How To Be More Creative

Candice eetimesMany people would like to be more creative.  After all, as a society, we value creativity very highly.  Many people see creativity as a gift, something we are born with.  While it may be somewhat true for artistic creativity, it is definately not true for inventive and innovative creativity  But if that’s so, how does one go about become more personally creative?

I have thoughts about this that I feel I can and should share.  After all, if more people become more inventive to solve the world’s problems, we will all benefit by living in a better world.  My thoughts are largely from my own experiences and observations.  So if I go wrong, I take full responsibility.

First, I should point out that inventive and innovative are two quite different phenomena.  One can be both, but that is not always the case.  Consider Nikolai Tesla.  He invented polyphase electrical power generation and inductive motors.  But he was a rather poor innovator in that his inventions were always implemented and promolgated by someone else.  Ray Kroc did NOT invent the fast food resturant “McDonalds”.  But he knew a great idea when he saw it and turned a small operation into an international franchise, with hundreds of copy-cats.  Kroc was a great innovator.  Thomas Edison was both a great inventor and a great innovator.  (He was also an intellectual property pirate… but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

In my last essay, I pointed out that to be a successful inventor, one must have three ingredients, divergent thinking skills to create novelty, convergent thinking skills to create usefulness, and an extensive and deep knowledge base to create economically competitive ideas and inventions.  Getting an engineering degree is a great way to get the basic training one needs for convergent skills.  But it is only a modest begining on aquiring a knowledge base.  What most engineers lack however, is training and skills building in divergent thinking.

So lets talk about divergent thinking skills.  Quick!  Think of as many uses for a brick in one minute!  Ok, that’s the ultra short version of the old Torrence test of creativity.  Seems silly, but the ability to fluidly come up with novel and useful answers is a good test for divergent thinking.

In my last essay, I wrote about how boredom helps motivate one to be creative and how imaginative play and day dreaming promote creativity.  While I mentioned in in the context of children, I believe that it still works for adults.  To improve one’s divergent skills, practice day dreaming.  But not just any day dreaming.  Wish fulfulment day dreaming isn’t very good practice at divergent thinking.  But thinking about “what if” designs do.  So, here’s a series of “what if” topics for you to explore:

What if you could design the most wonderful house ever.  What would that be like?  Draw it.  Design it.  Specify it.

What if you could design the most cool car, boat, airplane, motorcycle, etc.  Would would that be like?  Draw it.  Design it.  Specify it.

What if you could design the best future city in the world.  What would that be like?  Draw it.  Describe it.

Note that some of this day dreaming leads to both divergent and convergent thinking, as it should.  Also note that it naturally leads to creating drawings and writing down ideas.  This is where it would really be helpful to keep a notebook for your ideas.  It doesn’t need to be formal.  But you might consider treating it seriously and keeping an Invention Notebook.

Our third requirement that to be successful, one needed to have extensive and deep domain knowledge about the state of the art in a given field (or better yet, many fields) can best be met with extensive reading.  Buy textbooks and read them.  Keep up to date.  Read technical and scientific journals.  Take advantage of the USPTO patent data base.  When I got interested in display technology, I spent at least 500 hours at the Silicon Valley patent library, wading through stacks of hardcopy of patents, educating myself on the state of the art.  It also gave me an insight into which companies were doing what.  Today, you can do all of this online.

If you are casting about for a source of inspiration for inventions and creative ideas, you may wish to explore what nature, through evolutionary processes, has found.  Developing technologies that have been inspired by a biological solution for the same or similar problem is called biomimicry.  For this, I would highly recommend that one study biology.  In fact, if you are a college student reading this, consider a dual major in an engineering field and biology.  I combined my dual degree in physics and psychology, with a very strong minor in biology, in developing better color flat panel displays.

In the end, like any skill worth having, one must diligently practice and excersize that skill.  One starts out with weak skills that become stronger with use.  Further, even after one gets good at it, not every idea is “the one”.  It works much like a pyramid.  You need thousands of ideas and potential inventions to get a really good one.  For every ten ideas, only one will be worth thinking on more.  Of ten of those, one only will be a really useful idea.  Of ten of those, only one will really be economically so impressive as to become a major invention.  And of ten of those, only one of them will be worth starting a company to commercialize.

Keep inventing.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: