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The Progress and Potential of the Creativity Level-Style Distinction: Implications for Research and Practice
By: Scott G. Isaksen, Creativity Research Unit, The Creative Problem Solving Group

Author’s Note:  Professor Kaufmann has been a valued colleague and dear friend for more than 20 years.  His influence on and interaction with our research programs have been invaluable, and he has helped to advance creativity research significantly over the years.  The author is most grateful for his collaboration and commitment.

Isaksen, S. G.  (2004).  The progress and potential of the creativity level - style distinction: Implications for research and practice. W. Haukedal, B. Kuvas (Eds.). Creativity and problem solving in the context of business management (pp. 40–71). Bergen, Norway: Fagbokforlaget.

            The creativity level-style distinction is a fairly recent development within the domain of creativity research.  As such, some researchers find it provocative and interesting.  Others find it controversial, confusing or confounding.  Distinguishing style from level can be considered from the conceptual and theoretical perspective, following a top-down approach to inquiry, or from the empirical or practical point of view.  The guiding question for this chapter is “How useful or productive is the creativity level-style distinction?”
 When level is the focus or concern, it is assumed that we are dealing with a concept linked with ability, degree of capacity, potential, or competence.  Creative level refers to how much creativity an individual possesses or to how well one uses ones creative capacity.  When dealing with style as the main issue, the emphasis is on modality, preference, propensity, manner or form.  Creative style refers to how people prefer to use their creativity.

            This chapter summarizes the literature surrounding the creativity level-style distinction and identifies some of the productive implications of such a differentiation for creativity research and practice.  The distinction is defined and the historical emphasis on creativity level is then outlined.  The background for cognitive styles is summarized, along with how this relatively new approach has been utilized by creativity researchers.  A summary of a particular program of research is provided to help identify implications of the level-style issue with regard to creativity among people, their creative processes, the production of creative outcomes, and the environment or context that supports creativity.  Finally, conclusions and recommendations for future inquiry and practice are shared.
            To understand the creativity level-style distinction it may be useful to understand the historical focus on level within the domain of creativity research.  The following section provides an overview of the historical focus on creativity level within the creativity literature.

The Historical Focus on Level of Creativity

            The subject of creativity, particularly the interest in high-level creativity, has been an area of focus for creativity researchers and practitioners, as well as for a broad spectrum of individuals, groups, organizations and societies.  The early historical perspective for creativity research was focused on the identification of high levels of creative talent (Albert, 1983; Cox & Terman, 1926; Goertzel, Goertzel & Goertzel, 1978; Spearman, 1931; Terman, 1925).  This search was primarily carried out by psychologists concerned with identifying individual differences in people and the search for genius.

            One of the earliest researchers to inquire into the nature of genius was Galton (1869) who attempted to understand the hereditary determination of creative performance.  This early focus on genius and eminence resulted in the emphasis on examining high levels of creativity in people.  The attention was focused on high levels or degrees of performance and the evaluation was socially conferred.  Inquiry into the nature of the creative genius continues today and encompasses a variety of methodological approaches (Briggs, 1988; Gardner, 1993; Gruber, 1981; Perkins, 1981; Roberts, 1989; Simonton, 1984; 1988; 1999).

            In retrospect, the focus on genius seemed to mitigate the need to have a clearly defined set of answers regarding the necessary and sufficient conditions of creativity (or completely unraveling its epistemology).  One of the reasons for this ambiguity is what Stein (1983) referred to as the homogenization of the use of the word “creative.”  He stated that the level emphasis of the concept of creativity began with the book of Genesis.  In the Old Testament, there is a clear hierarchy for Hebrew words used to describe creativity.  Certain words are reserved for God’s creativity, meaning the ex nihilo type.  Other words refer to a more human type of making, forming, transforming, or combining.  Stein asserted that creativity researchers need to distinguish the level of the creativity they are examining in order to avoid a contemporary "Tower of Babel" for creativity inquiry.   He suggested using upper and lower case C’s to differentiate high-level and more generally distributed creativity, respectively.  A similar solution was offered by Boden (1994) who suggested H-creativity was of a sufficiently high level to make historical significance, and P-creativity was about new and meaningful creativity of the general type.

            Following the early interest in identifying those of exceptional creative talent and productivity, psychologists concerned with the identification of individual differences turned their attention to the testing of intelligence.  The search for measures of intelligence was related to the examination of characteristics that prepare some individuals for higher levels of performance.  The effort with regard to this type of mental testing was motivated by the need to make the best use of scarce educational resources (Thomson & Sharp, 1988). 

            Getzels (1987) described the history of the systematic investigation of creativity as occurring in three overlapping periods.  He explained that each period had a dominant but not exclusive focus, starting with genius, followed by giftedness and moving on to originality.  He indicated that creativity research has its contemporary history in the work of Galton.

            The move from viewing giftedness as a function of IQ to investigating creativity as measured by divergent thinking and originality is documented by the literature surrounding the creativity-intelligence distinction (Getzels & Jackson, 1962; Torrance, 1960; Wallach & Wing, 1969).  It is clearly beyond the scope of this chapter to thoroughly review the creativity-intelligence distinction, however reviews that are more comprehensive are available in Barron & Harrington (1981), Guilford (1977), Kaufmann, Helstrup & Teigen (1995), and Wolman (1985).  It is important to recognize that this early separation of the constructs of intelligence and creativity resulted in considerable inquiry into the nature of their relationship and confounded an already confusing situation.

            Guilford (1986) described the evolution of psychometric interest in creativity as focusing on those characteristics that differentiated individuals on higher versus lower levels of innovation and invention.  He noted the unfortunate confusion between creativity and intelligence and pointed out an important incident that accounted for much of this concern.

