Imagination is more important than knowledge
Anyone can be creative. Often the biggest obstacle to innovative thought and new ideas is one’s own habitual mental beliefs that they are incapable of coming up with brand new, creative ideas, or that they don’t possess enough knowledge about a subject to think differently about it – often as a means to avoid failure.
The truth is that we are all responsible for and capable of creative thinking. Regardless of our specific functions in the workplace, we all work to achieve an ultimate goal and solve larger problems.
Creativity is a paradoxical concept. In order to create something new, one needs to have knowledge, but forget that knowledge, to identify unexpected or unobvious connections in things. We need to work diligently but also allow down time to allow information to set in and inspiration to strike. We need to collaborate as a team but look at the same information and see it differently. We also must have the confidence in our abilities to head to the advice of experts, but know when it is appropriate or strategic to propose something different.
Michael Michalko, author of Creative Thinkering, Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques) and Cracking Creativity, worked as an army officer where he organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and academics from around the world to gather information on the best inventive thinking methods. Below are some of his key takeaways, which can be applied to creative thinking regardless of the environment or role you find yourself in.
- You are creative. Each of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not.
- Creative thinking is work. You must have passion and determination to immerse yourself in the process of creating new ideas. You must also have patience to persevere against all adversity. All creative geniuses work passionately hard and produce incredible numbers of ideas, most of which are bad.
- You must go through the motions of being creative. When you are producing ideas, you are replenishing neurotransmitters linked to genes that are being turned on and off in response to what your brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When you go through the motions of trying to come up with new ideas, you are energizing your brain by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times you try to get ideas, the more active your brain becomes and the more creative you become.
- Expect the experts to be negative. The more expert and specialized a person becomes, the more their mindset becomes narrowed and the more fixated they become on confirming what they believe to be absolute. Consequently, when confronted with new and different ideas, their focus will be on conformity. Does it conform with what I know is right? If not, experts will spend all their time showing and explaining why it can’t be done and why it can’t work. They will not look for ways to make it work or get it done because this might demonstrate that what they regarded as absolute is not absolute at all.
- There is no such thing as failure. Whenever you try to do something and do not succeed, you do not fail. You have learned something that does not work. Ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?”
- You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are. Interpret your own experiences. All experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. You give them meaning by the way you choose to interpret them.
- Always approach a problem on its own terms. Do not trust your first perspective of a problem, as it will be too biased toward your usual way of thinking. Always look at your problem from multiple perspectives. Always remember that genius is finding a perspective no one else has taken. Look for different ways to look at the problem. Write the problem statement several times using different words. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
- Learn to think unconventionally. Creative geniuses do not think analytically and logically. Conventional, logical, analytical thinkers are exclusive thinkers which means they exclude all information that is not related to the problem. They look for ways to eliminate possibilities. Creative geniuses are inclusive thinkers that mean they look for ways to include everything, including things that are dissimilar and totally unrelated. Generating associations and connections between unrelated or dissimilar subjects is how they provoke different thinking patterns in their brain. These new patterns lead to new connections, which give them a different way to focus on the information and different ways to interpret what they are focusing on.
As Albert Einstein once famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”