How do people get new ideas?

Friday, 24 October, 2014

“Thomas H. Huxley is supposed to have exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, ‘How stupid of me not to have thought of this.’ But why didn’t he think of it?” That was the question posed in 1959 by Isaac Asimov in an essay he wrote for an MIT spinoff, Allied Research Associates in Boston. Arthur Obermayer, a friend of the author, found the piece “while cleaning out some old files” and immediately recognized its relevance for the contemporary debate about creativity. It was published earlier this week in the MIT Technology Review. Snippets:

“Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)”

“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required… The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing.”

“The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome.”

Asimov did concede that group thinking by ‘creatives’ might worthwhile now and then, as “a meeting of such people may be desirable for reasons other than the act of creation itself.” He argued, however, that “a meeting in someone’s home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room.” And a few drinks might be in order, too, because “there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence — not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness.”


Filed in: Thinking • Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.