The first successful tests of intelligence, from Binet to Terman and others, were aimed at prediction of academic achievements at the elementary level, where almost no attention was given to self-initiated ideas when it came to evaluate achievement.  The selection of abilities to be measured in the first Stanford revision of the Binet scale omitted those especially relevant to the assessment of creative potential, due to an incidental result in a faulty experiment.  Terman had administered to two extreme groups (of seven each, out of 500 subjects who had been ranked for brightness versus dullness by their teachers) a set of experimental tests, one of which he recognized as a test of ingenuity.  The ingenuity test failed to discriminate the extreme groups, but all the other tests were successful in doing so.  Thus, over the years, tests of creative qualities have been almost nonexistent in intelligence scales. (p. 20)

            In summing his position on the creativity-intelligence distinction, Wallach (1971) reported that the traditional measures of intellective skills appear to be very limited in their ability to predict non-academic achievements, which are frequently referred to as creativity, talent and innovation.  He stated:

We may conclude, then, that within the upper part of the intellective skills range intelligence test scores and grades on standard academic subject matter are not effective signs as to who will manifest the strongest creative attainments in nonacademic contexts.  Empirical documentation of this relative unpredictability of creativity criteria from intellective skills data suggests a separation between these two realms genuinely exists.  (p. 30)

Whether one takes a purely psychometric or cognitive approach to understanding human intelligence, it has become clear that it is anything but a simple, monolithic area of ability (Gardner, 1983; Khire, 1993; Radford, 1995; Raaheim, 1984; Sternberg, 1985). Furthermore, as conceptions of intelligence are broadened, additional work will need to be done to make the creativity-intelligence distinction more clear (Gardner & Sternberg, 1994; Sternberg, 1988; Sternberg, 2000).

            In terms of understanding creativity in people, the focus on level or degree was firmly established within the mainstream of inquiry.  Guilford’s landmark (1950) presidential address to the American Psychological Association provided an enlightening example of this emphasis:

In its narrow sense, creativity refers to the abilities that are most characteristic of creative people.  Creative abilities determine whether the individual has the power to exhibit creative behavior to a noteworthy degree.  ...A creative pattern is manifest in creative behavior, which includes such activities as inventing, designing, contriving, composing, and planning.  People who exhibit these types of behavior to a marked degree are recognized as being creative.  (p. 444) (Emphasis is mine)

            The prominence of level was evident in the work of many creativity researchers.  MacKinnon’s (1978) work on identifying characteristics of creative architects provided an example.  In describing a few of the rationales for his study he reported that it was necessary to have qualified experts agree on who were the more and less creative architects.  The result of MacKinnon’s request was the development of a list of 86 architects, with 64 invited to participate in the study.  Eleven editors of major architectural journals were asked to rate the creativity of these 64 participants.  The forty nominated architects who actually participated in the study were also asked to rate the creativity of the 64 invited subjects (including themselves).  The editors’ rating correlated +.88 with the ratings of the architects, supporting the assumption that agreement about the relative creativeness of individual members of a specific group is possible.  This type of agreement was essential for an effective study of the traits of creative individuals. 

Thus, the focus on high levels or degrees of creativity seemed to be a major thrust for the early researchers.  Inquiry within the domain of creativity research was focused on understanding and recognizing the characteristics associated with highly creative people, identifying the stages of the creative process used by famous scientists, artists and inventors, investigating the nature of the criteria that distinguish highly creative products and outcomes from the more mundane or common type, and the environmental conditions that seemed to encourage high-level creative productivity. Since the level-style issue relates to cognitive style as well as to level of creativity, some basic definitions and literature regarding the cognitive styles approach are summarized in the following section.

The Cognitive Styles Approach

            An entirely new perspective on identifying characteristics of people departed from the traditional focus on level or degree.  This approach has been referred to as cognitive style and has its origin in the work on perception.

            There is a diversity of definitions, theories, constructs, and instrumentation of cognitive styles (Vernon, 1973).  Despite the lack of clarity, a few trends are discernible.  For example, nearly all these constructs of style seem to differentiate style from ability.  Kogan (1976) indicated that the general ability domain focuses on level of performance, whereas the cognitive style domain deals with the manner in which individuals acquire, store, retrieve, and transform information.  Despite the apparent and broad interest, there are also those who do not place much value on the concept of cognitive styles given the apparent confusion between ability and modality and a lack of robust programs of research (Miller, 1987; Tiedemann, 1989).

            The study of cognitive styles has also been seen as a subset of the discipline of cognitive psychology.  Hayes (1978) indicated that cognitive style was concerned with a variety of mental processes including memory, learning, comprehending language, problem solving, and creativity. He also asserted that cognitive style existed on the borderline between intellectual function and personality.  Willerman (1979) referred to cognitive styles as filter mechanisms that function to sort what and how we perceive and process information.

            Within the field of cognitive psychology, there is considerable interest and effort being focused on the issue of cognitive styles.  Goldstein and Blackman (1978) discussed the nature of cognitive styles and explained that it is a hypothetical construct designed to explain the mediation between stimulus and response in a manner that describes characteristic ways in which individuals conceptually organize the environment.  Martinsen and Kaufmann (1999) have identified five main issues associated with cognitive styles and creativity.  They point out that: most researchers have made a distinction between cognitive styles and abilities, cognitive styles can be placed at the intersection between personality and cognition, styles may be more strongly related to higher-order strategies rather than task-specific ones, most style constructs have been defined as being bipolar, and theories of cognitive style need to be related to more general theories of cognition and personality.

