Great Moments in Creativity
by Mitchell Ditkoff
What is it that enables some people to get big creative breakthroughs while others only get big not-so-creative breakdowns - alternately blaming themselves, society, their boss, and their increasingly suspect astrological configurations? Is it that some people are "gifted"? Or are there other factors at work - factors that we (the people) have more control over than we might think?
While nobody can deny the fact that some people seem to be blessed with particular creative leanings (i.e. Mozart at 4), research has shown that anyone can increase their chances of coming up with new and original ideas - even have the much sought after AHA! experience - that is, IF they would only immerse themselves in the little understood process of creation. It's the old Thomas Edison thing about "discovery being 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration". Time and again, the literature bears this out: great creative breakthroughs usually happen only after intense periods of struggle - even madness. It is sustained and focused effort towards a specific goal - not luck, not wishing, not caffeine - that ultimately prepares the ground for great creative insights.
Of course, this kind of perseverance does not always generate immediate results, a fact that not only separates the wheat from the chaff, the innovators from the enervators, but also leads some people to conclude that it's just not in the cards for them. "Maybe I should have gone to medical school like my mother wanted", they wonder when the breakthrough is nowhere to be found. Alas, one forgets during their inevitable encounters with self-doubt, that the BIG AHA! is never far away. Indeed, it can happen at any time, any place, under any condition. Indeed, it's happened to more people than you could shake a therapist at - famous people, infamous people, unfamous people. Anyone and everyone. As long as they stay in the game…
Curiously, one night in the second year of his retreat, Descartes had a dream in which the essence of what we now know as the "scientific method" was revealed to him. In time, his discovery was shared with the scientific community and Western science had a new hero. Ah, but the paradox of it all! While scientists far and wide heralded Descartes for his contribution to Western, rational science, no one (in their right mind) would acknowledge that the root of Descartes' discovery (and indeed, the root of what most scientists today base their knowledge on) came to him in a dream - a non-rational, non-linear, altered state of consciousness in the mind of a total dropout!
Descartes story is not at all uncommon. The truth, the breakthrough, the AHA! came to him only after years of intense conscious effort. Like ripe fruit, the answer made its appearance at the right time - a time when he wasn't trying, but had let himself be receptive to the promptings of his own subconscious mind.
Explained Wagner, "After a night spent in fever and sleeplessness, I forced myself to take a long walk through the country. It looked dreary and desolate. Upon my return, I lay down on a hard couch. Sleep would not come, but I sank into a kind of somnambulance, in which I suddenly felt as though I were sinking in swiftly flowing water. The rushing noise formed itself into a musical sound, the chord of E flat major, whence developed melodic passages of increasing motion. I awoke in sudden terror, recognizing that the orchestral prelude to Das Rheingold, which must have lain long latent within me, had at last been revealed to me. I decided to return to Zurich at once and begin the composition of my great poem."
Then, years later, the big illumination: "I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by repeated visions of this kind, could now distinguish larger structures....long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together; all twining and twisting and snakelike motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes! As if by a flash of lightening I awoke. Let us learn to dream, gentlemen."
Kekule had made a most remarkable discovery - that benzene is a cyclic or ring structure and the carbon chain at the molecular core of the compound does indeed form a chain that "swallows its own tail".
WHAT, IF ANYTHING, IS IN THE WAY OF YOU HAVING AN AHA?
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO ATTRACT AN AHA! EXPERIENCE?
WHAT RECENT AHA OF YOURS DO YOU NEED TO ACT ON?
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