To Be Extraordinary

Etymology, the study of word origins, can be an interesting topic.  Take the word extraordinary, which derives from the Latin extraordinarius, for example.  The prefix extra means "out," and when combined with ordinem, "row, rank, series, or arrangement," the word extraordinary essentially means "out of the common order" or “outside the perimeter of the norm.”  This word has positive connotations in some arenas (i.e. a remarkable meal or an eidetic memory) but negative implications in others (i.e. Asperger’s syndrome).

During April, Autism Awareness Month, I am especially reminded that people with special needs are not weird or odd.  Their needs for acceptance are the same as those for all humans.

KRTV recently aired a news story about the growing acceptance of autism in the workplace.  The story shared the statistic that at least 80 percent of adults with autism are unemployed, even though their IQs are often well above average.  Although a job interview can present a barrier for a person who struggles with social nuances and communication skills, other aspects of autism, such as an ability to recognize patterns or an acute attention to detail, can be the precise skills an employer desires.  If we look beyond unfair stereotypes and labels, we might see unique human strengths and differences.

I have always told my students, that what I know of normal, I don’t want to be it any way.  Just as we know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences, we also know that this is a world with many variations of ability and creative potential.

Known for her work as a scholar in creative studies, Ruth Noller, who also had a background in mathematics, developed a symbolic equation for understanding creativity:  C = ƒa (K, I, E).  This “creativity formula” suggests that creativity (represented by “C”) is a function (represented by “f”) of the following: K (knowledge), obtained through life experiences; I (imagination), one’s ability to generate ideas or make connections; and E (evaluation), examining the advantages and disadvantages of a particular idea or situation (Isaksen, Dorval, & Treffinger, 1994, p.5).

In in her work, Noller emphasized that “the equation is not so precise as to define how many parts of knowledge, imagination, or evaluation need to be present for creativity to exist” (Campos, 2000).  After all, we humans all have strengths, weaknesses, and creative potential.  However, the most important piece of the equation is perhaps the subscript letter “a,” which represents the need for a positive attitude.  Without optimism, personal creativity cannot flourish.  In order to maximize creative abilities, we must not only consider our knowledge, imagination, and evaluation, but our belief that we are creative. Attitude can determine the extraordinary in all of us, and with the right attitude, we can appreciate creativity in many forms.


  • Campos, V. (2000). Ruth Noller: Contributions to creativity. Unpublished masters project, State University of New York College at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.
  • Isaksen, S. G., Dorval, K. B., & Treffinger, D. J. (2011). Creative approaches to problem solving (3rd ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt.

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