            Guilford (1980) indicated that what some call cognitive styles may be called cognitive controls, cognitive attitudes or cognitive system principles.  Messick (1984) added cognitive preferences, structural properties of the cognitive system, preferred or habitual decision-making strategies, ingrained strategies of learning and knowledge acquisition, and cognitive consequences of personality trends to the ever increasing list of cognitive-style conceptualizations.  He reviewed the variety of definitions and proposed that all the alternative conceptions imply consistent individual differences, suggest deeper roots in personality structure, and tend to be pervasive.

            Cognitive styles have also been linked to cognitive strategies (Kaufmann, 1995).  Styles seem to be more spontaneously applied without conscious deliberation, whereas strategies seem to be more a matter of choice and training.  The areas of learning strategies and meta-cognition are also intimately linked to these two concepts (Forrest-Pressley, MacKinnon & Waller, 1985; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986; Wittrock, 1986).   Messick (1984) pointed out that forming and choosing cognitive strategies may be subject to change through conditions of learning.  He asserted that individuals are able to learn a variety of strategies, some of which may be more consonant with their preferred style.  He also asserted that individuals might be able to make a shift to less congenial strategies that are more effective for particular tasks.

The Level-Style Distinction

            The separation of level from style may be a result of the basic differences in the historical development of the measurement methods for each approach.  For example, abilities generally tend to be uni-polar traits while styles are bipolar.  Abilities are narrower in scope and are measured in terms of level of performance.  Abilities have their roots in mental test theory or models of human intelligence and have been closely aligned with educational applications.  Messick (1976) reported that psychologists concerned with abilities have generally developed measuring instruments for use with large groups in school settings using paper and pencil tests.  As a result, ability measures appear more concerned with correctness or accuracy of response and level of overall achievement.  In contrast, styles are measured by degree of manner of performance.  Cognitive styles have their roots in the study of perception and personality.  These concepts are more closely tied with the laboratory or clinic.  Psychologists concerned with measuring cognitive styles have frequently used clinical tools or laboratory apparatus, typically deriving scores from individual administration.  As a result, cognitive style measures often “...emphasize the process of responding as revealed through multiple part scores which frequently include indexes of speed and latency.  " (Messick, 1976, p. 10)

            Although there may appear to be a clear distinction drawn between level or ability and cognitive style, the separation may not be as sharp as some would suggest.  Some stylistic dimensions may be related to ability domains in both conception and measurement.  Kogan (1973) attempted to classify degrees of difference and overlap between cognitive styles and abilities.  He classified cognitive styles into three broad types.  The first type included those styles, such as field independence versus field dependence (Witkin, 1977), for which assessment is based on accuracy versus inaccuracy of performance.  This type of style is closely related to the ability or level domain.  The second type of cognitive style, similar to cognitive complexity (Bieri, 1961), is not derived through accuracy of performance but from a continuum upon which a value distinction is imposed.  A greater value is placed on the one, more valued end of the dimension for this type of style.  The third type of style is reported to be the most purely stylistic.  No correctness of performance or value judgment is placed upon the kinds of results obtained.  An example of this third type is “breadth of categorization" (Pettigrew, 1958).  It would appear that some cognitive styles are more closely related to the ability or level approaches while others could be referred to as more “pure” measures of style.  Of course, a number of theoretical approaches may have mixed relationships. Styles can vary not only on the distinctions mentioned above, but also in terms of the particular information-processing operations the style emphasizes and the relative level of pervasiveness or generality the style may possess.

            Relative to the level-style issue, the sharpest distinction drawn within this area of inquiry has been provided by Kirton (1978, 1987a, 1989, 1994).  He asserted that the adaption-innovation theory of cognitive style is conceptually independent from creative cognitive capacity, success in creative endeavors, learned procedures and techniques, as well as coping behaviors.  Kirton (1994) stated that:

Adaption - Innovation is assumed to be a dimension of cognitive process and, as such, is not context specific.  There is no implication here, for example, that artists are creative and engineers are not.  The theory’s instrument - the KAI - is not a measure of cognitive or intellectual level, and, therefore, should not be confused with concepts such as level of creativity, capacity for cognitive complexity or extent of some ability. (p. 7) 
Later, in the same chapter, he indicated that:

It should follow then that KAI scores will not correlate significantly with IQ, achievement tests, nor with level tests either of creativity or cognitive complexity. (p. 19)

            Kirton has proposed that the KAI is a pure measure of creativity style and, as such, it should not correlate with measures of creativity level, achievement tests, or IQ.  To support this claim, Kirton (1978) used a variety of measures of intelligence to determine the relationship between level and style.  He found weak, insignificant relationships between these level measures and the KAI.  Although this conceptual and empirical distinction has some emerging support from other scholars (Mudd, 1996; Talbot, 1997), some raise conceptual and empirical concerns (Kaufmann, 2003).

            Torrance & yun Horng (1980) broadened the sampling of creativity level measures and found some of them to significantly correlate with the KAI.  Kirton (1987b) re-analyzed the data from this study and found that some of the measures were more purely creativity style or level and others appeared to be contaminated by both level and style.  Goldsmith & Matherly (1987) designed a study to replicate and extend the Torrance & yun Horng study. Their results supported the original conclusions that there were significant relationships between the level measures and the KAI.  Goldsmith (1987) conducted another study utilizing a number of widely used creativity measures and the KAI.  Based on Kirton’s argument that failure to distinguish level from style may underlie the contradictions and inconsistencies associated with many creativity measures, Goldsmith examined not only the correlations among these measures, he also conducted a factor analysis.  The results were as Kirton predicted.  Two main factors of level and style emerged from the analysis.

