The traits of a creative thinker

When I was just 15 years old, a friend and I took apart a school computer to see what was inside (with permission, of course).

It was one of those all-in-one colored iMacs from the 90s, where the monitor and computer were housed in the same colored, plastic shell.

After half an hour of twisting screws, pulling on plastic, and debating which pieces could be removed from the casing safely, we reached a dead end. The circuit board was that end, not only because we didn’t know how to take it apart, but because were afraid of doing so.

Of course, the end of our tinkering wasn’t the end of the project. Once every piece of the machine was laid out before us like all of the ingredients of a mechanical cooking recipe, we started exploring all of the different parts themselves, individually.

Apart from the surprisingly bad smell of the plastic and metal, I recall that the massive cathode ray tube (CRT) was something that stood-out to me.

Here was something I had never seen before, not even in drawings or photos, and I was able to finally see all of the ways that it worked, first hand.

I could press on the big, metal hull casing of what’s referred to as the “electric guns” that carried the three primary colors through the tube and projected them onto the screen. I could feel the utter weight of that part of the computer and realized that the CRT was all the weight of the computer, since the motherboard and other minor pieces of connectors and circuitry were so very light weight.

Of everyone in our classroom, suddenly my friend and I were the only ones who actually got to poke and prod around with a ray tube. Most of the other students had opted, instead, to playing outside.

But what really matters about this story isn’t that I gained knowledge the day I decided to take something like an old computer apart, it’s that a very common trait of creative thinkers is a type of natural curiosity.

Young or old, artistic or otherwise, creatives have to tinker, question, and explore. Even if that means taking apart a perfectly good computer just to see what’s inside.

While the typical person says: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the creative says: “If it ain’t broke, break it.”

There’s a secondary trait underlined here as well though. Creatives are naturally motivated.

What on earth could have been my motivation for exploring a CRT monitor apart from curiosity? The same motivation I have for writing daily today, or for asking questions consistently: to learn, better myself (and my work), and set/achieve personal goals.

Creatives find motivation to do their creative work and exploration, even if – to outside viewers – that motivation seems sporadic or often nonexistent.

Which leads us to another common trait of creative thinkers: ambition.

Even our teacher was surprised that we wanted to take the computer apart those years ago. When she asked us why, we apparently told her: “nobody else is going to do it.” And we were right. Our influence in the classroom as “nerds” had weight (even if, at the time, it was a negative one, since nerds weren’t cool back then).

We were suddenly the kids who knew what was inside of a computer and how it all connected together. More than ten years later, that knowledge has served at least me remarkably well, as I’ve been able to study computer engineering and see it’s influence on things like graphic design, web development, and even app development.

My ambition to be the person in that classroom who understood how a computer works has propelled me into a career that I couldn’t be happier in (and that nearly every single one of my childhood peers have to had taken years of expensive schooling to learn).

Fortunately for you and I, my personal experiences aren’t the only tellings of what traits are common amongst creative thinkers.

Earlier this year a Norwegian study was released that identified not just three, but seven characteristics of creative individuals, adding to curiosity, motivation, and ambition: associative orientation, need for originality, flexibility, low emotional stability, and low sociability.

What do you think, are those characteristics representative of you?

Photo via Flickr.