It’s not often that an article about genius starts with a reference to William Shatner’s iconic Star Trek sci-fi character, James T. Kirk. In the 1968 TV show, Kirk is discussing one of the greatest minds of his century when he says, “A genius doesn’t work on an assembly line basis. Did Einstein…produce new and revolutionary theories on a regular schedule? You can’t simply say, ‘Today I will be brilliant.’ ”
I would contend that the good captain is wrong. We CAN! Creative genius does require a degree of “spark,” but that spark will only ignite if we focus on it and work on it. There are ways to draw out creative sparks if we know how to look for them. Three of the best sources are analogies, environments, and hats.
If you were trying to devise a creative way to get from Point A to Point B, you might want to consider the analogues in order to identify new and different approaches to the travel. Rather than arguing about planes, trains, and automobiles, consider anything that gets from Point A to Point B, and work backward from their analogous experience. How does Amazon get packages from hither to yon? How do birds migrate? Answering those questions might prompt some different ideas about how to get yourself where you want to be.
Most people grow up in an environment where getting from Point A to Point B is done in conventional ways. But consider alternatives. In the desert Southwest of the United States (and Northwestern Mexico), one native tribe (Tarahumara) handles long-distance travel in what most would consider a very unconventional way. They run. Got to get 150 miles away? Run. Or go to the other extreme—space! Hypersonic sub-orbital aircraft are just a few steps away from reality.
Want to consider other clever ways to get from one point to another? Put on different hats. Edward deBono wrote the book The Six Thinking Hats in order to drive creativity and new ideas. The whole idea behind deBono’s work is that he wanted people to adopt different perspectives. Don’t have a good idea? Put on the analytical hat. Analysis doesn’t cut it for you? Put on the sad, dark hat. deBono’s ideas can be stretched out in a hundred different ways. What would Einstein do? Your crazy cousin Ned? Your survive-it-all sister? Put on their hats for a few minutes and see if thinking like them doesn’t change the ideas you come up with. It’s a moment for creative genius.
Can you be creative at will? Yes. But like so many things, there’s a lot of work involved. It always surprises me when I make suggestions on how people might improve their lot at work or at home. The response is frequently, “Wow. That sounds like a lot of work.” It is. Taking the time to isolate oneself, to adopt different perspectives or to consider different environments, is an effort. If we want to be creative or genius-like, we have that ability. But it’s important to remember the hundreds of filaments that Edison went through on his journey to the light bulb. We have to be willing to accept the fact that creativity does not always equate to success. But when it does, it’s worth the journey.