The Myth of Creativity

Perhaps I should title this post, The Myth of the Muse, because that’s really what I’m going to talk about.   As a writer, a blogger, or as an engineer, I am on occasion asked how I come up with my ideas.  The questioner usually prefaces my answer by stating that it is probably: my intelligence, my weird mind, a divine muse, or just plain luck.

Fortunately, it’s none of the above.

For if the world relied on such randomness to expand the realms of man then why would the majority of the world’s greatest inventions have only happened in the last century?  The effluence of creativity says more about the collective efforts of those that came before and the prevalence of information that is the grist that we dine upon.

Or said by one of the great minds of the human race, Albert Einstein: “The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

I would hate to have been a writer in the distant past when muses were in vogue.  To rely upon the vary airs themselves to provide my ideas would be a frustrating wait.

Our brains are a wonder, capable of combining randomness into new things.  The greatest combination ever: The Reese Peanut Butter Cup is made up of two entirely different things smashed together in a convenient cup. But if the inventor of the RPBC had not known what chocolate or peanut butter was, then the delicious candy treat would have never been made.

Such is the same with creativity.  One must fill up the brain with newness, so interesting and unexpected connections can be made.

At Toyota, we sometimes practice the Ohno Circle.  Taiichi Ohno, one of the early great innovators of the Toyota Production System, had an exercise where he would have a subordinate stand in a circle on the production line for the whole shift.  The subordinate was required to open their mind and try to see the line, thinking about what was happening, making connections of understanding they may not have had before.

When presented with a new challenge on the plant floor, I will often wander to the area and watch production, with a blank as mind as possible so to not prejudice my sight with knowledge.  I build my writing ideas in much the same manner, reading from a wide variety of sources, both fiction and non-fiction to fill up my brain.  Often I file away the fact or interesting tidbit of knowledge without knowing how it will fit in later.  Sometimes the thought is more formed, which can be dangerous in itself as once I lock it into a story, or project, or activity; it’s hard to hammer it back into its original form to be used somewhere else.

That is one reason I am all too happy to labor away on my blog and at Games Alfresco talking about augmented reality, the robot apocalypse, or whatever random bit of flotsam and jetsam I found on the internet.  Spending time learning and expanding my view of the world provides ample ideas for my day job at Toyota or my writing one, and I would never want to give that up.  The task itself of writing the articles are the reward.

So the answer to my creativity, and I assume the majority of the human race, is that it takes work.  One must seek out and challenge oneself with new information, trying not to codify the knowledge too soundly, so it cannot be reused in other interesting, or awesomely wonderful ways.  In the end, once one’s cup is full, then it becomes possible to dribble out a few beads and stand back to rejoice in the new creation.

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