In Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Csikszentmihalyi offers a systems approach to analysing the idea of creativity within a social context. The appeal of the systems approach, its simplicity and clarity, makes the book an enjoyable read. Although he recognizes several types of creativity, or rather, perhaps, several ways of considering creativity (including personal creativity), his interest in the book is in Creativity with a capital c, the creativity that is recognized by society because it alters that society or culture in some way. His system has three integral aspects: the domain of knowledge, the field of people who share that knowledge, and the creative people who alters that domain through their work.
Because these three elements are interdependent, he is able to make the claim that a creative person such as Bach or Mendelsohn may be Creative during one century but not in another. The creativity is dependent both on the individual and on the cultural field. This is a useful way to think ab0ut creativity. It is very likely that most people can be creative within a very small field. The slightly precious art student who thinks all his or her work to be creative simply because they created it is correct, but only within a field defined by a single person, the creator. That may be enough for them. But if they are to be creative within a larger field, they need to do more.
Csikszentmihalyi insists that this “more” begins with understanding and experiencing the domain that their creativity will transform. The more a creative person engages with that domain (whether it be food, biology, writing, digital storytelling, aircraft design or rock and roll), the more she or he will understand it and be able to make changes within it.
Early on Csikszentmihalyi provides an account by an astronomer who made an important discovery about the rotation of stars in a galaxy; the astronomer is very clear that this creative discovery only happened because she loved stars and focused her life around them, studying and enjoying them, and enjoying the work involved in the study. Because of this immersion, she was able to recognize the significance of what was otherwise an insignificant aspect of one image of a star. The story is a useful one, and nicely summarises the creative process.