In “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” Kevin Ashton questions the validity of brainstorming for creativity. His main objection stems from the fact that brainstorming doesn’t have a way to turn ideas into reality. For Ashton, having ideas is not being creative; the ideas must be realized in order for creativity to result.
Ashton is not the only creativity author to poke this
particular hole in brainstorming. Edward de Bono also believes that
brainstorming is inefficient and a bad way to come up with ideas. Having more
ideas doesn’t mean having better ideas, and businesses need better ideas.
Another failure of brainstorming is the exclusion of people
who are shy. Even with instructions involving no judgement and participating,
those who are afraid of failure, making mistakes, public speaking, or being
laughed at, may hold their ideas back. Instead, Ashton says the research
suggests that people working alone come up with as many ideas as people working
together, and the ideas will be better. Groups tend to fixate on one idea as
the brainstorming goes on.
Brainstorming was originally used in advertising to come up
with ideas. What makes it work is how you use it and what you do when done.
Brainstorming sessions have their place in creativity, but it needs someone to
guide the ideas from the whiteboard to reality. If you’re using it in a
business, the person implementing must have the power to do so.
When I was kid growing up in the ‘70s, I remember creating
elaborate stories in my head about far away lands I’d only heard of in
books. I remember playing in the woods
in our backyard and pretending to be a soldier in the army – more specifically,
being the first woman ever drafted into the army because my skills were so
imperative the Corps’ success. I had the
most amazing journeys to places like China, Africa, the deserts of Saudi Arabia,
all without leaving my backyard.
Fast forward to May of 2000, and I was still enjoying
adventures to exotic places. Four years
after graduating college, I was dreaming of joining the Peace Corps and
imagined myself living among the villages in places like Kenya or Angola. I could picture it in my head: the dirt
floors, the thatched roofs, the smells of Injera cooking on a wood stove. I don’t know if that’s how it really was, but it was fun to pretend. Maybe it was demeaning or naïve, I don’t
know, but my imagination was strong and the creative urge inside me was
Over the next few years, I found myself becoming more
involved with emails and looking up information online. If I really wanted to know what life was like
in Kenya, I just put it into a search engine, and wham, there it was. And no surprise, it wasn’t exactly how I’d
imagined. Instead of debating for hours
with friends about a particular topic, exercising my mind to see different
points of view, employing creativity to construct a new argument for
persuasion, or trying to use my brains flexibility to understand all sides,
we’d simply look it up online, and the conversation was over. No heated debates into the wee hours of the
morning that often left us with a better understanding of the other side and
agreed upon points of view.
It makes me sad really.
I want my brain to engage, to work, to be flexible and creative in these
conversations and daydreams. But it
doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t have to
imagine, or think, or create, because I can just Google it, and that ends the
I have found the same to be true for my artistic
abilities. I have always enjoyed doing
crafty and artsy things. In the early
2000s, I took up mosaics. I remember
walking outside for inspiration, looking into street-corner shops, in backyards
where children played, on the nearby trails or at the plethora of activity
happening in the trees and sky. Certain
colors and combinations of shapes would send my mind off to a place of wild
creativity… “what if I combined that purple color with a deep red for an
intense October sunset…” I made some
really unusual but pretty cool mosaics back then. But with the advent of Google, I found myself
looking online for ideas; it was easier than going outside. And do you know what happened? My mosaics looked flat, lifeless, or like I
was imitating someone else, mostly because I was. I was no longer exercising my creativity,
because it was just too easy to look online.
This also makes me very sad.
It makes me sad for myself that I turn to the easy way too often, and
thus, miss out on all the amazing things the natural world has to offer. And it makes me sad for all the youth that
never got the chance to imagine, create, or dream about what life is like in
the Amazon or the South Pole. They’ve
never had a chance because the answers have been in front of them the whole
time. What kind of art will these kids
create? What kind of stories will they
make up? Where will they get their
I have been known to say “If I could snap my fingers and the
Internet would have never existed I would do it without flinching.” I mean that with complete conviction. Not only do I have an issue with the health
impacts (EMF exposure, blue light, bad posture, poor social development), but
also because it killed my creativity. I
know I have the power to remedy this.
