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Few activities are a misunderstood by the general public as inventing and creativity. Sadly, Hollywood and television often portray the great inventor, scientist or musician as some sort of "mad genius". This book seeks to put the study of creativity on a rational basis.
For the purposes of this book, creativity is defined as "... to bring into existence something genuinely new that is valued enough to be added to the culture". Ninety-one noted contemporary people have been systematically interviewed. While only two -- Jacob Rabinow and Frank Offner -- are full-blown inventors, their creative processes have a fascinating similarity to the composers, architects, astronomers, biologists and others interviewed.
The book does not just quote the people interviewed, but cites their views regarding various facets of the creativity process.
Jacob Rabinow (200 patents in diverse areas) believes most original thinkers share three common traits -- 1) their curiosity, from early childhood, results in acquiring a great deal of information, 2) they enjoy thinking up and combining ideas, and 3) they recognize their "good" ideas and don't hesitate to discard "junk" ideas.
Frank Offner (first electronic controls for jet engines and developer of the only successful heat-homing missiles in World War II) notes that while a "solid grounding in physical sciences" is an asset, knowledge from other fields may trigger a creative person's mind to override what is assumed to be true in one field. He also feels the love or joy of solving problems is a key to finding solutions. This fun aspect is so strong that Rabinow is quoted as saying that, given a choice between money-making and fun, he would go for the fun.
Creative people are sometimes thought to be arrogant. However, this often stems from the need for self-assurance or, simply, overriding modesty. As Rabinow notes, "... I always assume that not only it can be done, but I can do it".
Robert Galvin (head of Motorola for 30 years) is reported as saying two traits are essential: 1) anticipation, i.e., having a vision of the future, and 2) commitment, which keeps you going when you or others have doubts. He also practices a mental exercise worth considering -- flip the problem by asking, "What if the opposite were true?".
Freeman Dyson, the physicist, observes, "... it is easy when you have a problem to work on. The hardest part is finding your problem".
The book cites how being in the right place at the right time contributes to being recognized. In Florence, Italy, between 1401 and 1425, an explosion of creativity took place. For example, for eighty years the cathedral of Florence lacked a dome, and yet the Pantheon of Rome had a dome (142 feet in diameter!) for a thousand years. Suddenly, Brunelleschi, who had analyzed the structure of the Pantheon, applied it to the problem at hand. The social, economic and political factors that made Florence the "right place at the right time" are detailed in the book.
Are we, today, providing incentives for creativity to flourish? One aspect of this is what we can do as a society. The author notes children who suffer from hunger or discrimination are less likely to be curious or interested in novelty. Another aspect is what as individuals can we do to promote our own creativity. The author offers various ways to cultivate creativity. For example, preserve the awe of childhood, "be surprised by something every day". Write down some of your observations and follow-up with some research. Don't think certain things are not your business -- life is your business.
While the author is a professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, the book is free from pompous phraseology and is readable by just about anyone who is interested in understanding creativity. If you want to dispel myths, such as "creative people are hyperactive", "have very high IQs" and "lack humor", then read this book and find out the real facts about creative people. A big book -- 456 pages -- but a delightful book. Read it and donate it to your local library -- the truth is there, so get it out there.