            These mixed results prompted Kirton (1994) to assert that if a battery of creativity measures included both level and style, then every one of the tests would meet one of the following conditions.  The test would be: 

1.         psychometrically poor; and or
2.         invalid (not measuring creativity); and or
3.         measuring pure level; and or
4.         measuring pure style; and or
5.         measuring a mixture (to ratio unknown) of level and style. (p. 21)
            Making this distinction within creativity research may help to develop increased clarity regarding the variety of creativity measures and sort out conflicting or confusing results provided by many previous studies (Isaksen & Dorval, 1993).  This improvement provides an opportunity for creativity scholars to productively use the level-style distinction as a means for improving our understanding of creativity. As some argue, it may also provide a framework for understanding creativity that is too broad to be useful (Kaufmann, 2003).

The Cognitive Styles Project

A program of research initiated at the Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo NY, in the early 1980’s may help to illustrate the potential usefulness and value of making a creativity level–style distinction.  The origin of the Cognitive Styles Project stems from an earlier research initiative, the Creative Studies Project, also conducted mainly in Buffalo. 

            The Creative Studies Project was based on the work of Osborn (1953) and Parnes (1966).  The Osborn-Parnes approach to creative problem solving (CPS) was examined experimentally to see if training in this approach would positively impact the creative ability of the participants.  Some of the earliest studies conducted by Parnes and his associates evaluated the effects of creative problem solving programs and methods (Meadow & Parnes, 1959; Meadow, Parnes & Reese, 1959; Parnes, 1961; 1963; Parnes & Meadow, 1959; 1960), however there was a general lack of experimental evidence of the impact of an eclectic and comprehensive training effort on a variety of creative abilities.

            The Creative Studies Project began with a pilot program at the State University College at Buffalo in 1969, and included a four-semester series of creative studies courses for the experimental group.  This two-year experimental project provided enough empirical support for the undergraduate coursework to enable the college to approve the upgrading of these courses to regular credit-bearing elective status in 1972 (Khatena & Parnes, 1974; Noller & Parnes, 1972; Parnes, 1987; Parnes & Noller, 1972 a & b; Parnes & Noller, 1973; and Reese, Treffinger, Parnes & Kaltsounis, 1976).  This instructional program has become well established in the research activities of other scholars (Basadur, Graen & Green, 1982; Buijs & Nauta, 1991; Cramond, Martin & Shaw, 1990; De Schryver, 1992; Geschka, 1993; Rose & Lin, 1984; Torrance, 1972; 1986; 1987; Shack, 1993).

Although the two-year program was very successful for the experimental subjects who remained for the entire program, there were some subjects who chose to drop out of the program.  The experimental and control subjects who continued the program were comparable on nearly all the personality assessments conducted.  There were some interesting findings, however, regarding those experimental and control group members who dropped out.  They possessed characteristics such as:  more directed toward deviancy or culturally disapproved behavior, in closer contact with their primary processes, freer, more impulsive, more likely to drop out of college, less responsible and more anxious (Parnes, 1987).  Dropouts seemed to be more interested in artistic forms of creativity and withdrew because of their disappointment in the nature of the course.  The implications and more extensive description of the findings of the dropouts are reported extensively in Parnes & Noller (1973) and Parnes (1987).  This link to individual differences formed the basis for the Cognitive Styles Project.

The purpose of the Cognitive Styles Project was to better understand the individual differences associated with learning and applying CPS.  The aim was stated as improving our understanding of what works for whom, and under what circumstances (Isaksen, 1987).  More than 30 master’s theses, doctoral dissertations, and scholarly publications have been produced by those who have collaborated on this project.  Although this project was initiated at the Center for Studies in Creativity, work has continued at the Creative Problem Solving Group, the Center for Creative Learning, and by other interested colleagues and students.

The following sections summarize the studies and illustrate the potential productivity of making the creativity level-style distinction.  The general framework for the summary follows the classic four P’s of creativity (Person, Process, Product and Place). The most comprehensive picture of the creative person can be drawn by considering not only the characteristics or traits of the person, but also the kind of environment or context in which the person works, the kinds of mental operations used, as well as the nature of the desired outcomes or products.  Similar conceptual approaches have been identified by a number of other scholars (Gowan, 1972; Hallman, 1963; Isaksen, 1987; MacKinnon, 1970; Mooney, 1963; Rhodes, 1961).

Improved Understanding of Creativity within People

            Understanding the characteristics associated with creativity has been a challenge for creativity scholars for many years.  For decades, scholars have investigated characteristics of the creative person (Barron, 1963; Barron & Harrington, 1981; Davis, 1986; Dellas & Gaier, 1970; Gough, 1981; Helson, 1971; MacKinnon, 1978; Maslow, 1959; Stein, 1974; Torrance, 1974). The complete picture of the creative person requires many and varied perspectives, which can sometimes be unclear and full of contradictions.  The level-style distinction can be used to help clarify this confusion by effectively sorting and organizing the characteristics associated with creativity in people.

            One of the initial thrusts of the Cognitive Styles Project was aimed at an improved understanding of various approaches to understanding of individual differences by examining numerous style assessments.  Wittig (1985) conducted the initial study by examining the relationship between children’s learning style and varying levels of divergent thinking ability.  She used Dunn & Dunn’s Learning Style Inventory (Dunn & Dunn, 1978) to assess the style preferences of third-grade children and found various significant differences in those students with high and low divergent thinking ability.  Her study was replicated and extended by McEwen (1986) who found similar results with older children.

            Corbett-Whitier (1986) also used the Dunn and Dunn’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI) as a measure of style and examined its relationship to the various factors of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking  (TTCT; Torrance, 1974).  She also found a number of significant relationships between the LSI and the TTCT.

