Getting flashes of creative insight or inspiration can solve real problems. But be wary of thinking you have to wait for them to be creative.
Psychologist R. Keith Sawyer says creativity researchers refer to “the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged.”
The photo shows an un-corrected Hubble telescope image at the left, next to an image at the right made with corrected optics.
Sawyer explained in a magazine article that in 1990 a team of NASA scientists “was trying to fix the distorted lenses in the Hubble telescope, which was already in orbit. An expert in optics suggested that tiny inversely distorted mirrors could correct the images, but nobody could figure out how to fit them into the hard-to-reach space inside.
“Then engineer Jim Crocker, taking a shower in a German hotel, noticed the European-style showerhead mounted on adjustable rods. He realized the Hubble’s little mirrors could be extended into the telescope by mounting them on similar folding arms. And this flash was the key to fixing the problem.”
But he warns that although “Many people believe creativity comes in a sudden moment of insight” and that this “magical” burst of an idea is “a different mental process from our everyday thinking,” research shows that “when you’re creative, your brain is using the same mental building blocks you use every day—like when you figure out a way around a traffic jam.”
He also notes that historical research of creative people like the Wright brothers, Charles Darwin, T.S. Eliot, Jackson Pollock and others indicates that “creativity happens not with one brilliant flash but in a chain reaction of many tiny sparks while executing an idea.”
He says that creative people may get “tons of ideas, many of them bad. The trick is to evaluate them and mercilessly purge the bad ones. But even bad ideas can be useful.”
Nongeniuses can be more creative
When he was asked for advice to help “nongeniuses” be more creative, he suggested: “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.”
He added, “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. And while we’re waiting, we may never start working on what we might someday create.”
From article The Hidden Secrets of the Creative Mind, Time mag., Jan. 16, 2006.
Also quoted in my book Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression.
R. Keith Sawyer is author of Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation.
Also see my post Myths of Creativity and Creators – How They Hold Us Back.
Image: Hubble Images of M100 Before and After Mirror Repair – from Wikipedia.