You’re right, I could just get off the computer and go outside and find
my inspiration again. The problem is
that in today’s high-tech world, we have come to rely on the Internet for the
large majority of our communication, personal and business transactions. I run a small business, and if I want that
business to be successful, I have to be online a good portion of the day. I don’t want it to be that way, but it’s the
unfortunate reality of living in 2019.
Of course, I do admit to the benefits of the web, increased
access to education and information, entertainment, social connections,
etc. But, is that worth what we have
lost? Not a chance. I am a human being with needs that go beyond
food and shelter. I don’t need to see pictures of what Angola
looks like. I don’t need to connect with all ten of my friends from the 1st
grade again. I don’t need to be able to watch a marathon of “Mad Men” on Netflix this
weekend. But what I do need is my
sanity, feeling fulfilled, and nourished.
The Internet does not provide this for me. My daydreams, imagination, friendly debates,
walks in nature and exercising my brain’s creativity, that’s what fulfills me
and nourishes me.
So yes, if I could, I would snap my fingers and the Internet
would disappear. And then I would have my exotic trips to far away lands,
conversations until the wee hours of the morning, and some fantastic mosaics
that are full of unique imagination. It
would give me back my creativity! And
that would be worth it.
Cathy Cooke BCHN, BBEC, is the owner of Whole Home and Body Health where she helps people to realize their potential through health interventions related to diet, lifestyle, and environmental concerns including air quality and EMF mitigation. You can find out more about her services at wholehomeandbodyhealth.com, or by contacting her at email@example.com
Editor’s Note: Cathy Cooke has released a Sleep Easy Class for people who have difficulties falling asleep. She is an amazing instructor who has spent years studying sleep and how to achieve a better night’s rest. Check out this introductory video to get rid of your insomnia for good on YouTube.
In “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” Kevin Ashton attempts to debunk the “Eureka” moment that has become synonymous with creation. Ashton goes back to the original “Eureka” moment when Archimedes immersed himself into a bath tub while trying to figure out a way to learn if the gold crown the king had received had been cut with silver or was pure. Archimedes’ displacement of water gave him the idea of how to measure a gold or silver object. The solution struck him with such force that he jumped out of the tub and ran through the streets naked shouting “EUREKA!” When he put the king’s crown in the water, it displaced more water than gold of the same weight, which meant the king had been cheated.
Ashton says the problem with this story is that the proposed
method doesn’t work. Galileo disproved it, and Ashton speculates that
Archimedes would’ve surely know that it didn’t work. Buoyancy is the key not
displacement. Still, the apocryphal story is told and retold to show the “Aha!”
moment of creation.
Ashton’s problem with this is that it puts creativity in the
hands of a few, and it’s not supported by scientific experiments. The “Aha!”
moment isn’t even supported by this story. Archimedes went into the bath
thinking about the problem. He was actively engaged in thinking about the
problem. Ashton points to several studies that show creative thinking is no different
than regular thinking. People get to creative solutions step-by-step, one step
at a time.
In the retelling, it might seem like an intuitive leap, but
when people are asked to describe their thought process, they generally follow
the same pattern of going through possible solutions:
State the problem.
Suggest a solution.
Suggest why it wouldn’t it work.
Suggest another solution.
Suggest why it wouldn’t work.
Suggest another solution.
The more creative solutions come with more steps. Some people stop as soon as they have a solution that’s good enough. Others keep going to find better solutions. As Ashton says, the one who makes the most steps wins, but creativity is the result of ordinary thought processes.
Many people think that creativity only involves a
free-for-all, throw-stuff-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks, and it can be that.
Disney uses “Blue Sky” as its terminology for ideas that have no boundaries.
Some organizations call it “Green Field” thinking. A simple brainstorming
session can also encompass this type of idealized creativity. One person alone
or a group of people coming up with ideas about anything and everything.
But that’s not really how most creativity works. Disney might have blue sky sessions that encompass everything from transportation to theme park attractions and TV series to communication break-throughs, but most of the time these sessions are focused on a goal. The goal may still be overwhelmingly large, like a story for the next great Pixar movie, but it is a goal nonetheless. Jackson Pollock doesn’t sit down to write a novel and end up with a painting, and George R.R. Martin doesn’t sit down to write a novel and end up with clay statue.
