When is something judged to be creative?
When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Springs, corporations widely vilified her, but now she is better known as someone who kicked off the environmental movement.
Part way through the construction of the Eiffel Tower, newspapers citing experts claimed that the tower would collapse or that the lightening rods would kill all the fish in the Seine. Today, the tower is a monument to Gustav Eiffel’s brilliant vision.
For thousands of years in many parts of the world, women were considered to be less capable, less intelligent, in short, less than men. Today, although there is still far to go, it is clear that women are equally as capable as men.
A creative idea is unique and revolutionary precisely because it does not fit into the mental models of the society it seeks to change. Yet, at some point society must accept and adopt it for the idea to be truly revolutionary. In other words, a creative idea that has not been realized and judged as such is at best (in Gardner’s words) potentially creative.
So how does one know the difference between an insane idea and a creative idea?
On the surface, an insane idea and a creative idea may look the same. Dig underneath, however, and you’ll find that how the ideas were constructed are radically different. The way in which Rachel Carson carefully interviewed people and recorded observations is different than the way in which a conspiracy theorist might see patterns where there are none.
When you look at Eiffel’s engineering solutions in keeping the tower straight, in using pre-fabricated parts for quick assembly, or in using small parts to increase safety, one realizes that there truly is a creative mind at work.
It is easy to be distracted by the products of creative thinking rather than the thinking behind the products.
From Creating Minds by Howard Gardner
“Simonton demonstrates that the most highly esteemed creators not only are more productive in general, but that they produce more “bad” works that have long been ignored as well as more “good” works that are esteemed by posterity.”
Even Mozart who many saw as a natural genius did not actually start producing masterpieces until he was 21, and by that time had already spent many years composing music. His works prior to that were not considered extraordinary.
The message? Start producing failures now and start learning how to do it better.
At the heart of every creative individual is a child-like curiosity that is perpetually stunned by the miracles of the every day. Where a child notices the novel, the adult sees only what is familiar. So what if we took a moment every day to reflect on what was new and novel? Small or large, exciting or disappointing, wouldn’t it help us practice seeing with fresh eyes?
- Lime juice and chili are secret ingredients to a Thai sauce.
- I was surprised by the level of customer service from American Standard. They sent me a part free of charge without question.
- I’ve lost some of my patience for social etiquette.
- Gender roles are assumed much more in wedding planning than I expected.
Et toi? Quoi de neuf?
Fast Company published a wonderful article about David Kelley, the founder of IDEO. Clearly he sees creativity as a discipline that can be learned and improved upon. From the article:
It is a radical notion, in its way: the idea that creativity can be summoned at will, with a process not unlike the scientific method. That contradicts what most people — including the 50 students sitting mesmerized before him — have always thought. “That to be creative, an angel of the Lord appears and tells you what to do,” Kelley says, laughing.
This misconception is much like how the average person sees every elite athlete as literally superhuman. Michael Jordan does seem to fly like a bird and Wayne Gretsky is the Great One. What we may label as magic, however, is just a simple of way saying “we don’t understand how they got to be that way”.
In the same way, creativity is seen as magic when in actuality there are processes, character traits, and effort behind the magic. This is a relatively new and exciting field of study that requires more work, but fortunately people like Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Howard Gruber have innovated in our ability to innovate.
Who else do you know has taken our understanding of creativity even further?