Posted by: Xhyra Graf | 18 January 2007

Model 6

The Garbage Can Model

There are several of these in the research literature on creativity (Amabile, 1996; Ford and Gioia, 1995; Woodman et al, 1993). Amabile has one with domain skills, creation skills, and task motivation skills applied to four steps of a process–problem identification, preparation, response generation, and validation/communication. Immediately you can see this is a theory of creative individuals, not a theory of what makes entire fields, domains, and societies creative. Woodman, looking at innovation in work organizations, has another one of work motivation, task environment, organization factors, personal capabilities, and like factors. What characterizes such garbage can models (and what gives them this name) is, if you take “creativity” entirely out of such models and substitute “being father”, “managing a small group”, “founding enterprises”, “handling personal problems” or virtually any other social phenomena, the factors in the model make just as much sense. Garbage can models explain creativity by applying to it an entire panorama of different factor types that could just as easily apply to any humanly achievable social function. There is nothing all that specific to creativity in the models of “what causes creativity” that they propose, hence their name. “Kitchen sink” would be an equally good name, some have said.

In my opinion, therefore, what needs to happen to improve garbage can models in general, is the inclusion in them of factors so specific to creativity that the models, with those factors included, would not be equally good for any other general social capability that people have. In this article I propose my own garbage can model–the 4 Cycle Model–but it differs from Amabile’s and Woodman’s and other garbage can models in the factors particular to creativity that it includes. First, I include subcreations as what career-environment-workstyle variables directly impact. Subcreations are all the little preparatory creations of lifestyle and work tools that precede actual creation of a major creative “work”. Second, I include effects of environment factors on each of the population automaton model’s key populations involved in creativity (populations of candidate problems, possible points of leverage, candidate solution approaches, failed solution approaches, possible reasons for solution approach failure, and so on). Third, I include environment effects on each of the ten key functions in the insight process model, which presents a five by five matrix of 25 steps in generating any insight. Fourth, I include models of creative functions (dynamics), question finding functions (dynamics), ordered into particular creative processes by creators. In these and other ways, my “garbage can” model attempts to suggest factors that could not equally well be applied to nearly any human social endeavor. It is that particularity that is lacking in existing garbage can models, I feel.

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