For some people, the word goal may be too pointed. There
still have to be limitations or a problem that the person is solving before he
or she can really engage the creative juices. The goal, or general direction,
helps people to focus their creative energy and allows the brain to pick up on
the importance of the project or question. Even if no answer is immediately
forthcoming, the problem may be solved during an unrelated activity.
If you’re having trouble firing up your creativity, it may
be because your too thinly spread. Focus on one thing you want to make better
and work on that. One goal I always come back to is “What can we do to make
Tomorrowland more about tomorrow?”
The only child, Number Seven, or Vanya as she likes to be
called, without powers is perhaps slated to be the most powerful of all the
superhero children gathered at the Umbrella Academy. In the first episode we’ve
already seen Vanya, played by Ellen Page, practicing violin on a stage. She’s
written a book, and her dream patterns were beeping off the chart and compared
to the relatively normal brain patterns of the other children. She is clearly
the most creative of the group, and that’s what makes her dangerous.
Diego and Luther are the tanks. Time and space travel boy is
a freak! His fight scene against what appears to be an elite military group was
incredible. Suggestive woman is dangerous, but says she has stopped using her
power. And Klaus, a drug addict and cliché, speaks with the dead – that’s a
different kind of freaky. That leaves Vanya, who is undervalued and
Creativity and the resulting innovations are what set the humans
of today, homo sapiens sapiens, apart from other humans and animals. Being able
to make something and then turn that to other uses is how people became the
dominant species on Earth. People aren’t the fastest or strongest. They aren’t
even the smartest necessarily, but people adapt the situation to their needs.
Too cold? Build a fireplace and house. To hot create an air conditioner. To
wet? Open an umbrella.
Vanya also trained with her father though she may not see it
that way. She knows what the people in the group can do and how to use their
powers, and as soon as she adapts her thinking to solving the problems at hand,
she will be the one to guide the members of the Umbrella Academy to greatness
with better chances for success.
Walt Disney turned to Ken Anderson to work on the Haunted Mansion in the late 1950s. There had been other concepts before, usually one or two drawings and not much else. Anderson got to work and began coming up with stories for the mansion, which he referred to as the “ghost house.” Anderson came up with the design based on a building in Baltimore, and he came up with several different stories, especially suited for a walk-through.
There was Captain Gore, who killed his bride when she found
out that he was an infamously blood-thirsty pirate; she haunted him until he hanged
himself. There was the Blood family, whose ancestral home where they all died
was transplanted at Disneyland. Anderson worked on various effects and
storylines within those concepts, including one with the Headless Horseman and naïve
guides, but none of them worked for Walt. The Haunted Mansion resisted cohesive
Instead, it needed to be more like the Pirates of the
Caribbean, which wasn’t developed at the time Anderson was working on the
Haunted Mansion. Walt told his imagineers to think of Pirates like a cocktail
party. People wouldn’t be able to hear all of the conversations going on. This
was a good thing because it meant that they would have to come back to see it
again. That approach worked for the Haunted Mansion, too.
While the façade of the Haunted Mansion was completed in
1963, the attraction wouldn’t open until August 9, 1969. The years it spent in
development and the amount of time the mansion stood empty only worked in favor
of Disneyland where it opened to large crowds and earned the hearts of millions
Celebrate 50 years of the Haunted Mansion with us and preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” A wholly unauthorized look at the history of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and what it can help us learn about becoming more creative.
“I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when
you’re young. I learned a lot out of that” – Walt Disney.
As students, we grow up learning that failure is bad. A big
red “F” accompanied by red marks on the page looks like spilled blood and marks
an academic death. Too many failures, and you won’t get into the right college,
you won’t get the right job, and you won’t make any money. Unfortunately, it
doesn’t stop there.
As an employee, failure is never applauded and often leads
to your boss directing stern words (if not outright yelling) at you or
dismissing you from the job entirely. Failure isn’t seen as the stepping stone
it can be, but rather as the end of the journey. It doesn’t have to be that
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t
work” – Thomas Edison.
Failure is not only important for creativity. It’s
inevitable. Any time you’re doing something new, you’re going to fail. Your
first ideas won’t necessarily be the best, and they won’t necessarily work.
