Anyone Can Draw a Tiger

28 Mar

Everyone knows when they have an Aha! Moment.

But nobody really knows where these Aha! Ideas come from.

Or what happens at that moment when the mind recognizes a thought as a new idea.

A 2004 study by neuroscientists Mark Jung-Beeman and Edward Bowden found an increase in neural activity in the brain’s right temporal lobe occurs during these moments.

So we know there’s increased traffic in the brain, but neuroscience seems to be years away, from really understanding the genesis of ideas and answering the question, what happens in the nanosecond an idea comes into creation?

Wired editor and author, Steven Johnson tackles the question from a social and cultural perspective in this excellent animation, Where Good Ideas Come From.

And Seth Godin knows they don’t come from watching television, which must be a blow over at the The Discovery Channel.

Not to be out done, by these two luminaries, over the years I’ve conducted my own field research.

I’ve enjoyed some stimulating conversations and a few beers in pursuit of the answer, with the assistance of all kinds of creative minds,  from advertising people to architects, musicians to furniture designers.

Not forgetting a couple of astrophysicists I met at a fiesta in Merida.

And the result of all this collaborative investigation is…I still don’t know.

Sometimes ideas come as a result of grinding them out “Just work the problem harder,” as Einstein said.

Sometimes they come out of the blue, while you’re driving or taking a walk, or in a dream.

And usually they come from somewhere in between the two extremes.

There are some people you work with, and you riff off each other as effortlessly as  John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

And other people you work with where the process seems to internalize and feels like pulling hens’ teeth.

Fortunately, you don’t need to know where ideas come from, in order to recognize them.

About a year ago I had my own tiny Aha! Moment.

It led to a very simple theory of creativity.

The clearest way of explaining it is to imagine a child’s dot to dot drawing book.

Anyone can draw a tiger if they just connect the dots in sequence.

Remove the numbers from the dots and it becomes a little harder.

Remove the dots all together and some people can still draw a tiger if they know that’s what they’re meant to draw.

But what if they don’t?

And that’s the point.

Because my very simple theory says: creativity is connecting dots that don’t exist.

And the magical thing is – when you connect them, they do.

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2 Responses to “Anyone Can Draw a Tiger”

  1. broadsideblog April 2, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    A fellow Torontonian here….but living in NY since 1989.

    Here’s where I think ideas come from, in a weird analogy…I think most people look up and see a lot of stars, and find them beautiful. Others see patterns (i.e. constellations) and galaxies and solar systems…i.e. they are able to perceive a series of what appear to be unrelated data or ideas and link them.

    That to me is true creativity. And it’s almost always interdiscplinary.

    • drownthatpuppy April 3, 2011 at 11:45 am #

      I’m a transplant too – moved here from the UK

      I think you’re spot on saying some people have a propensity to discern patterns where other people only see stuff. I’m not sure about true creativity being interdisciplinary though. Sometimes I think that true creativity is going on a long way from the fields we think of as creative.

      It’s a hunch really, but maybe mathematics, physics and medicine is where it’s at…

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