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Intriguing piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day by Jonah Lerner, based on a book he has written entitled "Imagine: How Creativity Works.” In essence, he argues that “creativity is not magic, and there's no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It's a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it.”

Some excerpts:

“New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems. A surprisingly concrete set of lessons has emerged about what creativity is and how to spark it in ourselves and our work.”

“Imagination was once thought to be a single thing, separate from other kinds of cognition. The latest research suggests that this assumption is false. It turns out that we use ‘creativity’ as a catchall term for a variety of cognitive tools, each of which applies to particular sorts of problems and is coaxed to action in a particular way.”

“The new research also suggests how best to approach the thorniest problems. We tend to assume that experts are the creative geniuses in their own fields. But big breakthroughs often depend on the naive daring of outsiders. For prompting creativity, few things are as important as time devoted to cross-pollination with fields outside our areas of expertise.”

The story makes the point that there are different kinds of creativity - the kind that comes from sweat and hard work, and the kind that comes suddenly, without warning, because the person in question has put himself or herself in a position to be receptive to inspiration. (Apparently, relaxation helps. So does booze. Though the combination is not a guarantee of creative genius.)

Indeed, Lehrer makes the point that the human brain is incredibly adaptable and able to be creative:

“If different kinds of creative problems benefit from different kinds of creative thinking, how can we ensure that we're thinking in the right way at the right time? When should we daydream and go for a relaxing stroll, and when should we keep on sketching and toying with possibilities?

“The good news is that the human mind has a surprising natural ability to assess the kind of creativity we need. Researchers call these intuitions ‘feelings of knowing,’ and they occur when we suspect that we can find the answer, if only we keep on thinking. Numerous studies have demonstrated that, when it comes to problems that don't require insights, the mind is remarkably adept at assessing the likelihood that a problem can be solved—knowing whether we're getting ‘warmer’ or not, without knowing the solution.”
KC's View:
I’m particularly fascinated buy the 10 rules for lighting the creative spark offered by Lehrer; apparently, one is more likely to be innovative if one is relaxing in a blue room located in a big city,listening or watching stand-up comedy, after having just come home from a trip abroad. Go figure.

At any rate, it is a fascinating piece, and it looks like a great book.

You can read the entire article here.

And you can find out more about the book here.