            The next major phase of the project was to examine the available instrumentation to see which assessment approaches would be most fruitful for use in the instruction-oriented research program.  The project then involved the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers & McCaully, 1985), the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (Kirton, 1976), and the Style Delineator (Gregorc, 1982). 
Joniak and Isaksen (1988) examined the psychometric properties of and relationships between the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) and Gregorc’s Style Delineator.  The KAI had acceptable properties but the Style Delineator was dropped from the project due to its inadequate psychometric properties (O'Brien, 1990; Sewall, 1986).

            Isaksen and Puccio (1988) studied the relationship between KAI, a measure of style, and the TTCT, a measure of creative level. They reported small, positive, and significant correlations between the abilities of fluency, flexibility and originality of the TTCT and an innovative style of creativity on the KAI. 

Teft (1990) conducted a follow-up to this study. She used factor-analysis to examine the relationship between the TTCT, KAI, and MBTI.  Her results confirmed Kirton's assertion and Goldsmith’s findings of an orthogonal relationship between creative level and creative style.  She reported that the TTCT and the KAI loaded on two separate factors (level and style, respectively).  However, she also found relationships between the KAI and the "Creativity Index" and two of the dimensions of the MBTI.  She concluded that the KAI was a sound measure of creativity style and that the assessments used to measure creative level may have been contaminated with style variables.

            One implication of her findings concerns the use of the MBTI, a measure of style, as a means for determining level of creative performance.  In her study, Teft reported a strong correlation between the Creativity Index (CI) of the MBTI and the style factor, as well as a lack of significant correlation between the CI and the level factor.  This suggests that the CI is more of a measure of style than level.  However, as Teft pointed out, Gough (1981) developed the CI to predict level of creative talent.  Theoretically, the MBTI is a measure of style and should not be able to predict level.  Gough's use of a style measure to predict level of creative talent demonstrates the conceptual confusion that exists in creativity research and practice.  It also suggests that the level-style distinction may be helpful to researchers interested in assessing creative performance by providing conceptual clarity to creativity constructs and forcing the development of better and more conceptually sound measures of level and style.

            The Cognitive Styles Project broadened its focus by structuring an examination of the concept of mental imagery as a mode of cognitive processing.  Dorval (1990) used the level-style distinction to organize the measures used to assess level and style of both creativity and imagery.  He used the Revised Minnesota Paper Form Board Test (MPFB) developed by Likert and Quasha (1941) to measure visual imagery ability and the Individual Differences Questionnaire (IDQ) developed by Paivio (1971) to measure preference for imaginal and verbal modes of cognitive processing. 

            Similar to previous results (Isaksen & Puccio, 1988), Dorval reported small but significant relationships between the measures of level and style of creativity. However, he found no significant relationships between the MPFB and the imaginal or verbal scales of the IDQ.  The strongest findings concerned the relationship between creativity style and preference for imagery.  Those with an innovative style on the KAI reported stronger preferences for both imagery and verbal modes of cognitive processing.  These results suggested the IDQ was a measure of style or preference for mode of cognitive processing, while the MPFB test was a measure of level of visual imagery ability.  Finding no significant relationships between assessments of level and style of imagery supported Dorval's assertion that the level-style distinction found in the general creativity domain was also present for the concept of imagery.

            This line of research continued with work conducted by Isaksen, Dorval and Kaufmann (1992).  They focused specifically on the style relationships between creativity and imagery reported by Dorval (1990).  They found that individuals with an innovative style of creativity had a higher general level of preference for conscious symbolic processing (both verbal and imaginal in nature).  Those with an innovative preference on the KAI had a stronger preference for the imaginal mode of symbolic processing than verbal processing.  These findings again suggested there are individual differences in how people prefer to use cognitive processing in their approaches to creativity and that the level-style distinction may be a productive approach to understanding creativity and related concepts.

            Further work within the Cognitive Styles Project included pursuing a deeper understanding of style and exploring the applications of the KAI.  For example, Selby (1991) examined the psychometric suitability of the KAI for students of middle school age.  Selby, Treffinger, Isaksen and Powers (1993) published the results from this dissertation and indicated that using the KAI with younger students was not recommended as the reliabilities fell well below .70.

            Kaufmann, Isaksen and Lauer (1996) used the KAI in a study to explore the Glass Ceiling effect in organizations.  They studied women in managerial roles and found that females in these roles had a stronger preference for an innovative style of creativity and problem solving.  In discussing their findings, they suggested that females pursuing managerial positions needed to utilize these preferences to break through the glass ceiling within many organizations.

            In another study with organizational implications, Isaksen, Babij and Lauer (2003 ) studied the relationship between the KAI and the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI).  They found significant correlations between KAI and two of the six dimensions of the LPI, a measure designed to assess behaviors associated with extraordinary leadership.

            The next major phase of the Cognitive Styles Project focused on identifying the key dimensions of style that would help provide insight to those learning and applying CPS.  Houtz, et al. (2003) examined the relationship between the KAI and the Basadur CPS Profile (Basadur, 1991), an assessment with direct application to learning and applying CPS.  They reported that Basadur’s generator scores were significant and positively correlated to all scores on the KAI, illustrating a key relationship between the KAI and at least one aspect of CPS.

            Isaksen, Wilson and Lauer (2003 ) studied the relationship between the KAI and the MBTI.  They summarized the findings from previous research and used a larger sample in their study.  They found that the KAI was significant and positively correlated with the Intuitive perceptual preference from the MBTI.  No significant correlations were found between the KAI and preferences for Introversion – Extroversion or Thinking – Feeling dimensions on the MBTI.

