Thursday, November 13, 2008


Okay, so Paul and I were talking at lunch today, following up on yesterday's meeting when he posed the question of what the analogue for Richard Paul's Universal Intellectual Standards would be if we were talking about creativity instead of critical thinking. How do you judge creativity? What makes one answer to a question, on solution to a problem, one essay, one piece of blown glass, more creative than another? Is there a creativity quotient to place alongside the intelligence quotient?

I don't know if there's a list that would parallel clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, and logic. (And I would certainly argue for the inclusion of specificity, significance, and plausibility in Paul's master list. He tends to keep playing around with the list.)

But as we were talking, one criterion popped into my mind which I would definitely want to include in the creativity list. That word is elegance.

Elegance is of course a slippery term. It has, like a fine wine, a lot of overtones and resonances. It connotes a multitude of virtues: simplicity, precision, surprise, aptness. Elegance is the difference between 200 lines of kludgy computer code and ten that do the same work. Elegance is the difference between mate in three and mate in twenty-seven. Elegance has to do how you carry off the task at hand, and how you carry yourself while you are doing it. Michael Jordan was elegant. Dave Cowens, for all his virtues, was not. The iPhone is elegant. In speech, eloquence is elegant. Barack Obama's acceptance speech was elegant, as was John McCain's concession speech, in its own way.

I suppose one might be creative without being elegant, but if I were asked to judge the creativity of two pieces of work produced for the same purpose, one of the things I would be responding to would be the which piece was the more elegant response. To come with a creative solution is to solve a problem that is instantly recognizable as elegant, but only after the fact, after all the inelegant solutions have been tried and discarded. There is an element of felicity in elegance, arising from a sense of joyful recognition, the "Aha" moment, the moment of creation.

So now I've got one word on my list. I'm looking for others. Nominations, anyone?

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