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Isaac Asimov's "On Creativity"

Isaac Asimov's "On Creativity"

Over 50 years ago, science-fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote an essay on creativity, a must-read.

Scientist Arthur Obermayer found Asimov's "On Creativity" while clearing out some old files. Even though the essay was written half a century ago, its contents are highly relevant for today. You should try to read the complete essay, but here are a few of Asimov's ideas on how creativity occurs.


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Creativity requires you to connect two unconnected ideas

Creativity requires you to connect two unconnected ideas

What is needed is not only people with a good background in a specific field. People should be capable of connecting ideas that are not usually related.

Consider the theory of evolution, created by both Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

  • Both travelled to distant places.
  • Both observed strange species of plants and animals and how they varied from place to place.
  • Both were eager to find an explanation.
  • Both failed until they read Thomas Malthus's "Essay on population".


104 reads

True creativity is only reasonable in retrospect

We have difficulty thinking of an idea even when we have all the facts in front of us. Thomas H. Huxley exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, "How stupid of me not to have thought of this."

Connecting unrelated ideas needs courage, as most people will cross-connect the related ideas. The ideas that seem very unreasonable at first requires daring, and only afterwards does it seem reasonable. 


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Sometimes it's best to brainstorm by yourself

Sometimes it's best to brainstorm by yourself

Creativity requires isolation. The creative person's mind is mixing information all the time, even if he is not conscious of it. Consider the famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep.

The presence of others can disrupt this process since creation is embarrassing and messy. Only one out of a thousand foolish ideas are good, and you don't want to display them all.


88 reads

Creativity happens in collaborative environments too!

Creativity happens in collaborative environments too!

No two people have the exact mental stores of items. One person may know A but not B, and the other may know B but not A. If both know A and B, they may get the idea, but not simultaneously.

Further, the information may be a combination of A-B, which may not be significant. But if one mentions some unusual combination of A-B and the other of A-C, the combination of A-B-C may give an answer, which neither could find separately.


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Innovation happens when people are encouraged to discuss wild ideas without worrying about appearing stupid

Innovation happens when people are encouraged to discuss wild ideas without worrying about appearing stupid

There must be a sense of comfort, permissiveness and relaxation. Generally, people disapprove of creativity. To be creative in public can be worrisome.

Individuals must feel that other's won't make fun of them. Therefore, people must be willing to sound foolish and listen to others sound foolish.


106 reads




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