You don't have to reinvent the wheel!
Being creative isn't about
reconceptualizing the world, sometimes
it's just a tweak. The late great Steve
Jobs didn't invent mp3s, he developed an
easier way to play them. He didn't
invent tablet computing, he packaged it
as the iPad. There were cell phones
before the iPhone and computers before
the Mac. Jobs took what was and made it
better. That's creativity at work (and
Can people learn or be taught to be
Creativity is valued in many areas
of human activity, including scientific
discovery, technological invention,
artistic imagination, and social
innovation. I know of no studies that
show that creativity is teachable, but
history provides some interesting
suggestions about the habits of highly
In an article
called "How to be a Successful
Scientist", Paul Thagard compiled a set of
suggestions about what contributed to
the great success of leading scientific
researchers. (The article can be found
Web, and is
reprinted in his book Hot Thought.)
His sources were a group of
psychologists, philosophers and
historians at a conference on scientific
thinking, as well as writings by three
important scientists: Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Peter Medawar, and James Watson.
Here is the resulting list, organized
into 6 categories.
1. Make new connections.
Broaden yourself to more than one field.
Use analogies to link things together.
Work on different projects at the same
Use visual as well as verbal
Don't work on what everyone else is
Use multiple methods.
Seek novel mechanisms.
Find new ways of making problems
soluble, e.g. by new techniques.
2. Expect the unexpected.
Take anomalies seriously.
Learn from failures.
Recover from failures.
to your own ideas.
Be willing to recognize and admit
3. Be persistent.
Focus on key problems.
Be systematic and keep records.
Confirm early, disconfirm late.
Concentrate tenaciously on a subject.
4. Get excited.
Pursue projects that are fun.
Play with ideas and things.
Ask interesting questions.
Have a devotion for truth and a passion
Have an inclination toward originality
and a taste for research.
Have a desire for the gratification of
Have a strong desire to comprehend.
Never do anything that bores you.
5. Be sociable.
Find smart collaborators.
Study how others are successful.
Listen to people with experience.
Communicate your work to others.
Marry for psychological compatibility.
Tell close colleagues everything you
Communicate research results
Learn from winners.
Have people to fall back on when you get
6. Use the world.
Find rich environments.
Seek inspiration in nature.
Have good laboratory facilities and use
Observe and reflect intensely.
Perform experiments that rigorously test
Although this list was derived from
reflection on scientific practice,
almost all the suggestions are
potentially relevant to enhancing
creativity in other domains, including
technology, the arts, and improving
social institutions. Try them out!