The secret of saying something new is to be patient.
Everyone agrees that necessary as it is to listen to the unconscious, it is not sufficient. The real work begins when the emotion or idea that sprang from the uncharted regions of the psyche is held up to the light of reason, there to be named, classified, puzzled over, and related to other emotions and ideas. It is here that craft comes into play: The writer draws on a huge repertoire of words, expressions, and images used by previous writers, selects the ones most fitting to the present task, and knows how to make up new ones when needed. To do so it helps to have a broad base of knowledge that extends beyond the boundaries of literature.
This tendency to take one’s dreams and hunches seriously and to see patterns where others see meaningless confusion is clearly one of the most important traits that separates creative individuals from otherwise equally competent peers. Of course, this fluidity of thought results in something creative only if one has already internalized the rules of a domain. Otherwise, chances are that the dreams will dissolve by morning. And even the most original ideas have little chance to make a difference without the persistence to convince others of their rightness, and without a good dose of luck.
In line with everything else we know about the creative personality, all three men show the complexity we are led to expect. They are selfless and egocentric at the same time, eager to cooperate yet insistent on being in control. They call themselves workaholics, are extremely perseverant, and stubborn when thwarted. They have all taken risks and have defied the dogmas of their fields. At the same time, none is content staying within the limits of his specialization; each is open to a great variety of experiences in art, music, and literature.
...the most momentous creative events are those in which entire new symbolic systems are created.
The world would be a very different place if it were not for creativity. We would still act according to the few clear instructions our genes contain, and anything learned in the course of our lives would be forgotten after our death. There would be no speech, no songs, no tools, no ideas such as love, freedom, or democracy. It would be an existence so mechanical and impoverished that none of us would want any part of it.
There is no question that the human species could not survive, either now or in the years to come, if creativity were to run dry.
...the main threats to our survival as a species, the very problems we hope creativity will solve, were brought about by yesterday’s creative solutions.
Robert Ornstein calls human inventions “the axemaker’s gift,” referring to what happens when a steel axe is first introduced to a preliterate tribe that knows no metals: It leads to easier killing, and it shreds the existing fabric of social relations and cultural values. In a sense, every new invention is an axemaker’s gift: The way of life is never the same after the new meme takes hold.
... central among the traits that define a creative person are two somewhat opposed tendencies: a great deal of curiosity and openness on the one hand, and an almost obsessive perseverance on the other. Both of these have to be present for a person to have fresh ideas and then to make them prevail. Is it possible to increase the number of people who have these characteristics?
A child who is encouraged to question is likely to developa problem-finding attitude. A child who is introduced to inductive reasoning may have an advantage in making sense of the world.
Without developing a skill he or she is confident in, without having the experience of acquiring a knowledge base, a young person may never get up enough nerve to change the status quo.
... most breakthroughs are based on linking information that usually is not thought of as related.
Currently American public schools try to save costs by eliminating instruction in the arts, music, athletics, and all other areas that the public considers nonessential. On the whole, however, trying to save by cutting opportunities for learning is one of the most benighted solutions a society can adopt. Perhaps only Jonathan Swift’s solution to the Irish famine is more objectionable.
If there is more than one right way to pass on knowledge, there are many more wrong ways of doing it. Whenever the information is untrue, illogical, superficial, redundant, disconnected, confusing, or—especially—dull, the chances of its getting across to students is diminished, and so is the likelihood of a creative response.
Teachers rarely spend time trying to reveal the beauty and the fun of doing math or science; students learn that these subjects are ruled by grim determinism instead of the freedom and adventure that the experts experience. Not surprisingly, it is difficult to motivate young people to master aspects of the culture that seem cold and alienating. As a result, knowledge in these areas might become eroded and creativity increasingly rare.
... consuming culture is never as rewarding as producing it.
Even though personal creativity may not lead to fame and fortune, it can do something that from the individual’s point of view is even more important: make day-to-day experiences more vivid, more enjoyable, more rewarding. When we live creatively, boredom is banished and every moment holds the promise of a fresh discovery. Whether or not these discoveries enrich the world beyond our personal lives, living creatively links us with the process of evolution.
Creative individuals are childlike in that their curiosity remains fresh even at ninety years of age;
Try to be surprised by something every day.
Try to surprise at least one person every day.
Write down each day what surprised you and how you surprised others.
When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it.
It is often surprising to hear extremely successful, productive people claim that they are basically lazy. Yet the claim is believable. It is not that they have more energy and discipline than you or I; but they do develop habits of discipline that allow them to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. These habits are often so trivial that the people who practice them seem
Start doing more of what you love, less of what you hate.
Creative people are constantly surprised. They don’t assume that they understand what is happening around them, and they don’t assume that anybody else does either. They question the obvious—not out of contrariness but because they see the shortcomings of accepted explanations before the rest of us do. They sense problems before they are generally perceived and are able to define what they are.
If you learn to be creative in everyday life you may not change how future generations will see the world, but you will change the way you experience it.
Look at problems from as many viewpoints as possible.
Solving problems creatively involves continuous experimentation and revision. The longer you can keep options open, the more likely it is that the solution will be original and appropriate.
Robert Galvin of Motorola trained himself to do a simple mental exercise: Whenever someone says something, he asks himself, What if the opposite were true? Imagining alternatives to what others hold to be true is probably going to be useless 99 percent of the time. But that one other time the practice of flipping to a divergent perspective might generate an insight that is not only original but also useful.
Try to produce unlikely ideas.
You can be personally as creative as you please, but if the domain and the field fail to cooperate—as they almost always do—your efforts will not be recorded in the history books.
But if you don’t learn to be creative in your personal life, the chances of contributing to the culture drop even closer to zero. And what really matters, in the last account, is not whether your name has been attached to a recognized discovery, but whether you have lived a full and creative life.