Evolveidea.com, The Creativity Site


Le Penseur by Auguste Rodin

Creativity and The Levels of Knowing

Whenever we use the word "know" in any form, we often assign a level to the meaning of the word. For example, if someone says that he knows your name, he implies that he remembers your name. However, if he says that he knows jiu jitsu, he usually implies that he can apply it in real world situations that require it. These are 2 different levels of knowing. Understanding the different levels of knowing is very helpful to understanding creativity because creativity takes place at some but not all levels of knowing. The levels of knowing from lowest to highest are:
  • Memorization
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation
Not surprisingly, proficiency at one level often helps proficiency in the next higher level and vise versa. For example, it is easier to comprehend (comprehension) an underlying principle if you can remember (memorization) some examples. Conversely, it is easier to remember facts (memorization) if they make sense (comprehension) within the context of the principles. With that in mind, here are the various levels:

This is the first and lowest level. It involves rote memorization of facts that relate to a given set of principles. At this level, the person can repeat what he or she read or heard but cannot do much else with the information.

This is the second level and it involves a basic understanding of the underlying principles. It allows you to state facts in your own words and to make connection between these facts. This level allows you to hold a conversation about the subject.

This is the third level and it allows you to accomplish tasks based on the set of principles. This is the mimimum functional level because it is the lowest level at which you can use the set of principles in the real world. It requires a reasonable amount of competence in the prior levels. The only way to achieve this level is to practice. For example, you cannot learn to drive a car or ride a bicycle solely by reading a book.

This level allows you to break down an application of the principles into its basic components. It allows you to determine which principles are being applied and whether or not they are being applied correctly. It also allows you to determine what actions (if any) need correction and how to correct them. This is the minimum level required to be a competent instructor (although it does not guarantee skill at teaching) and it requires proficiency at the preceding levels.

This is the ability to make (synthesize) new creations and formulate new ideas based on the underlying set of principles. It allows you to generate new ideas without observing them or being taught them. This is the first truly creative level and any appearance of creativity below this level can be attributed to serendipity (luck). Not surprisingly, reaching this level requires proficiency at prior levels. Also, experimenting with various combinations of the underlying principles followed by examining the results is extremely helpful in becoming proficient at this level. The experiments can be either thought experiments or real experiments (whenever practical), but real experiments are generally more accurate.

This is the ability to tell whether or not the underlying set of principles applies to a given task or situation. This term is often mistakenly used to describe analysis. However, unlike the previous levels that work within the underlying principles, evaluation involves checking the relevance or validity of these same underlying principles. Incidentally, the mathematician Kurt Gödel proved that unless a set of principles is self contradictory, you cannot evaluate the set of principles from entirely within itself. This means that evaluation requires you to go outside the set of principles and possibly realize that it is just a subset of an even higher set of principles. However, this allows you to formulate ideas and make creations that could not have been made from within the original set of principles. This is the epitome of thinking outside the box. In fact, every genius that we have looked at so far has shown thought at the evaluation level. As you might guess, reaching this level requires proficiency at the prior levels. Many brilliant artists have summed this up in the statement "Know the rules before you break them". In addition, evaluation requires either inductive reasoning, imagination or exposure to other perspectives.

Clearly, your level of knowledge about a particular field will certainly affect your creativity within that field. Also, creativity (other than by luck) occurs at the higher levels of knowing, and achieving these levels requires time and effort. Let's face it; someone who intends to produce a great piano concerto would do well to actually know how to play a piano.

This is stated perfectly in the Japanese proverb: I will master something, then the creativity will come.