Freakonomics – How to Be Creative

Key Takeaways

  • Common traits of creative geniuses:
    • They’re very intelligent
    • They absolutely love what they’re working on
    • They’re incredibly devoted to their work and are willing to face any obstacle standing in the way
  • One way to test for creativity is the “Uses Test”
    • This involves asking someone to list all of the uses for a single object, such as a brick, and seeing if they can come up with creative answers (like using a brick as a doorstop)
  • It’s easier than ever before to be creative since most of the barriers to creativity are gone
    • “We live in a society where we are inundated with creativity. It is so easy to put yourself out there. You can start your own blog. You can upload your paintings. You can upload your music. You can do all that. In earlier times, you had gatekeepers.” – Dean Simonton
  • There is a correlation between creativity and mental illness -some stats:
    • It is common for various groups to report mental illness:
      • 87% of visual artists and writers
      • 46% of Americans
      • Only 28% of scientists

Intro

Studying Creativity

  • “I think that creativity can be studied scientifically without destroying the excitement and the sense of magic about it” – Teresa Amabile, a psychologist and a professor emerita at the Harvard Business School
    • However, among the scholars who study creativity, there is no real consensus surrounding its definition and those who have it
  • Well, what is creativity exactly?
    • “We identify creativity as novelty that works. It has to be somehow feasible, workable, valuable, appropriate to a goal.” –Teresa Amabile
  • One way to test for creativity is the “Uses Test”
    • This involves asking someone to list all of the uses for a single object, such as a brick, and seeing if they can come up with creative answers (like using a brick as a doorstop)

Studying Creative Geniuses

  • Dean Simonton, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California has completed research on a few creative geniuses (e.g., Michelangelo, Beethoven, Einstein) and found that:
    • “They are all very intelligent in a general-intelligence way, not necessarily in terms of taking an IQ test, but they’re very sharp”
    • “They love what they’re doing and absolutely committed to doing it”
    • “They want to spend their whole life discovering the nature of the universe, or creating incredible paintings on the ceiling, or whatever it happens to be, and they’re willing to overcome all sorts of obstacles and all sorts of struggles”
      • And all of them had tremendous drive, commitment and determination to keep on going, even when failing over and over again
    • Dean is a believer in the 10,000 hour/10-year rule – a person must study their craft for 10,000 hours to become an expert
      • Sometimes people can “skip” this rule when they discover a new field
        • Galileo invented the telescope and was able to make significant discoveries about planets, moons, and the solar system without spending 10 years to becoming an expert
        • “If you want to avoid all the hard work of studying, just be the first in a given domain”

More on Creativity

  • “Creativity is possible in all realms of human activity. If we define creativity as doing something novel that works, that is valuable in some way, it’s absolutely possible in everything that humans do.” –Teresa Amabile
    • “You go in the kitchen to make dinner. You put a different spice in the dish. That’s creative. You’re planting your garden, you make a new flower arrangement — it doesn’t have to be a big thing to be creative.” – Margaret Geller, the astrophysicist who pioneered the mapping of matter in the universe
  • People take their creativity seriously:
    • Remember the Youtube shooting? – A woman went to the YouTube headquarters and started shooting people because she thought that they were stifling her creativity
  • It’s easier than ever before to be creative since most of the barriers to creativity are gone
    • “We live in a society where we are inundated with creativity. It is so easy to put yourself up there. You can start your own blog. You can upload your paintings. You can upload your music. You can do all that. In earlier times, you had gatekeepers.” – Dean Simonton

The Downside of Creativity

  • Many creative geniuses often burn so brightly that they flame out early and die young. Many become depressed or have some form of mental illness, and quite a few commit suicide.
    • Ex. – Vincent van Gogh had several nervous breakdowns, performed self-mutilation, and eventually committed suicide
      • There have been theories that van Gogh had manic depression, schizophrenia, and epilepsy
  • “There is a correlation between creativity and mental illness” –Stephen Dubner
    • “There’s also a relationship between how much constraint the creative genius has to operate under, and their tendency towards mental illness” –Dean Simonton
      • Nobel Prize winners in literature have frequently been alcoholics and had tremendous ups and downs in their education
      • On the other hand, Nobel Prize winners in physics tend to come from wonderful, happy families and have had overall good lives
    • It is common for various groups to report mental illness:
      • 87% of visual artists and writers
      • 46% of Americans
      • Only 28% of scientists
  • One theory for why some people are more creative:
    • Recent research suggests that highly creative people often have what’s called “cognitive disinhibition”
      • Basically, they lack the filter that keeps you from getting sensory overload just by walking down the street
      • “Which means they’re constantly being pinged by random stimuli; in theory, this could help you notice things that most people ignore. Cognitive disinhibition, not surprisingly, is also associated with mental illnesses like schizophrenia.” ––Stephen Dubner

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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