Once upon a time, in a land maybe not so far away, there lived a perfectly programmed little kid. And it was you. You were an accomplished creative scientist with just about any convenient medium—crayons, finger paints, mud puddles, noodles—buzzing with ideas and willing to take wondrous risks with your actions and your thoughts. You dazzled the world with your vivid imagination. Discarded cardboard boxes metamorphosed into mailboxes and rocket ships, sofa cushions became modified superhero headquarters, and dirt piles were mountains inhabited by creepy villainous monsters. You broadcast your scientific findings throughout your world. And then, most likely, somewhere along the way, you had to deal with everyday stuff, and your natural creative and experimental tendencies were somehow gobbled up along the way. It is sad but true that an innately inquisitive child such as you could potentially develop into an incurious adult.
Creativity is slippery and difficult to define. It’s not a talent. It’s not just something you think about doing, it’s something you do. It’s a skill—like performing a magic trick—that’s developed and applied. To be creative, you must wander freely, explore without limits, and be open to brand new ideas. Creativity is not confined to the arts—it’s possible to be creative whenever you’re using your brain to tinker with original ideas—whether baking pinwheel cookies or teaching quantitative analysis. You gather information, mess around with productive thoughts, make critical judgments along the way, and craft concepts into their best forms. Creativity is insight—just a clever merging of everyday things. And it’s magical. First, standing before you is nothing. Then voila! There’s something brand new and super sparkly.
Are you still creative? Yes, indeed you are. Your highly developed human brain is a savvy creativity machine. Your brain was built for creative problem solving and can withstand years of innovation squashing. If your brain has gotten a little flabby on its right side, a course of systematic conditioning and stretching can help it “remember” its former creative achievements. Your brain will spring right back to prizewinning shape. It’s easy, even for a rusty grownup.
Let me remind you that you’re a natural problem solver. An earmark on a book page, a paperweight on a stack of notes—you instinctively take opportunities to build simple solutions to problems. Look around and see the cleverness of everyday things—buttons, zippers, pencils, scissors, clips, snaps. Each of these began as an ingenious solution to a problem, and each is ever evolving. There are always problems to be solved. There are always improvements to be made.
Look around and find inspiration in unlikely places—your kitchen, your front porch, your backyard—and jump-start your creative engine. Be a scientist and explorer of things. Look at everything around you as an opportunity for ingenuity. Tinker with odds and ends. Take things apart, study them and test them. Learn what you can. Look at things from all angles to get different perspectives. See the world with fresh eyes. Treat each day as a treasure to unearth, each moment as a secret to discover. Spring back to your previous prizewinning creative self.
Why? Creativity is the heart of a productive world. It is central to understanding how the world works. Fundamentally, science and the creative arts are the same—both interpret and reinterpret the environment—with the particle physicist, the professional pianist, and the preschool painter each expressing a real need to discover and create something brand new—a story about the surrounding world that is whole and beautiful. At the heart of all great science lies creativity. In a quest to make sense of the natural world, the ideal scientists are in constant search of new ideas, innovative solutions to problems and possible explanations for everyday things. And they realize there’s no right or wrong. No coloring within the lines. There is no “perfect”—so, now is the time to roll up your sleeves and create something. Anything will do!
This post of mine can also be found today on the Penguin Blog as a contribution to National Craft Month.