Google Firestarters 9: Creativity Is Not a Department
On the Death Of Journalism

The Myth of the Eureka Moment

An intriguing addendum to last week's Google Firestarters event on creativity. Eric Barker posts about a story featured in Keith Sawyer's book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity. Researcher Vera John-Steiner interviewed over 70 living 'creative geniuses' and analysed the notebooks of a further 50 that were no longer alive (including people like Tolstoy and Einstein) in order to understand what nourishes sustained productivity in creative individuals. Her early assumption was that her book would end up effectively reviewing a series of eureka moments (in fact the initial plan was to call the book 'The Leap') but that proved to be completely wrong. Instead, such moments of creative genius happen over time, and the creators engage in an ongoing dialogue with their work, externalising their initial thoughts on paper really early in the process when it is still far from a fully formed idea (kind of like blogging, no?):

"Creativity started with the notebooks’ sketches and jottings, and only later resulted in a pure, powerful idea. The one characteristic that all of these creatives shared— whether they were painters, actors, or scientists— was how often they put their early thoughts and inklings out into the world, in sketches, dashed-off phrases and observations, bits of dialogue, and quick prototypes. Instead of arriving in one giant leap, great creations emerged by zigs and zags as their creators engaged over and over again with these externalized images."

This finding repeated itself again and again in both the interviews and the notebooks. Fascinating.

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