top of page
  • Gray Hammond

The Investment Theory of Creativity

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

"Creatively smart people are like good investors. They buy low and sell high."

Dr. Robert J Sternberg

Robert Sternberg believes that financial investing has a parallel in #creativity, substituting ideas for stocks. New ideas are like undervalued stocks, generally rejected by the public, which sees them as abnormal, counterproductive, or foolish. Disruptive ideas are seen as dangerous threats by vested interests. But if creative ideas are (by definition) novel and valuable, why are they rejected?

Sternberg believes that creativity is not only the ability to generate ideas, but a process that also requires applying and balancing three aspects of intelligence: creative, analytical, and practical. Creative intelligence is the ability to generate new and interesting ideas -- part of creativity, but not all of it. Analytical intelligence is the ability to analyze and evaluate -- we need to assess our own ideas, evaluate their merit, work out their implications and test them. Practical intelligence translates theory into practice, abstract ideas into accomplishments -- good ideas don't sell themselves; people need to be convinced.

In Successful Intelligence Dr. Sternberg describes how he and his colleagues tested the Investment Theory and identified twelve (12) characteristics of creative people, and how to develop these:

  1. Seek out, then become, role models. People develop creative intelligence when you show them how.

  2. Question assumptions and encourage others to do so. Creative thinking begins with "Why?"

  3. Allow yourself, and others, to make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable when exploring new territory.

  4. Take sensible risks and encourage others to do so.

  5. Seek out tasks for yourself, and others, that allow for creativity.

  6. Actively define and redefine problems, and encourage others to do so. Allow people to choose their own ways of ideation or problem solving.

  7. Seek rewards for #creatvity, and reward it in others.

  8. Allow yourself, and others, the time to think creatively. Contrary to the popular "Eureka!" or lightbulb images, most creative insights do not happen in a flash.

  9. Tolerate ambiguity, and encourage others to do so. Our binary society (black/white, right/wrong, good/bad) has a low tolerance for ambiguity. A creative idea has pluses and minuses, and creative work usually has long periods of gray.

  10. Understand the obstacles creative people face and overcome. Creativity is punished, not rewarded, almost everywhere. Thinkers who stay the course and willingly pay the short-term price of rejection will reap rewards in the long term.

  11. Willing to grow. We can all become victims of our own expertise, which can be more entrenched with time. Step outside the boxes we create for ourselves.

  12. Recognize the importance of person-environment fit. People do their most creative work when they love what they do.


Robert J. Sternberg (

Successful intelligence : how practical and creative intelligence determine success in life: Sternberg, Robert J. : Book, Regular Print Book : Toronto Public Library

Defying the crowd : cultivating creativity in a culture of conformity: Sternberg, Robert J. : Book, Regular Print Book : Toronto Public Library

This article first appeared on LinkedIn

17 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

by Joseph Cullen O'Connor, PE You're interested in practicing your creativity and increasing your innovative output. You've increased the number of ideas you're coming up with but you haven't seen the

by Felipe Zamana You don't need to be an executive or entrepreneur to have asked it yourself at least once. We all want to know *how much* creativity is worth. For many, creativity is just an abstract

bottom of page