Alfonso Montuori and Gabrielle Donnelly

The Big Idea

The winningest coach in the (USA) National Basketball Association is Phil Jackson with 11 NBA titles. Whatever you might think of Jackson’s coaching philosophy, there is one thing he seemed to intuitively know and later put into words: “The strength of the team is each individual member.  The strength of each member is the team.”

This research discussion on creativity is unwittingly a suggestion of the meaning and implications of Jackson’s paradoxical quote about individual and collective team play.  For the extent to which the individual in a team is creative is only and always in relation to the creation of the entire team.

Unfortunately for our PDP readers, this research paper doesn’t mention Phil Jackson, or basketball, or team play, or even sports.  But if you can keep Jackson’s canny quote in mind throughout this review, you might pick up the significance of this discussion on the creativity of culture and the culture of creativity research for coaching and playing team sports.  (Note: From time to time reminders of sports will be inserted to keep you focused.)


  • Research on the life experiences of human creativity is typically constrained to studies of “the great man” and the “lone genius.”
  • This kind of research is also largely discipline-specific: sociological, political, or psychological.
  • Furthermore, these disciplinary researchers are not especially congenial between disciplines. That is, they rarely speak to one another.
  • Montuori and Donnelly argue for a more expansive study of creativity which they believe should be transdisciplinary.
  • Such transdisciplinarity does not substitute for individual-discipline research, but augments it by finding ways to integrate what is known by disparate disciplines.
  • The culture of creativity research needs to include studying collaborative, distributed creativity in the social world (including the world of sport).
  • The buzz words for creativity today, especially in the millennial generation, are: participation, teamwork, collaboration, relationship, interconnection, networking, and interdependence.
  • Scholar-practitioners who can engage in dialogue across disciplinary lines can create the necessary collaborations to understand the creative potential and promise of interactions between the people in their social contexts.
  • Or, in other words, the extent to which the individual in a team (sport) is creative is only and always in relation to the creation of the entire (sport) team.

The Research

Consider this book chapter by Montuori and Donnelly published in the Palgrave Handbook of Creativity and Culture Research a lengthy literature review and position paper.  The subject is a big one: Creativity.  Social institutions, organizations (and sporting clubs and teams) routinely seek creative problem solving, innovation, and ideation.  Yet, for the most part, researchers on creativity seek specialization, isolation, differentiation.  In other words, there are universal calls for creative knowledge and action; but relative silence from researchers on creativity who neither talk much amongst themselves nor to the public.  The problem these authors discuss is how to both create creative communication between the various creatively-interested disciplines, and how to creatively integrate what is known of the creativity of culture.  You got that?

If our PDP reader is uncomfortably confused already, let’s just creatively finish the job by beginning this research review with an idea from a popular crime fiction writer, Robert Crais.  In Lullaby Town the protagonist, private detective Elvis Cole, is standing by his car in a parking lot, ruminating.  He says this:

There was a cold wind coming up from the northwest and a formation of large black crows beating their wings a hundred feet overhead.  Because of the wind, the crows were pointing in one direction but traveling in another.  I wondered if they knew it, and, knowing it, understood it, or if they were simply oblivious, carried along by a force that was felt but not seen.  The same thing happens to people, but most of the time they don’t know it, or when they know it, they think it an action of their own devising.  They are usually wrong.

Elvis’ observation of crows and people is a sweet introduction to this research paper’s idea of an emerging creative culture and the interconnectedness of what they call transdisciplinarity.  You see, this discussion is about the winds of change and the power of those winds to carry us all-together into an era of social, collaborative, creative relations.  The consequence of these winds is to move the fields of creativity research away from exclusive study of the creativity of the so-called “lone genius or the great man or woman,” and towards discovering the creativity of our connectedness (especially in team sports).  Moving from a simplification of the creative individual act to the creative possibilities in our interdependence, inevitably takes us into a more complex understanding of creativity, namely the unpredictability of collective creative thinking and acting.  And while we might think this is an understanding of our own devising, we are most often quite wrong, for like the crows, we are most always pointing in one direction but traveling in another.

The upshot of creativity and what is called complexity science is a view of the world “characterized by self-organization, emergence, interdependence, interconnectedness, and uncertainty.”  Later on, in Lullaby Town, someone asks Elvis how he finds clues to a crime: “What are you looking for?”  Elvis replies, “I don’t know.  All we can do is dig into something we have and see if something presents itself.”  And that is the way forward in what these authors remind us about how to make our way in the midst of chaos, contradiction, complexity, and unpredictability; about how to find our way no matter where the winds of change carry us and see what presents itself.

Potentials and Possibilities

The authors of this discussion are inviting the various sub-discipline creativity researchers not to abandon what they do in their individual study domains (for example, sociology, cultural studies, feminism, philosophy, and especially psychology), but to bring what is known already into a collaborative system of thinking across disciplines.  They are not stumping for generating “theories of everything” frameworks.  Instead they are suggesting we can create new perspectives and ask new questions that rarely arise when the sub-disciplines operate in silos.

Two essential questions emerged when the authors reviewed the status of current creativity of culture and the culture of creativity.

  1. How is knowledge about creativity constructed?

One unhelpful approach in the field of psychology of creativity was to reduce and simplify the definition of creativity to originality (from the standard definition of it being both original and valuable).  In other words, the focus according to this definition was to be novelty as the only necessary component of the creative act.  And so that is what is said to be studied.

But if we use the transdisciplinary approach, we see creativity as relational, systemic, and contextual.  Being inquiry-based, crossing the disciplines allows for practitioners to be sources and resources for answering emerging questions.  One of the authors, for example, points to his experience as a professional musician where he realized that the relational aspects of musicians were largely unknown.  He argues that in the performing arts (and in sport teams), for example, musical groups receive far less attention as a source of research curiosity than lone writers and composers who work in relative isolation.

  1. How can the work being done in non-communicating disciplines be connected and integrated to enrich the discourse and develop a more complex understanding of creativity?

It is the study of gender and women, these authors believe, that would benefit from transdisciplinary inquiry.  There is no single discipline that determines potential and possibility for women.  The relative absence until recently of even bothering to find and study examples of “great women” signals the historical disinterest in women (in sports) as subjects of discussion.  The primary reason for such neglect was stereotypical discrimination against inviting women into participation in the domains where creativity was recognized and honored (for example, in sports).

However, in this shift to the study of creativity in and of the social world (including sports) broadens the research focus to be more inclusive and diverse in gender and women studies.  What happens when scholars begin to look directly at what woman actually do and where and how they do it, then “these actual practices of women point to a more contextual creativity that is concerned with creating environments that foster creativity.”

Concluding remarks

These authors suggest that the millennial generation happily recognizes the value of a participatory culture over an individualized one.  They call it a democratization of creativity.  Through such democratization not only can people reinvent or re-create themselves, but by way of their self-creation they will as well impact the organization or institution or network or association or business or social circle or sporting club they belong to.  The creativity of culture is not only sustained thereby, it ensures that creativity moves from the lone genius to “everyone, everywhere, everyday” creativity.  And that is what, in truth, presents itself.

The key question isn’t “What fosters creativity”? But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative?  Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled?  I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create, but why do people not create. –Abraham Maslow

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