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The Secrets of Creativity: Seeing

The bacteria H. pylori are responsible for some stomach ulcers. For decades, doctors had been able to see the bacteria in the stomach. While it was on photographs and in literature since 1875, the doctors didn’t see it. Because they were certain that bacteria couldn’t survive in the stomach, they ignored it. It didn’t exist as bacteria for them. In 1940, a doctor found the bacteria, but his supervisor told him he was wrong and ordered him to stop his work.

One doctor in 1967 labeled the bacteria as “spirillum,” published it in a respected scientific journal where thousands of other doctors could see it, and no one examined it further. It wasn’t until 1979 that Robin Warren declared it to be a bacterium and called it H. pylori. That’s when doctors went back through the literature and photograph showing something that no one thought could be bacteria. A cause of stomach ulcers had been in plain sight for over a century – only hidden by a false belief that nothing could live in the inhospitable climate of the stomach (Kevin Ashton, “How to Fly a Horse,” 2015).

Count the number of passes the team in white jerseys makes in this video.

Did you count them? Did you watch the whole video?

Did you see the dancing gorilla? When people are told to count the passes (and haven’t seen this video before), they entirely miss the gorilla who walks through the middle of the basketball players. People talking on their cell phone while walking down the street will miss a unicycling clown that passes in front of them because their attention is on the phone conversation. The brain prioritizes the phone call over everything that doesn’t seem threatening or that doesn’t make sense. If you want to be more creative, you have to see what others miss.

Human beings have so much input coming through their five senses that they have to ignore a lot of things. Otherwise, we would all be mad/crazy. (Maybe that’s what happening with cell phones…) The brain prioritizes what it thinks is important and eliminates everything else. You might think that driving a car and avoiding collisions is the most important thing, but your brain will prioritize the phone call and the conversation because driving is routine. Moreover, the brain doesn’t know how to process the impending collision while also dealing with the conversation on the phone.

Seeing is one of the most important skills you can develop, and that means getting rid of the distractions and beliefs that keep you from seeing what’s right in front of you and millions of other people.

When you something new or something old in a different way, you spark your creative abilities. In “Big Hero 6,” Hiro’s brother tells him to shake things up as he turns Hiro upside down and shakes him.

Sherlock Holmes ability to deduce where someone was from and why they had arrived came from his ability to remember facts and see details. Those details were often esoteric, but the skill is akin to addressing someone at a convention by his or her name. When that person asks “Do we know each other?” The answer is “I read your name tag.” Everyone has the name tags on, but many people forget the name tags are there.

Of course, seeing is only part of the battle. Once you see something, you’re going to have to make others see it. Most people will ignore the new information, especially if they know better. Others will intentionally make you see something false so that they can justify their worldview rather than face up to the reality of it. But when you know something the way that Robin Warren knew there were bacteria in the stomach, you need to set up an experiment and find someone to verify your results. In creativity, sometimes that means finishing something you started and finding out you were wrong. And sometimes, it means turning the world on its ear because you were right.

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The ABCs of Creativity: New

The textbook definition of creativity involves making something new that has value. “Something” can be defined to include new ways of doing things or thinking, but it is the new that’s important. Depending on the situation, creativity can include things that are new to the person doing them (personal creativity) or to the world at large.

A New Way of Seeing

Human beings have to sort through a lot of information every second of the day. This leads to focusing on some things and ignoring other things altogether. You probably have already seen this video. If not, count the number of passes the team in white makes.

Did you see the gorilla? Selective attention is what helps us sort through the stimuli. It allows us to ignore both the very common place and the very out of place.

According to Kevin Ashton’s “How to Fly a Horse” (p. 97), one study showed that 75 percent of people walking and talking on their cell phones did not see a unicycling clown that had been put in their path. Their brains decided that the clown was someone else’s problem and not pertinent to the phone conversation. This is called inattentional blindness, and one reason you should never drive and use your cell phone. Your brain prioritizes the phone conversation over the information you are seeing, or not seeing as the case may be, on the road in front of you.

The problem for creativity is that it takes the combination of two or more pieces of information in a new way to be creative. If we’re ignoring information that doesn’t fit in with what we think should be there or our world view, or we’re adding information that isn’t there because we think it should be there, we can’t be creative.

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