Creative geniuses do not get their breakthrough ideas because they are more intelligent, better educated, or more experienced, or because creativity is genetically determined. Psychologist Dr. Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California researches a diversity of topics having to do with genius and creativity. One of his major conclusions is that geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented. Creative thinkers form more novel combinations because they routinely conceptually blend objects, concepts, and ideas from two different contexts or categories that logical thinkers conventionally consider separate.
It is the conceptual blending of dissimilar concepts that leads to original ideas and insights.
In nature, a rich mixture of any two forces will produce patterns. For example, pour water on a flat, polished surface. The water will spread out in a unique pattern of drops. The pattern is created by two forces: gravity and surface tension. Gravity spreads the water, and surface tension causes the water molecules to join together in drops. It is the combination of the two different forces that creates the unique, complex pattern of drops.
Similarly, when two dissimilar or two totally unrelated subjects are conceptually blended together in the imagination, new complex patterns are formed that create new ideas. The two subjects cross-catalyze each other like two chemicals that both must be present in order for a new concept, product, or idea to form. This strongly resembles the creative process of genetic recombination in nature. Chromosomes exchange genes to create emergent new beings. Think of elements and patterns of ideas as genes that combine and recombine to create new patterns that lead to new ideas.
Educators could better help students understand the nature of creative thinking by offering examples of how creative thinkers actually created their ideas. Take, for example, Jake Ritty’s invention of the simple cash register we all take for granted. Jake Ritty’s invention is an example of combining two elements from two totally unrelated fields into an insightful solution. In 1879, Jake, a restaurant owner, was traveling by ship to Europe. During the voyage, the passengers took a tour of the ship. In the engine room, Jake was captivated by the machine that recorded the number of times the ship’s propeller rotated. What he saw in this machine was the idea of “a machine that counts.”
Ritty was thinking inclusively. His goal was to make his work as a restaurant owner easier and more profitable. Looking at his world, he examined it for patterns and for analogies to what he already knew. When he saw in the engine room the machine that counted the number of times a ship’s propeller rotated, he asked, “How would the process of mechanically counting something make my restaurant more profitable?” A mental spark jumped from his thinking about the ship to his thinking about his restaurant business when he conceptually combined a machine that counts propeller rotations with counting money.
He was so excited by his insight that he caught the next ship home to work on his invention. Back in Ohio, using the same principles that went into the design of the ship’s machine, he made a machine that could add items and record the amounts. This hand-operated machine, which he started using in his restaurant, was the first cash register. Understanding how Jake got his idea is understanding the process of creative thinking.
To say that the lawn mower was invented in the cloth-making industry may sound absurd, but that is precisely where it was invented. Edwin Budding worked in a cloth factory in England in the early part of the nineteenth century. During those days, the surface of the cloth produced by the factory was fuzzy and had to be trimmed smooth. This was done by a machine with revolving blades fixed between rollers.
Budding loved the outdoors and maintained a lawn on his property. What he found tiresome was trimming the grass, which had to be done with a long, heavy handheld tool called a scythe. Making a analogical connection between trimming the cloth and trimming the lawn, he built a machine with long blades and two wheels. He also attached a shaft to this machine so that one could push it without bending down. And so, in 1831, the first lawn mower was built.
Mixing ideas from unrelated domains energizes your imagination and lets you think of possibilities you would otherwise ignore. How are industrial management techniques related to heart by-pass surgery? Heart surgeons in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont reduced the death rate among their heart bypass patients by one-fourth by incorporating the business management techniques of W. Edwards Deming, a leading industrial consultant. His techniques emphasized teamwork and cooperation over competition. Doctors usually function as individual craftspeople without sharing information. Following Deming’s industrial model, they began to operate as teams, visiting and observing each other and sharing information about how they practiced.
Combining the patterns of two dissimilar concepts in your imagination transcends logical thinking and makes the creation of novel combinations possible. This is creative thinking.
Read Michael Michalko’s Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work to learn more about how creative geniuses get their ideas.http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Thinkering-Putting-Your-Imagination/dp/160868024X/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0AZ4HDTTG40XHBRPX22Q