Isaac Asimov participated in a team project in 1959 for ARPA – the Advanced Research Projects Agency – and wrote an essay for the group on developing creativity. Here are a few excerpts:
“How do people get new ideas?
“Presumably, the process of creativity, whatever it is, is essentially the same in all its branches and varieties, so that the evolution of a new art form, a new gadget, a new scientific principle, all involve common factors.” …
Asimov refers to the development of the theory of evolution by natural selection, independently created by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, and notes:
“What is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.” …
“The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a ‘new idea,’ but as a mere ‘corollary of an old idea.’
“It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.
“A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.
“Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)
“Once you have the people you want, the next question is: Do you want to bring them together so that they may discuss the problem mutually, or should you inform each of the problem and allow them to work in isolation?
“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)”
See the full essay: Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?” – republished by MIT Technology Review.
More ideas related to the topics Asimov brought up in his essay :
Making new connections
In her INC Magazine interview article on Michael J. Gelb, 7 Things Leonardo da Vinci Can Teach You About Creativity, Christina DesMarais notes,
“Logical and linear-thinking types – engineers, analysts, and scientists, for example – can have a hard time looking for patterns and new connections, but doing so is the key to creativity.
“Gelb likes to use mind mapping, although it take a while to train these kinds of folks since they’re used to doing things in a formal order.
‘At first it feels very messy… thinking through association and letting the mind go free and generating lots of key words and other images in different directions,’ he says.”
This image is from my article How to Be Creative: Michael Gelb on Creativity and Innovation.
“Creativity is about far more than generating new ideas. It’s about opening to your full life energy, which then circulates the passion and gusto that give your life meaning and sparkle.”
That quote is from the website for the Mastering Creativity program by Gelb – see more about his programs and books in the article.
Being a “person of considerable self-assurance” – and eccentric
Over the years of reading biographies and interviews with many highly talented and creative people, it has often struck me how many of them talk about being self-critical and having poor self-esteem.
For example, writer Larry Kane commented about his bio on the musician:
“People would be surprised at how insecure John Lennon was, and his lack of self esteem.
“Throughout his life, even during the height of Beatle mania, he had poor self esteem, even though he exuded confidence.”
From my post Talented, But Insecure.
“I hope I’m becoming more eccentric. More room in the brain.” Musician Tom Waits
Being eccentric – choosing not to be more safely mundane – can help our creative thinking and courage.
As psychologist Robert Ornstein has noted, “If you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.”
“As creativity is concerned, isolation is required”
Much of the writing and advice on creative expression and enhancing creativity focuses on the inner journey of the individual (including my book “Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression” – the source of the above two posts, and the one below).
Creating often happens in a social context, and depends on inspiration and support from others.
But there are many examples of artists creating in relative isolation.
George Orwell chose to write “Nineteen Eighty-Four” while living in Barnhill (1946-1949), an abandoned farmhouse on the isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides.
Following the success of his novel Animal Farm, he told his friend Arthur Koestler, “Everyone keeps coming at me, wanting me to lecture, to write commissioned booklets, to join this and that, etc – you don’t know how I pine to be free of it all and have time to think again.”
Many people have talked about the importance of place, work space and solitude for developing creative talents.
In her famous essay “A Room of One’s Own” in 1929, Virginia Woolf said that for women artists “a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself” and encouragement to develop the “habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”
From post: Solitude and creative expression.
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Isaac Asimov (1920–1992) “was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was prolific and wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. His books have been published in 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.
“Asimov is widely considered a master of hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he was considered one of the ‘Big Three’ science fiction writers during his lifetime.” [From Wikipedia page.]
Photos from facebook.com/IsaacAsimov
Caption for upper photo: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” — Isaac Asimov
His autobiography: It’s Been a Good Life.
See more quotes in another essay by Isaac Asimov: What is intelligence, anyway?