            In a more current phase of the Cognitive Styles Project, Selby, Treffinger, Isaksen, and Lauer (2002, In press) have developed a measure called VIEW to assess problem-solving styles.  They were influenced by their practical experiences in education and business as well as Kirton’s theory and KAI, Jungian theory and the MBTI, Dunn and his approach to understanding and measuring learning styles, and the work of Martinsen and Kaufmann (1999) on assimilators and explorers from a Piagetian perspective.  VIEW includes three main dimensions of problem-solving style: explorer-developer orientation to change, internal-external manner of processing, and task-person orientation to decision making.

            Selby and Treffinger (2003) provided a comprehensive synthesis of research regarding learning style, giftedness and creativity.  They reported numerous relationships between VIEW and studies using the LSI, and various characteristics associated with creativity.  Future research with the Cognitive Styles Project will focus on using VIEW to understand individual differences.

            Using the level-style distinction to improve our understanding of creativity presents two major implications.  First, the distinction may help provide an organizing framework for sorting the creativity characteristics into more meaningful categories, resulting in an improved understanding of creativity in people.  Second, it may also help broaden our understanding of creativity to demystify the concept and validate or include a wider variety of creativity styles.

Improved Understanding of the Creative Process

Another major aspect of the level-style distinction concerns the ability to effectively understand the operations of the creative process.  There were many early attempts to delineate the stages of the creative process (Dewey, 1910; Ghiselin, 1952; Helmholtz, 1896; Poincaré, 1913).  Samples of anecdotal studies of creative performance and attempts to identify the stages of the creative process may be seen in the works of Hadamard (1945), Rossman (1931) and Wallas (1926). 
            Wallas’ (1926) landmark work provides a synthesis of the historical, philosophical and psychological antecedents of a creative kind of problem solving.  His investigation was based on the assumption that we can

“...take a single achievement or thought - the making of a new generalization or invention, or the potential expressions of a new idea - and ask how it was brought about.  We can then roughly dissect out a continuous process, with a beginning and a middle and an end of its own.”  (p. 79) 
Wallas offered a description of the creative process as a series of stages including:  preparation (investigating the problem in all directions); incubation (thinking about the problem in a “not conscious” manner); illumination (the appearance of the “happy idea”); and verification (validity testing and reducing the idea to exact form).

            There were, however, very few examples of experimental studies of the creative process.  Patrick (1935, 1937, 1938, 1941) attempted to determine if the process identified by Wallas could be found in her experiments.  Although she found support for the concepts outlined by Wallas, some concern was identified regarding the actual order or sequence of the stages.  Her conclusion was supported by other scholars (Eindhoven & Vinacke, 1952; Vinacke, 1952).

            Models of the creative process were offered to improve our understanding and recognition of the creative process.  In addition, these were provided to develop deliberate methods, systematic procedures and specific tools that were learnable and suitable for instruction.  The aim of this instruction was the deliberate improvement of creative thinking and problem solving. 

            Interest in how people create continues today (Boden, 1991; Gardner, 1993).  This interest extends to issues relating to:  the relative importance of content versus process (the constructivists’ debate); similarities and differences of the individual or group creative process; the degree of descriptiveness or prescriptiveness of process; and the ongoing debate and confusion about the difference between process versus tool or technique.  In addition, there are increasing opportunities to learn from and contribute to the cognitive sciences by considering aspects of the creative process (Gardner, 1985; Isaksen, 1995).

            Aside from a series of studies to examine the impact of learning and applying CPS (Isaksen and De Shryver, 2000), only one study related directly to an examination of the creative process.  Pershyn (1992) analyzed illustrations of the natural creative processes of 145 individuals over three studies.  Individuals were asked to remember a problem they successfully solved and to draw, illustrate or communicate using symbols the process they used when working on the problem.  In analyzing the illustrations, Pershyn found specific relationships between the individuals' cognitive styles and characteristics of their natural creative processes.  Most individuals chose to illustrate their graphic representation of natural creative process by means of flowcharts, which provided a unique opportunity to analyze and compare them across style different individuals and groups. 

            Further, these observed differences in graphic depictions of natural creative problem solving were related to individual differences in cognitive style (Isaksen & Pershyn, 1994).  For example, when compared to adaptors it was found that innovators more frequently described their process as non-linear, more complex, more random and spontaneous.  Their processes contained more stages and multiple end points.  In a few cases, innovative processes contained infinite iterations with no perceivable end points.  They were more likely to use a hop-skip-step and re-step process.  Adaptors, on the other hand, were more likely to draw processes that were linear, orderly and targeted.  They also tended to have fewer stages as well as fewer end points.  Adaptors reported using mainly a step-by-step approach.

            Pershyn was able to use the three studies to gain an accurate understanding of the qualitative differences in graphic depictions of self-reported creative processes.  All participants were asked to draw their process when they were successful, so no attempt was made to examine the “level” of their process.  By Pershyn’s third study, he was nearly 90% successful in classifying the participants’ KAI score by utilizing the graphic characteristics associated with style differences.

            Since all participants were asked to illustrate a successful creative process, the differences observed by Pershyn relate more to stylistic differences in how individuals retrospectively depict their approach.  This insight, along with a number of others has led to the development of a new approach to CPS (Isaksen, Dorval & Treffinger, 2000; Isaksen, 2000).

Interactions of Person with Process

            Since one of the main aims of the Cognitive Styles Project was to understand individual differences in learning and applying CPS, many of the studies examine the general relationship of style to various aspects of CPS.  DeLuca (1981) conducted an initial study within the project.  She examined the impact of a special education program including CPS and how differences in style affected the results.  Zilewicz (1986) found that students with different styles reported strong differences in how they learned and applied CPS methods and techniques.  He used Gregorc’s (1982) measure of style and found that undergraduate students in creative studies classes, whose scores were different on the Style Delineator, showed clear differences in the way they perceived and ordered information, generated and evaluated ideas, worked with groups, and carried out plans of action.  In short, he found that individuals with different cognitive styles reported different strengths and weaknesses. When students had similar cognitive styles, they demonstrated similar strengths and weaknesses on various aspects of the CPS process.  

