Fruitful, generative, cultivating…Alternatives to the terms creative and creativity

Why am I looking for alternatives to the terms creative and creativity?

  1. Because the history of creative begins with a divine power is what creates, which leads to a divinely given power (e.g., “genius” or “spark”) is involved in being creative (see Keywords by Raymond Williams).  Even if the term is extended to a talent that can be developed, the emphasis is on it being something that a person has, not on the conditions or relationships that support the expression of that talent.
  2. I am exploring with others the idea that “Everyone can think creatively,” which moves the emphasis to how one helps people (oneself included) open up or see alternative paths and how one dispells beliefs that creativity is something that special individuals have.  Even if I used the term creativity to refer to a path-opening conjunction of people (and their component strands), context, tools and processes, and focus on a product, the audience would still hear the other connotations referred to in #1.

One alternative is fruitful.  Another is generative — see and click on the tab “as in productive” to see a rich range of associations that include:

  • advantageous, beneficial, constructive, dynamic, effective, energetic, fertile, gratifying, profitable, prolific, rewarding, useful, valuable, vigorous, worthwhile, generative, fecund, gainful, inventive, plentiful, producing, rich…

Another thought is something derived from “cultivating.”  Both the person helping someone to see that “Everyone can think creatively” and the person who opens up or sees alternative paths is cultivating.  The thesaurus website above gives a range of associations I am happy to work with:

  • breed, fertilize, harvest, manage, plant, prepare, propagate, raise, tend, crop, dress, farm, garden, labor, mature, plow, ripen, seed, till, work

Is there a quality we could associate with gardening?  Gardenizer?  Gardinative?


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

7 Responses to Fruitful, generative, cultivating…Alternatives to the terms creative and creativity

  1. Fred Mindlin says:

    One of the most important lessons I ever received was from an expert gardener, Al Witt, who explained how important it is for a cultivator to eschew the term “weeds.” Those plants we are cultivating in a garden are, by definition, the cultivars, and any other plants which appear are “volunteers.” When we cultivate, we focus our positive energies on the plants we want to help grow and the conditions they require for growth. One such condition is sufficient room, so we remove the volunteers which might crowd our cultivars, as a positive contribution to the requirements of the latter, not with negative energy towards the “invaders.” And we leave places on the margins and in the corners for the volunteers to survive, even thrive, since their proximity often contributes to protection for cultivars by attracting insects and creating underground pathways with their more vigorous root systems.

    Similarly in cultivating opportunities for learners to reveal their own creativity, we can, for example, celebrate failure as part of the process of discovery rather than seek to stamp out “error” as evidence of inadequacy.

  2. maureen maher says:

    Peter, it would be great to come up with another term for creative and creativity. Its ancient and biblical associations definitely make us believe that it is a talent/power that someone/something has. Perhaps cultivating a growth mindset in schools and in our culture will enable us to be liberated of the tyranny of these associations. Funny how many of your alternatives connote hard work. It will be a long journey. Thanks for thoughful post which gave me a moment to reflect.

  3. In a post from 2011,, I explored “cultivating” in the context of “cultivating collaborators,” but the exploration could be adapted to cultivating in the area of creativity.

  4. Fred Mindlin says:

    Thanks for pointing to your reflections on cultivating collaborations. A useful guide. I’ve never been much of a sportsman, so your detailed explication of some soccer break-downs was illuminating. That’s one of the things I love about teaching string games–there’s an inevitable collaborative process which develops as some learn faster than others and become teachers as well.

  5. Teryl Cartwright says:

    It is helpful to look at the conditions or relationships for creativity and its support rather than just the person “with” it. Thank you for the idea that in order to expand creativity, a new alternative definition might help.

    I thought of this recent article that says people didn’t really see or recognize the color “blue” until the word was made. How many other “things” wait for us to name them so we can notice them? How do you notice something without a name first?

    Another example of word choice transformation I like–the organized field of forensic science was originally germinated from strings of words that were fiction. Edmund Locard read the Sherlock Holmes stories and then made procedural police investigations standard reality.

    So if it helps to “rename” or “reclaim” creativity by giving it another term and field in which to be discovered, what first do you want to “grow” from it? You know that even gardening and fruitfulness are part of the Judeo-Christian symbolic ‘language’, so there are more alternatives if this also is too entwined.

    Everyone is creative whatever his belief, condition, or status. This doesn’t mean I am more or less creative because of my belief in God. Or that anyone else is more or less creative because of his or her beliefs. Picasso was an atheist; C.S. Lewis a Christian. Some “cultivators” such as Miles Horton and Parker Palmer have roots in Christianity with their upbringings and beliefs. We all have a lot of common ground. We also fight for ways to have people see creativity where they haven’t before, in others or themselves.

    What’s great about this hard work to empower alternative thinking is that there is room for people of any faith to collaborate together with respect and through supportive relationships. All because one generally agreed upon condition for creativity (or gardinitivity) is diversity.

  6. Bruce Meyer says:

    My favorite alternative wording is “work.” I’m speaking in contrast to the educational idol of the “creative” person. We must distinguish “work” from deadly work: possibly, “involved work,” or “living work,” or “purposeful work.”

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