If we assume the universal definition of what it means to be creative is: to produce something both valuable and unique, then we can build a foundation from which to evaluate the other components of the question: “How can I become the most creative person in the world?”
To be the most creative person, you would need to produce numerous ideas which are both valuable and unique. We’re talking global, revolutionary stuff here.
We can look through the history books to see who has done this feat before (producing multiple ideas which are of an original variety and provide some value to the wider group or society).
Albert Einstein undoubtedly was a remarkably creative person. To quote the Wikipedia page on Einstein: “He developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics)… is also known for [his] influence on the philosophy of science…. is best known in popular culture for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2 (which has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”). He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his ‘services to theoretical physics,’ in particular his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, a pivotal step in the evolution of quantum theory.”
Other historically “great” creatives include Archimedes (a remarkable mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer who revolutionized many of these arenas with his ideas), da Vinci (who was a famous inventor, painter, sculpture, architect, scientist, musician, mathematician, engineer, writer, astronomer, and botanist), Elon Musk (who has helped propel reusable rockets into outer space as well as revolutionize the electronic automobile industry, in addition to other business and energy-efficiency related ventures), Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, on and on the list could go.
If we begin to look through the massive amounts of literature on the lives of these individuals, some surprising trends tend to bubble to the surface.
But before we touch on those similarities, let’s quickly touch on where original and valuable ideas come from in the first place. In his appropriately titled book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson explains the seven key elements that produce creative ideas. They are:
- The adjacent possible
- Liquid networks
- Slow hunches
To encounter the most novel and valuable ideas requires each of these things in varying degrees.
The adjacent possible (1) simply means what is actually possible in the world of today; you could not, for example, have invented the iPhone in the 1920s due to the technical and resource limitations of that time.
Liquid networks (2) and platforms (7) are how ideas and information spread around and through us. The Internet is a great example of a liquid network, but only in certain contexts. A more solid example would be Quora, where ideas are free to spread, evolve, and reproduce.
This leads to exaptation (6), the ability for ideas to shed certain layers in order to evolve (or adapt) into something more useful.
Slow hunches (3) are just that: hunches that develop over time. The critical point of which is time itself. The best ideas, it seems, take time.
Serendipity (4) is something mostly out of our control. However, we can do things in our lives to prompt it (like involve ourselves in fluid networks and come to understand what adjacent possibles exist in our lives today).
Errors (5), of course, are typically a requirement for creative ideas because they allow ideas to evolve in the proper ways. What typically gets people hung-up about errors, unfortunately, is that it can sting to be wrong. Nobody wants to make a mistake, yet making mistakes is the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t. To quote the brilliant writer slash statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “It is true that a thousand days cannot prove you right, but one day can prove you to be wrong.”
Now, if we go along with Johnson’s requirements for where good ideas come from, and if we start look at the list of historically “great” creative thinkers, we can more clearly see some trends that make a lot of practical sense.
Many of the thinkers on our list were exposed (either by fortune or misfortune) to adjacent possibles and fluid networks by sheer proximity. Archimedes lived in the literal hub of ideas, while Franklin surrounded himself with the most motivated of individuals, and Edison created a literal group for the purpose of producing ideas.
The number of errors each individual encountered through-out their life is high as well. Einstein, for example, is well-known for his countless mistakes (see: Einstein’s Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius), his failed attempts at complex equations, and even years failing to become a successful educator.
Undoubtedly one of the most vital parts of each creative individual’s life was sheer serendipity: not only being in the right place at the right time (literally), but also being able to identify the moment when a good idea could be captured and explored.
What this tells us is that we must do whatever we can in our lives to promote each of these aspects of brewing good ideas however possible. Surrounding ourselves with intelligent and diverse people, paying attention to recent trends and breakthroughs, being open to mistakes and attempting got learn from them, giving ourselves time to develop ideas, etc.
But most importantly, I believe, to be the most creative person in the world is to be the most curious person in the world. Because for each possibility there is the ability to ignore it, to be blinded by the way we think the world should be instead of the way it really, actually could be.
To be the most creative person in the world you must have each of these things, but they will do you no good unless you are capable of observing your circumstance. The best way to do that, undoubtedly, is to be open to possibilities and the going-ons around you: to simply be insatiably curious.
It was Albert Einstein, after-all, who famously quipped:
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”