            Puccio (1987) found that scores on the KAI were able to discriminate the fluency and originality of problem statements generated by students when solving a real task provided from the railroad industry.  In examining the effect of style and fluency on the originality of problem statements, he found that fluency accounted for most of the variance in the predicted behavior.  Although Puccio's results did not support Kirton’s orthogonality assertion, he suggested that further investigation of the concepts was necessary to bring additional clarity to the level-style question.

            Murdock, Isaksen and Lauer (1993) examined the stability of cognitive style preferences by giving the KAI to students before and after a full-semester course in CPS.  They found that student’s cognitive style preferences were not affected by deliberate training in CPS.

            A series of studies examined the relationship between style and preferences for learning and the application of various CPS tools.  Hurley (1993) found quantitative and qualitative relationships between style of creativity as measured by the KAI and the use and application of specific CPS tools and techniques.  Key quantitative differences showed that adaptors enjoyed idea systems and deliberate converging techniques.  Innovators preferred more numerous divergent idea-generating techniques and more primary convergent techniques.  Qualitatively, adaptors enjoyed practicing techniques in order to feel comfortable.  On the other hand, once those with an innovator preference had an insight, they immediately wanted to converge and implement the idea.  Schoonover (1996) replicated these findings and added insight into which specific tools were preferred and used more frequently by both adaptors and innovators.

            Wheeler (1995) used the Productivity Environmental Preference Survey (Price, Dunn & Dunn, 1991), the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory (Strong & Campbell, 1974), and a survey designed to examine behavioral preferences for stages and components of CPS. He reported numerous significant correlations between the PEPS and the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory and self-reported preferences associated with various stages and components of CPS.

            Although specific CPS tools are likely to be style neutral, there is evidence that people of varying style orientations have distinctly different preferences for particular kinds of tools, phases within stages, and specific stages of CPS (Basadur, Graen & Wakabayashi, 1990; Rickards & Puccio, 1992). 

The Relationship between Creative Place and Style

            Numerous scholars have studied the climate that stimulates creativity (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby & Herron, 1996; Burnside, Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1988; Talbot, Cooper, & Barrow, 1992; Turnipseed, 1994).   Ekvall has also researched the organisational climate conducive to innovation and growth (Ekvall, 1983, 1987, 1996, 1997; Ekvall & Arvonen, 1984; Ekvall, Arvonen, & Waldenstrom-Lindblad, 1983; Ekvall & Tångeberg-Andersson, 1986), and his work has been translated and validated for use in North America (Cabra, 1996; Isaksen, Lauer, & Ekvall, 1999; Lauer, 1994; Sobieck, 1996; Speranzini, 1997).

Similar to other organisational psychologists (Pettigrew, 1990; Schneider, & Gunnarson, 1991), Ekvall has differentiated the concepts of climate and culture.  Ekvall (1991) defined climate as the observed and recurring patterns of behaviour, attitudes, and feelings that characterise life in the organisation. Culture reflects the deeper foundations of the organisation including values, beliefs, history and traditions.

The Cognitive Styles Project has focused on using the Situational Outlook Questionnaire (SOQ) to explore individual differences in psychological and organizational climate (Isaksen & Lauer, 2001, 2002; Isaksen, Lauer, Ekvall & Britz, 2001)
Isaksen & Kaufmann (1990, 1991) reported some quantitative differences in individual psychological climate and creativity style as measured by the SOQ and KAI, respectively.  Clapp and Kirton (1994) provided some criticisms of this study and raised a few conceptual issues related to the level-style distinction.  This led to a study by Grivas (1996) to extend and re-analyze the data and to add a qualitative analysis of the SOQ narrative results separated by those scoring strongly adaptive or innovative.  Finally, Isaksen & Lauer (1999) provided a more comprehensive report of the discriminant function analysis of KAI and SOQ, as well as a summary of the observed qualitative differences.  Adaptors require support that is more deliberate and encouragement from their managers to be creative.  Innovators tend to desire less influence from and interaction with their managers.

Puccio (1990) used Kirton’s theory to determine the effects of stylistic fit upon stress, job satisfaction, and creative performance.  He found that stylistic differences in individual preferences and desired job characteristics helped to explain differences in stress, satisfaction and performance. Puccio, Talbot, and Joniak (1993) extended Puccio’s study by using commensurate scales to assess student stress.

            In summary, there does seem to be some evidence that examining cognitive style preferences can assist in an improved understanding of the features and characteristics of the environment for creativity.

Style and Creative Products and Outcomes

            Some creativity researchers have made the case for the importance of studying creativity through the products and outcomes that arise through the creative process (Briskman, 1980; MacKinnon, 1978; Simonton, 1991). Some work has been accomplished in understanding and identifying the characteristics of creative products (Besemer & Treffinger, 1981; Besemer & O’Quin, 1987).  The Creative Product Semantic Scale (CPSS), for example, assesses three categories of characteristics of creative products including novelty, resolution, and elaboration and synthesis (Besemer, 1998; Besemer & O’Quin, 1993, 1999). The CPSS has been used to assess a variety of creative products across cultures and has also been utilized within the Cognitive Styles Project. 

