July 30, 2009

What Exactly Is Creativity?

Two weeks ago I posted, "What Is Good Creative And How Do I Get It?" Since then, I've been thinking a lot about creativity.

Specifically, I've been thinking about "the creative mind" and whether it is truly different from the average mind. I think it is.

When I say "the creative mind," I'm not speaking solely about art or writing or music. Creativity can appear in all kinds of disciplines: mathematics, science, technology, engineering -- even business.

I've been trying to define how the creative mind is different. I think one of the ways is this: They know the answer before they know how they know the answer.
It's the chess player who can see a win five steps ahead, before he even knows what his next move is.

It's the 8th grader who gets the answer to the algebra problem right, but gets marked down because she skipped three steps.

Sometimes, it's the creative director who knows what the campaign should be before the briefing begins.

I once read a comment about the difference between being very, very good at something and being a genius (I think it was in a book about Richard Feynman called Genius, by Martin Gleick, but I'm not sure.*)

The writer wrote that being very, very good was something that we could all imagine if we were just 50 times better than we are. But being a genius is something completely foreign.*

I am a half-assed amateur musician. I love nothing better than a beautifully constructed song. When I listen to a song by Bruce Springsteen, I often think it is very good -- but it's not genius. I can see how he formulated the song, I understand the parts and the structure. I can imagine if I was 50 times better than I am, I could write it.

Then I listen to a song like In A Mist by Bix Beiderbecke (see below) and I know it's from another planet. I could sit at a piano for a million years and not create it.

Once in a great while I see that in advertising. I'll look at an ad, and even after I've reviewed it 5 times, I still can't understand how it was conceived and I can't imagine how I could have ever written it.

In A Mist performed by Johnny Guarnieri (1917-1985)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

* I have since found the precise quote:
"There are two kinds of geniuses: the 'ordinary' and the 'magicians'. An ordinary genius is a fellow whom you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they've done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. Even after we understand what they have done it is completely dark. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest calibre." - Mark Kac (TAC 7/31/09)

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