You are working late, and you want to go home. You pack your things, walk toward the elevator, and press the button; however, you notice that the elevator is not moving. Luckily, you are only on the sixth floor, so you decide to take the stairs. But, as soon as you try to open the door to the staircase, you notice that somebody had blocked the door from the outside! You are stuck on the sixth floor; you can call for somebody to come and get you, but before you take out your phone, you remember that there is a small window in the storage room that leads directly to the fire staircase. So, you climb out of the window, walk one flight down, and take the regular stairs.
If you look back at the decisions you’ve made, you could represent it as something like this:
The eureka moment was that idea about the window in the storage room that had snapped in your mind as a form of creativity. It might sound trivial, but we do it all the time. The clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson writes about this at great length in his book, “Maps of Meaning.” On the most macro level, he calls it the transition from chaos to order. And the point of this is that creativity is not something that artists have a monopoly on. People are tremendously creative, from creating and leading businesses to collecting garbage or finding ways out of a building.
I call myself a creative technologist. Often people ask me what that means, or better, what I do differently than “regular” technologists. The most compact answer is that it involves finding a path to a certain solution or to keep chaining together ideas until to you get to a new eureka moment. In this article, I want to share some thoughts on how I try to become better in chaining ideas and how I harvest eureka moments while solving problems.
Finding a Path
When I was a student, I took occasional lessons from a Dutch composer called Jacob Ter Veldhuis. He had this saying about “something being in the air.” With this, he meant that the melting pot of social, cultural, technical, and esthetical advances were about to collide and give birth to something new.
In the above image, you can see an example of the future. Some things are visible; others are not. The further you are able to chain events into the future, the more creative you are, and the faster you will get to this new eureka moment.
But, going deeply into the chaining of ideas is extremely hard to do and requires intelligence and perseverance. Some thinkers are so good at this that they are able to work toward great forecasts of what might be possible in the future and you can recognize them by how well they are able to explain those abstract leaps.
These kinds of people I call ‘Masters of Creative Leaps.’
These Masters of Creative Leaps can be divided into two subgroups. People who focus on the actual and people who focus on the spiritual. The ‘actual’ are things that will or might happen in the future, meaning they are also bound by the rules of nature. The ‘spiritual’ places focus on the exact opposite; things can be unbound from natural laws, only existing in our thoughts.
Let me explain both types of creative masters based on two examples:
Nietzsche, a Master of the Actual Creative Leap
As a first example of a master of the actual creative leap, we can take the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. One of his extraordinary insights, which he found in 1882, was summarized in the quote: God is dead. Although this sounds like a conclusion of something, it is rather the start of something. Nietzsche understood that the impact of enlightenment was a replacement for the Roman Catholic Church, which was dominant for more than 1500 years. One of the biggest questions Nietzsche thought about was what would become of morality if it is no longer based on the teachings of the church, the Bible, or religious authority. Given that he believed that ethics, morality, and justice are meaningless terms made up by humans, he was affraid that the hole left by the absence of a god were replaced with “new gods,” such as socialism, liberalism, utopianism, humanism, nationalism, democracy, and pseudo-scientific racism.
The dots that Nietzsche was able to connect resulted in a tremendous creative leap because what he foresaw was that the impact of this would result in a war on an unheard-of scale in the 20th century, which was something that happened in the form of both World Wars.
Dalí, a Master of the Spiritual Creative Leap
A master of the spiritual creative leap is the artist Salvador Dalí. This is best explained by his painting Crucifixion (also known as the Corpus Hypercubus), which he painted in 1954.
What makes this work of art so intriguing is that the cross that Dalí painted is an unfolded hypercube (a.k.a tesseract), which is used by scientists to visualise the fourth dimension. Dalí makes a connection between the spiritual and the mathematical to make “a geometric symbol for the transcendental nature of God.”
The creative leap that he was able to make was to visualize — in a multi-layered way — the hypercube that till then only existed in mathematical theory.
Why Creatives Are Important in Today’s World
Because of our recent technological advances, we are able to understand and manipulate our world better than ever, resulting in social, ethical, and cultural complexities that get more and more complicated by the day. The problems that we have become able to identify as a species are often described as so-called wicked problems, problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. And, because these problems are so complex, we need people who can create that creative leap both on the actual and the spiritual side.
A DIY Creative Toolkit
Now you have come so far in reading this article, you might be craving for some handles to make your own creative leaps. Below, you can find five handles to get going:
- Use the Internet; it is a modern Library of Alexandria. You can find whatever knowledge is available with the click of a button.
- Be careful with concreteness. It is okay to sometimes use complex terminology to explain how you connect the dots. Being too concrete can kill your train of thoughts.
- Use metaphors, but be careful; a wrong metaphor can make your thoughts unnecessarily vague.
- Learn about speculative design and design fiction. It is a great framework to map plausible futures.
- Learn to write (some) software; it is a great way to visualize abstract thoughts.