How does motor creativity emerge?

Creatively is an elusive yet fascinating topic. We know what it is when we see it, but it is difficult to define, and we know little about how it is developed.

Traditionally creativity has been examined from a cognitive approach, with a the idea being that creativity is a product of generating ideas in the mind. In other words, a creative action occurs when someone thinks of doing it.

This traditional viewpoint was recently challenged. Domonic Orth and colleagues proposed a dynamical systems approach to understanding creativity. The dynamical systems approach emphasizes movement variability as the key factor driving the emergence of creativity.

I have taken quotes from the article to answer the questions below.

What are the issues with the traditional approach?

“The main problem with this notion [the notion that individuals first generate an idea in their mind] is that it can falsely lead to the inference that creativity is ideation and that the action is simply an expression of the creativity process, rather than being part or constitutive of creativity”.  (i.e., generating ideas in the mind is only part of the process. Creatively is also the product of the actions that emerge due to the constraints of the task and the environment)

Additionally, the traditional approach has also lead to “a narrow set of experimental tasks (often jotting down ideas on paper), which are largely restricted to one-off observations that insufficiently account for individual experiential histories (including prior deliberate practice)”.

How does creativity emerge according to the dynamical systems approach?

“… actions are considered as emergent in the temporary couplings formed among the individual and the environment…. These constraints define the space within which the movement system can act, placing boundaries on the movement solutions available. From this perspective, creative motor actions are as much a function of the individual, as the task and environment. They can arise in the temporal coupling between the organism and the environment, while the action unfolds.”

How can a creative action be defined?

“… creative motor actions refer to solutions that are (statistically) rare and thus original. We argue, that motor creativity reflects an individual’s adaptability, but is exceptional in its level of originality relative to other adaptive solutions (i.e., within and/or between individuals).”

What can a coach do to encourage creativity?

“The search for adaptive solutions is the impetus for finding original and functional motor solutions.”

Indeed, the authors emphasise functional and adaptive movement variability during practice in order for creativity to emerge. Functional and adaptive movement variability refers to the ability to alter movement patterns (adaptive) whilst still achieving the task goal (functional). This can be promoted in practice by manipulating the constraints of the task (e.g., altering equipment, manipulating distance, target size, the rules, etc.).

For example, the authors discuss the Frosbury Flop in high jump as example of motor creativity being influenced by changes in task constraints. The Frosbury Flop was introduced to high jump in 1968 by Dick Frosbury. It involves jumping over the bar head first and landing on the back. Significantly, it lead to a gold medal, as this technique was far superior to the other techniques used at the time. Interestingly, the introduction of the Frosbury Flop coincided with the use of large foam safety mats. Hence, as a consequence of providing a safe landing space, the Frosbury Flop was made possible.


Orth, D., van der Kamp, J., Memmert, D., & Savelsbergh, G. J. (2017). Creative motor actions as emerging from movement variability. Frontiers in psychology8.

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