Puccio, Treffinger, & Talbot (1995) studied style preferences and their influence on the characteristics of work-related products using the KAI and similar criteria found in the CPSS.  The sample for this study included 140 British workers in two organizations. They found that those with an adaptive orientation were more likely to produce outcomes that were described as logical, adequate, well crafted, and useful.  Those with a more innovative orientation were more likely to describe their products as original, attractive, transformational, and expressive.

            Franklin (1997) conducted a study to examine how adaptors and innovators evaluate their own products and those of others.  She used the KAI, the CPSS, and another survey designed as a short form of the CPSS to assess the nature of work products.  She had subjects use the product assessment on two very different quilts.  One was traditional and the other was contemporary and abstract. She found that both the students and members of the two quilting guilds had similar scores for the traditional quilt.  This quilt was seen as low on novelty, high on resolution, elaboration and synthesis.  Both groups gave the contemporary quilt higher scores on novelty.  When it came to style differences, Franklin found a number of significant differences between adaptors and innovators.  Those with a more adaptive preference for rule group conformity scored higher on resolution and novelty for the traditional quilt.  Those with more innovative preferences for originality had higher scores on resolution for the contemporary quilt.  Franklin concluded that the CPSS did not have many correlations with the KAI, but style did exert some influence over the self-evaluation of the creativity of their own work products.

            Style may have a small overall influence on the objective assessment of the products of others, but may have a stronger influence over the assessment of individuals’ own creativity at work. 


            Based on the studies conducted within the Cognitive Styles Project, there is emerging evidence that making a distinction between creativity level and style can add a degree of clarity and precision to the interpretation of research results.  Understanding different styles of creativity and problem solving can allow researchers to approach not only the traditional high-level creative products from the arts and sciences, but also to include highly creative works from engineering, technology, and the applied arts and sciences.
Of course, numerous issues need to be addressed more fully in order to assess the usefulness of the level-style distinction. 

            People manifest their creativity because of an interaction of a variety of attributes.  Sternberg (1988) indicated:

Creativity can take many forms and come in many blends, in part because its intellectual, stylistic, and personality facets can combine in essentially an infinite number of ways.  Some people will have more of the intellectual attributes, others more of the stylistic attributes, and still others more of the personality attributes ...creativity will manifest itself depending on the blend of characteristics one brings to one’s attempt at creative performance.  (p. 145)

Future work in the Cognitive Styles Project needs to take a more ecological or interactionist approach to understanding and recognizing creativity (Helson, 1988; Harrington, 1990; Isaksen & Puccio, 1992; 1994; Isaksen, Puccio & Treffinger, 1993).  This ecological approach requires the use of more complex research designs and better understanding of the interaction of effects.

On a more practical level, emerging developments in CPS are already taking advantage of a more interactionist approach by including deliberate consideration of the characteristics of the people, situation, and task, in order to design a particular process design for application (Isaksen, Dorval, & Treffinger, 2000).  The level-style distinction can help practitioners understand and appreciate the diverse ways people could approach learning and applying CPS.  Certain styles will prefer differing approaches as to how much and what kind of conceptual space they need in defining problems or opportunities.  Facilitators will be better able to make adjustments in their approach based on differences in processing and decision-making preferences in order to design and deliver more effective process interventions.

Another major area for future progress for the level-style distinction is the entire arena of creativity assessment.  There have been a number of extensive reviews and critiques of creativity assessment (Brown, 1989; Davis, 1992, Hocevar, 1981; Hocevar & Bachelor, 1989; Michael & Wright, 1989; Treffinger, 1987; Treffinger & Poggio, 1972).  A recent project at the Center for Studies in Creativity identified 265 measures that purport to directly assess creativity, to measure creativity along with other constructs, or to measure constructs correlated with creativity (Isaksen, Firestien, Murdock, Puccio & Treffinger, 1994). Puccio & Murdock (1999) have expanded on that initial work and published a resource guide including a number of readings on creativity assessment. 

Investigation into the extent to which various creativity measures actually assess level, style, or level and style, or other constructs is just beginning (Treffinger, Young, Selby, & Shepardson, 2002). Improving measurement within the domain of creativity research is a prerequisite for continuing advancement in the scientific inquiry of this important area of human ability (Kaufmann, 2003).  As Dellas & Gaier (1970) indicated:

If the results of future investigations are to become more meaningful contributions to the cumulative literature on creativity, the data suggest that the assessment of creative potential cannot merely rely on singular intellective traits, factor-analytically derived, but must also include cognitive styles and personality variables rooted in theoretical concepts. (p. 70).

            The purpose of this paper was to explore the use of the level-style distinction as a means for improving the understanding and development of creativity. The distinction provides a strong conceptual foundation by making more explicit and comprehensive connections between the creative characteristics in people, the processes they perform, their preferences for creative productivity, and the individual differences they hold in their perceptions of environments conducive to creative performance. 

It is important to remember, however, that creative behavior may be influenced by more factors than simply level and style.  To recognize, understand, predict and develop creative behavior, factors such as motivation, beliefs, values, feelings, personal history, and situational constraints need to be considered.  Future quantitative creativity research will need to take multivariate statistical approaches for better understanding and prediction of creative behavior.  Future qualitative research can help us understand the meaning of these differences and similarities.  The level-style distinction may provide a stronger anchoring of the core creativity constructs and variables necessary for both of these types of research.  It may also help researchers make better predictions for and interpretations of their results.

            Questions remain regarding the exact nature and scope of the level-style distinction.  On a conceptual level, it appears reasonable to make a distinction between creativity level and creativity style.  Whether or not these two concepts can be operationalized in measurement or application as entirely orthogonal, somewhat related, or very highly correlated is a necessary and important line of investigation in improving the understanding of creativity in people, product, process and place.  The level-style distinction appears to provide a strong and initial step in that direction.



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