May 10, 2012 – In Part 1 of this article, we quoted Steve Jobs’ definition of creativity (“simply connecting things”) and began a discussion of the two keys which further your ability to open the doors of creativity. The first key is developing a broad perspective which will lead to identifying greater numbers of dots to connect. The second key to creativity will help us determine how to connect those dots.
“See here how everything Lead up to this day, And it’s just like any other day That’s ever been.”
From the Grateful Dead song “Black Peter” lyrics by Robert Hunter.
One day gives rise to the next day. Every day derives from preceding days; every event owes its occurrence to past events; every innovation and invention exists simply because someone made a connection with the past.
So what exactly is this second key to creativity?
On this issue, as on many others, I am indebted to my first philosophy professor, John J. McDermott, whose Philosophy 101 course began with the pre-Socratics and ended with Nietzsche – a span of 2,500 years covered in a single college semester. McDermott took the Hegelian approach to history and emphasized the connectivity of history and philosophical ideas; namely understanding one era requires an understanding of previous eras. Once that approach was appreciated, the next task was to understand how the succeeding generation built on the work of its predecessors. For this, McDermott posited two types of minds. First is the wildly imaginative and creative mind which takes a leap way ahead of the current thinking and then builds the bridge back to the present, i.e., delineates a dot ahead of the current thinking and then connects that dot with the dots of the present reality. Determining that future dot is the spark of creativity which cannot be easily taught. The second mindset is one which sees a pattern from the past and identifies what might be a succeeding logical step. The creative aspect comprises both identifying the dot as well as utilizing the dot, i.e., connecting the dot with the currently existing dots. In essence, this mindset may be thought of as an exercise in logical sequences and consequences similar to questions found in many standardized exams (SAT’s, LSAT’s, GRE’s, etc.), and as such is a more learnable form of creativity.
And this brings us back to Steve Jobs. Creativity is just connecting things. To be sure, connecting things, the dots, is not simply a matter of linear thinking. Or rather, strictly linear thinking might narrow our perspective which then might narrow our choice of outcomes. We need to broaden strictly linear thinking, which gives rise to the second key.
Thinking out-of-the-box is the second key. Remember that brainteaser involving connecting nine dots (three lines of three dots each) with four lines without lifting the pen from paper? The only way to solve that problem is to extend the line drawn past some of the dots, that is to think and draw lines out-of-the-box created by the nine dots. And yet when presented with this task, most people confine themselves to the box of nine dots and do not venture past those invisible lines.
This brainteaser is a good metaphor for the way many of us live our lives. We get stuck in patterns of behavior and thought which at times tends to narrow rather than broaden our perspectives. We become stuck in the boxes of our patterns. We fail to see new possibilities. Our creativity is stifled. And with stifled creativity, innovation as well as personal achievement and growth are hindered. You can see how limiting this approach to life is.
Creativity, then, is a simply a matter of connecting the dots and has two keys:
- Broadening your perspective allows for identifying more dots.
- Thinking outside the box allows for more diverse ways to connect the dots.
So, my challenge to you this month is to exercise furthering your creativity daily. In all your daily tasks, consider your choices as a series of dots to connect. Think broadly and identify as many dots as you can, some from the past leading up to this day, and some in the future along a path you’d like to travel. Then when striving to connect the dots, think outside the box and don’t constrain your thinking to patterns from the past.The next article will delve into the practical applications of this process in more detail.
Until then …
Consider/Create the Possibilities.
Adam J. Krim www.driveconsulting.net