One of the enduring ideas about creative inspiration is that we have to wait for it or somehow encourage it to “visit us” – for example as a Muse – in order to do anything creative.

Professor R. Keith Sawyer, PhD, is a leading expert on creativity, with research in business innovation, organizational dynamics, children’s play, artistic and scientific creativity.

His books include Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation.

In a Time magazine article, he addressed questions about myths and other aspects of creative minds.

Q. So how can the average person get more ideas?

R. Keith Sawyer. Ah, here’s where we come up against another of our cultural myths about creativity — that of the lone genius. Ideas don’t magically appear in a genius’ head from nowhere. They always build on what came before.

And collaboration is key. Look at what others in your field are doing. Brainstorm with people in different fields. Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that distant analogies lead to new ideas—like when a heart surgeon bounces things off an architect or a graphic designer.

Q. Can we become more creative by studying more than one field?

No one can be creative at everything. You have to work hard in your area, let’s say music, and learn everything that’s already been done. But multitasking on several music projects at once might foster unexpected connections and new ideas.

Q. Are great artists different from inventors and scientists?

All the research shows that the creative process is basically the same: generating ideas, evaluating them and executing them, with many creative sparks over time.

The role of collaboration may be more obvious in business than in writing, but even apparently solitary creators like writers read constantly and talk to one another.

In the 1920s and 1930s, for example, J.R.R. Tolkien [photo] and C.S. Lewis batted around religious and literary ideas with the Inklings, a group of unfashionably Christian professors who met weekly at an Oxford pub.

Q. What advice can you give us nongeniuses to help us be more creative?

Take risks, and expect to make lots of mistakes, because creativity is a numbers game. Work hard, and take frequent breaks, but stay with it over time.

Do what you love, because creative breakthroughs take years of hard work. Develop a network of colleagues, and schedule time for freewheeling, unstructured discussions.

Most of all, forget those romantic myths that creativity is all about being artsy and gifted and not about hard work.

They discourage us because we’re waiting for that one full-blown moment of inspiration.

Continued in article The Hidden Secrets of the Creative Mind.

Photos: ‘The Muse’ by Robert Stinson – cover of book My Teeming Brain: Understanding Creative Writers, by Jane Piirto; from J.R.R. Tolkien bio page.