They may even cause more problems than they solve. Whatever happens, if you’re trying
something new, you will fail unless you get lucky.
The most successful sports figures fail all the time. Ted
Williams had an on base percentage (OBP) of less than 50 percent. He failed to
get on base more than half the time he was at bat, and he has the best all-time
OBP in the MLB. NBA player DeAndre Jordan hits a little more than 2/3 of his shots
from the field and has the highest shooting percentage in NBA history (so far).
If in-game shooting were a test in school, he’d only score a “D.” NFL
Quarterback Drew Brees is in a slightly better position with his over 67
percent completion rate, but in school it would come down to being the same
grade. Other than Ted Williams, who was happy with $30,000 a year, these guys
are making millions of dollars and failing a lot on a very public stage.
The important thing about failure is to learn from it. Failing
without learning doesn’t help anyone. Most people learn more from their
failures than their successes. When you fail, find out what you missed and what
went wrong. You’ll find yourself set up for greater success as you harness the
power of creativity and learn lessons from failing.
In creativity, the more ideas you
have, the more likely you are to find a great idea. When people come together
to share, they can combine ideas and build off each other. In these cases, it’s
better for the people involved to check their egos and their need for credit at
the door. If someone can come up with a world-changing idea because people were
open to sharing and participating in give and take, that should be what
matters. While the creative community knows this, it also knows that the person
or company who implements the idea gets the credit and the rewards. It’s a
stumbling block that comes with capitalism where the almighty dollar rules all.
Facebook went through this with the
lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg for stealing the idea from the Winklevoss twins
who recruited him to work on ConnectU. Zuckerberg is a billionaire, but he
cared about who got the credit.
In “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” author Ken Ashton tells the story of vanilla and a slave boy named Edmond. Europeans loved vanilla, but it only grew in Mexico. Plants were taken to other countries, but they didn’t produce any vanilla beans. The world’s supply of vanilla was limited to the two tons of beans produced in Mexico and pollinated by a specific bee there.
It wasn’t until Edmond (who didn’t have a last name because he was a 12-year-old slave) pollinated a vanilla orchid, adapting a technique he had learned from pollinating watermelon vines, that the vanilla industry was able to grow beyond Mexico. Edmond was freed about 6 months before the rest of the slaves in Reunion and given the last name “Albius.” He went to the city, was jailed, his former owner was able to free him in three years, but Edmond came to a “destitute and miserable end” according to his obituary. Edmond is remembered through the name of his pollination technique called “le geste d’Edmond” (“Edmond’s Gesture” in English) and a statue that stands on the island where he created the technique. In 2018, according to “Time,” vanilla ($515) was worth almost as much as silver ($527) per kilogram.
While Edmond didn’t get the recognition he deserved in his lifetime, it was due to his status as a slave and African and not because his owner tried to take credit. In fact, his owner insisted on telling everyone the debt that the nation owed to Edmond for his discovery. He corrected false stories and did his best to improve Edmond’s standing in life. Twelve-year-old Edmond probably never thought about getting the credit for his discovery.
However, in today’s climate, discovery,
innovation and creativity take a backseat to quarterly profits and the need for
fame and recognition. We may be capable of achieving great things, but we need
to figure out how to justly compensate everyone involved. Unfortunately, greed,
intellectual property theft and laws geared toward improving the lot of corporations
make it increasingly difficult to justify being creative for the sake of humankind.
I was lucky enough to be invited as a journalist to Malta Comic Con 2015, where I met the man who built R2D2 for the Star Wars films of the 1970s and 1980s. Tony Dyson was a personable, friendly man who invited me outside to interview him about creativity. For a Star Wars fan writing a dissertation on creativity, this is about as good as it gets. Dyson summed up his advice for people who want to be more creative in two words – “Play more.”
[Author’s note: If you want to get the short notes on this story of discovery, look for the list of three steps below. It should be easy to find.] I have always heard that as a writer, I should read voraciously. I just couldn’t find a lot of time to do so. I had heard about presidents who would read an amazing number of books. Teddy Roosevelt read a book a day at least, in addition to magazines and newspapers. Even at my best, when I had nothing to do but read and no desire to do anything else (the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school), I could only read about 100 pages a day unless it were a particularly good fantasy novel.