In the public debate and in media studies generally, creativity and creative processes are often mentioned as buzzwords but rarely defined clearly. A new book provides a guide to how we can understand the concept of creativity and study creative processes in the media industries.
In recent years, there has regularly been news articles and policy documents that discuss creativity and creative industries as important resources for our modern society. Historically, creativity has primarily been researched within fields like psychology, design, human–computer interaction, and the arts, whereas media studies scholars have preferred to use words like “production” or “authorship” when they have discussed the creation of media products. This means that we have mostly used the “romantic everyday understanding” of creativity instead of a more precise, research-based definition.
Therefore, I argue in my new book that media scholars should learn more about the concept of creativity because it is quite central and often helpful in discussions around media industries and media production. The purpose of the book is to provide researchers, students, and teachers with a theoretical and methodological guide to what creativity research is and how media scholars can study creative processes in media industries.
Creativity is still a mysterious phenomenon to many media researchers and, in my experience, also to many media industry professionals who either find it “uncontrollable” or celebrate it too much as “the solution to everything”. But both perceptions are a bit naïve and unaware of the existing research on this topic. Instead, we should tell people about the more than 70 years of creativity research that has already debunked many of these myths.
If you cannot be bothered to read 70 years of publications, this book gives you a helpful theoretical tool: “The Five Traditions in Creativity Research”, which are five categories that represent five approaches to understanding and explaining creativity. Because creativity is a complex and abstract concept, I have tried to be pedagogical and think about how I can best describe it to my colleagues and my own students. As a result, I have also included a chapter with specific instructions about how you can use parts of these five traditions when designing a new study. To bridge the gap between these different research fields, the book contains other chapters about both media industry research and production studies that give useful insights about media production and connect to the insights from creativity research.
In order to also address the frustrating aspects of studying this topic, another chapter discusses how working with a relative concept like creativity can create certain methodological challenges for your study. The first challenge is about where creativity “is” and where it probably is not. In relation to that, you need to be mindful about whether you yourself will make normative judgements or strive for objectivity when you study it. The second challenge is about how to document creativity with qualitative or quantitative methods, or both, when it is such a notoriously elusive phenomenon. Lastly, the third and final challenge is about how we can be mindful of industry-specific logics and genre perceptions, since creative processes can vary a lot depending on the specific industry area that you are studying.
As my closing remark, I hope that the book will inspire more people to be precise when they talk about creativity. We simply need to remind each other that it is important to provide a definition of a concept like this. Instead of perpetuating myths by saying that “creativity should be set free” or that “creativity is society’s most important resource”, we should rather say: “It depends on how you define creativity, since there are several different ways of understanding it”.