Archive for June 2014
Curiosity is a key element of the creative process.
Knowledge and experience are also essential components.
Combining these elements will help to enhance the creative effort by aiding in the formulation of question.
Questions demand answers which, in turn, generate more questions.
But asking questions isn’t enough.
You have to ask the right questions.
Knowledge and experience will lead you in the right direction.
How will you know when you’ve asked the “right” question?
It’s the one nobody ever thought to ask.
As I stated in my last post, creativity is a mystery. Nobody knows, precisely, what it is. We know creativity exists because, like some sub-atomic particles (i.e., quarks), we see its effects. We even know some of the conditions necessary for it to function; the process by which the creative effect is produced. There is one condition, not often mentioned in discussions of creativity (actually, I’m not sure “condition” is the right term, but for this essay it will suffice), the sine qua non, which must exist before the creative process can be initiated. The condition is curiosity; the hallmark of the creative mind.
Curiosity makes creativity possible. Without curiosity to spur the creative process in search of answers, there would have been no spear or sling or arrow (or bow to launch it). Without curiosity there would have been no gods or creation stories; no daemons or Muses to inspire us with genius. There would have been no Golden Age of Greece or Rome; no Pericles or Galen or Archimedes or Homer or Socrates; no Cicero or Ovid or Caesar.
Without curiosity there would have been no Renaissance or Enlightenment or Industrial Revolution; no da Vinci or Michelangelo or Botticelli; no Shakespeare or Newton or Magellan; no Fulton or Whitney. There would be no steam or internal combustion engines; no automobiles, trains, airplanes or rocket ships.
Without curiosity continuously spurring the creative process, we would know nothing of our universe, our world or ourselves; nothing of the planets and stars; nothing of bacteria or germs or DNA. Without curiosity we would have no radio or television; no telephones or computers or internet.
The entire span of human history is the record of the creative process continuously striving for answers to satisfy an insatiable curiosity. Without curiosity we would be no more than nearly hairless, ape-like creatures, huddled together in the dark, fearful of everything around us.
So, the next time you think about being creative (or more creative), ask yourself . . .anything.
What is creativity? Nobody knows. It’s a mystery; one men have been trying to unravel for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks thought creativity was the result of intervention by the gods; sending a “daemon” or “genius” to a poet for inspiration. Later, they assigned these tasks to The Muses. With the ascension of religion (most notably Christianity), creativity was seen as a “gift from God” in the form of inspiration from The Holy Spirit (pretty much the same thing as the Greeks, only with a dash of “theological creativity” thrown in). Wikipedia, the oft-suspect online encyclopedia, defines creativity as, “a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created”. Sir Ken Robinson described creativity in much the same way. He said, “creativity is having an original idea that has value”. I have a small problem with these two definitions (actually, I have three small problems) and it stems from the words, “new“, “original” and “value“. I know, new and original can be viewed as synonymous (they aren’t, but that’s a discussion for etymologists), so that leaves two problems. The first is there is nothing new/original; everything having been built on something preceding it. The second is the question of “value”. Value to whom? When a problem or puzzle or difficulty is resolved, the solution, naturally, has “value” to the person who resolved the issue. If the solution is perceived as applicable to a larger, more varied number of problems/puzzles, etc. . . the person possessing the solution may present it to the general public (after patenting, of course, because, let’s face it, with 8 billion + people on the planet, it’s a sure bet someone, somewhere, sometime had the same, or very similar, idea) in hopes of eliciting the same (or even greater) value. Today, we’d assign the task to a “marketing team” and move one to the next problem/puzzle, etc. . . None of this addresses the question of what creativity is, of course, other than to demonstrate the inadequacy of definitions; also the fact these definitions have been bugging me for some time and I felt the need to deal with them.
Creativity has, over the centuries, undergone a metamorphosis, from the province of the gods, to the province of the one God, to the domain of humankind (most notably during the Renaissance). Since the end of the 19th century, creativity has undergone a further transformation, from singular trait or aspect to a “creative process”, consisting of a number of steps or stages which are seen as requisite for the production of a “new” and “valuable”, hence creative, idea. This latest iteration of creativity, from thing to process, has become the de rigueur position among all the sciences (esp. social sciences) studying the phenomenon of creativity.
The most widely held model of the creative process was developed by Graham Wallas (Art of Thought, 1926). It proposes five stages of the creative process: Preparation, when the problem is identified and explored, Incubation, when thinking on the problem and its possible solutions takes place. My brother, Mike (an exceptionally creative individual), likes to refer to this as the “percolation” stage (an especially apt designation to me as I am an avid coffee drinker). This is also the stage where “nothing much” appears to be happening. The third stage, Intimation, is when the first stirrings of a possible solution begin to take shape, but it’s not quite there yet. The fourth stage is Illumination, when everything comes together and you have the “Eureka” moment. The fifth, and final, stage, is Verification, when the idea is tested against the problem in the hope of it being a workable solution. If it works, if the problem is solved, so much the better. If not, the entire process is repeated. If this sounds familiar, it should. It is a slightly expanded, more artistically (shall I say, “creatively”?) expressed iteration of the scientific method.
But what sparked the process? What would drive these men to devote so much time and effort, so much intellectual energy to solving the “problem” of creativity? I found, or rather I think I found, one possible answer in a somewhat unlikely place.
I’ve never taken a journalism course but I have read a number of books and articles on the subject. In nearly all of them the author, usually a practicing journalist or an editor, at some point will invoke the rule of “the 5 Ws”: Who? What? Where? When? Why?. These were the five questions the journalism students were admonished to answer in their reportage; the better to pique and hold their readers’ curiosity. There it was, staring up at me from the page. I had, quite unknowingly, stumbled into stage four of Wallas’ model of the creative process. I had my “Eureka” moment.
They were curious! They wanted to know about creativity. They wanted to know, Why are we creative? Why are some men and women more creative than others? How were they creative? Under what circumstances? When were they creative? How often? They wanted to know . . .the answer. And so they studied, amassed knowledge, developed theories, designed experiments to test those theories and in the process added to the vast and expanding compendium of knowledge available to those who came (and those who will come) after them. I thought I had found the “First Cause” of creativity. Then I thought . . .
Why are we curious?