Some observations about creativity before we jump into the excellent John Cleese video below:
When you come up with creative ideas, it’s imperative that you have a way to ‘capture’ them, even if it’s just the seedling of a new idea. You make a sketch or take a picture; you jot down notes or make an audio recording. The point is to make a clear enough representation of your idea while it’s still fresh so that tomorrow (or next month) when you revisit it, it still conveys the properties that made it such a good idea in the first place. Nobody likes waking up from the previous night’s ‘awesome brainstorming session’ and finding three illegible paragraphs and a vague sketch that leave you puzzled as to what all the fuss was about.
I’ve always liked the image that cartoonists and writers have used to signify a new idea or inspired solution; the thought bubble with the lightbulb aglow. I wonder how the cartoonists handled it before Edison. Maybe they used imagery like a match lighting or the ‘ding-ding’ of a bell or a prospector striking gold.
Something occurs to us all of the sudden, whether it’s regarding a dilemma we’ve been puzzling over recently or an unfinished Great Idea that’s been lying dormant for a few years. We have our “Eureka!” moment and finally get to write the ending to our unfinished article or story, see the perfect plot twist for our movie, come up with a great idea for a new business or invention, or stumble upon an untried approach to a pressing societal need.
Even finding creative “A-ha!”s for how to remodel the living room, think outside the box on a work assignment, or combine the pantry contents into an imaginative improvised meal, creativity and those moments of inspiration can strike at any time in tasks both large and small. Where do the ideas come from? How does the brain navigate through the possibilities and then select the one that seems most appropriate? What makes a good idea and what happens in the brain during those lightbulb moments? Here’s author Steven Johnson’s entertaining animated take on it: