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The ABCs of Creativity: Knowledge

Professor Penguin studies for greater knowledge.

Creativity is often defined as the generation of something new and valuable. In order to be creative, you have to know what came before; otherwise, what you create may have already been invented.  You don’t necessarily need to be an expert in your field or domain. Some studies show that expertise at a certain level inhibits creativity. You do need to have enough knowledge to understand if what you have is truly new.

However, knowledge in a single field isn’t enough. Creativity requires the combining of two or more ideas to come up with a new idea. Steve Jobs likened it to connecting the dots. A person has as many dots as he has knowledge about different subjects. Creative people weren’t more intelligent, he said, they just had more dots.

Velcro’s inventor George de Mestral was an engineer and avid hiker. When he noticed burrs on his clothing, he wondered how they could attach themselves and looked at them closer. Under a microscope he saw the tiny hooks. The idea from Velcro sprung up from there. It took the knowledge of engineering and hiking as well as curiosity and a new way of seeing for de Mestral to innovate the zipperless zipper.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

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