Communications of the ACM 50, 12 (December 2007), cover story, 20-32.
Since scientific discoveries and engineering innovation bring broad benefits, improved tools that advance individual, group and social creativity are important contributions. The current and forthcoming generations of programming, simulation, information visualization, and other tools are empowering engineers and scientists just as animation and music composition tools have invigorated filmmakers and musicians (see sidebar by Linda Candy). These and many other creativity support tools enable discovery and innovation on a broader scale than ever before; eager novices are performing like seasoned masters and the grandmasters are producing startling results. The accelerating pace of academic research, engineering innovation, and consumer product design is amply documented in journal publications, patents, and customer purchases.
While telescopes and microscopes extended an individualís perceptual abilities to make discoveries, modern creativity support tools also enable new forms of expression for individuals, and they are especially potent in supporting group collaboration and social creativity (Table 1). Creativity includes discovery or invention of a significant idea, pattern, method, or device that gains recognition from accepted leaders in a field, while innovation requires further steps to ensure adoption (see section on Defining and supporting creative processes). For example, many researchers extend their perceptual abilities by applying general purpose scientific or information visualization tools, which enable them to make discoveries about their data (Figure 1). Other domain experts, such as genomic researchers, use specialized visual analysis tools to discover biological pathways. Scientists and engineers draw on powerful mathematical, design, and simulation tools to support their discovery and innovation (Figure 2). New media artists realize their desire for personal expression with powerful development environments that support animation, music, or video editing tools.
Even more remarkable opportunities have emerged for group collaboration across time and space, as afforded by programming environments that enable distributed teams to accelerate development of software projects. Still broader impacts stem from social creativity tools, such as wikis, citizen journalism, and media sharing, that enable thousands of cooperating individuals to create and share significant new content and services.
Never before has it been possible to arrange rapid and broad collaboration among numerous content creators and service providers. Understanding the passion and persistence required for individual creativity is difficult enough, so designing for social creativity requires rigorous research, with fresh theories of collective efficacy and the motivational impact of rewards and recognition (see sidebar by Gerhard Fischer and Elisa Giaccardi).