration and expression combine is an endless process — a perpetual engine. I hope that I can live my life thinking that way and trying to help others embrace the idea of endless creativity as a part of our beings — a part of our souls.”


“I’d like to think that people are much more creative than they give themselves credit for.”

A Secret

Michael Pape
Dr. Phillips Entrepreneur in Residence

“Creativity is a process of bringing something new into existence that challenges prevailing assumptions. It’s fundamental to human existence. To challenge prevailing assumptions, you need to discover secrets. From my time as a research scientist and as an entrepreneur, I’ve identified two kinds of secrets. There are static secrets that must be mined or uncovered, and there are dynamic secrets that must be hunted or that emerge under observation. I take inspiration from the writings of Rollo May, who teaches if you seek originality, you probably won’t find it, but if you just observe, embrace chaos, and try to frame it into form, you might uncover those secrets in the process.”


An Instinct

Ken Stanley
Associate Professor of Computer Science; Director, Evolutionary Complexity Research Group

“We learned a lot about creativity from doing experiments in artificial intelligence. As soon as you decide to be creative, success becomes a little fuzzy. What does it actually mean to be successful? To be creative, you need to drop your objectives — stop trying to get somewhere in particular — and just follow paths because they’re interesting in their own right. That’s often the story behind great discoveries or great artistic creations. Somebody simply followed their instinct and didn’t have an expectation of what steps they should be following. Many of these ideas are explored in my and Joel Lehman’s recent book, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective.”


“Creativity is about living and learning. It’s improvisational, it’s loud, it’s messy, it’s noisy — it’s all of those things.”

A Step Beyond

Carolyn Hopp
Associate Lecturer and Coordinator, School of Teaching, Learning and Leadership

“Creativity is about living and learning. It’s improvisational, it’s loud, it’s messy, it’s noisy — it’s all of those things. You can think about many different ways to get to an end, but seeing beyond that end is creativity. So I ask my teaching students what they will do with that student who says, ‘I don’t understand it that way.’ How are you going to get them to see beyond? In this world — now especially — it’s so very important.”