To say that Thomas Edison invented electricity or that Albert Einstein discovered relativity is a convenient simplification. It satisfies our ancient predilection for stories that are easy to comprehend and involve superhuman heroes. But Edison’s or Einstein’s discoveries would be inconceivable without the prior knowledge, without the intellectual and social network that stimulated their thinking, and without the social mechanisms that recognized and spread their innovations.
Creativity results from the interaction of a system composed of three elements: a culture that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the symbolic domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation.
These are not incidental contributors to individual originality but essential components of the creative process, on a par with the individual’s own contributions.