Asimov on Creativity


“Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”

Isaac Asimov was one of my favorite authors, even though he was an atheist. Unlike modern, militant atheists, Asimov simply wrote from the naturalistic world view, and poked fun at believers. Yet, in the spirit of, “All truth is God’s truth,” I offer these excerpts from, Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?” 

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

He goes on to present ideas for forming, “cerebration sessions,” comprising congenial members who may bring some relevant expertise to the table. Writers, however, virtually always work best in solitude. Asimov’s following comment holds true for us all:

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.

At least one aspect of the capitalistic mindset mystifies me; managers of everything from universities to manufacturing facilities somehow believe that pressuring their subordinates creates a productive environment. They seem to view all of their workers as ne’er-do-wells, just waiting for the opportunity to rip them off, either through outright theft, or through goldbricking. So they strike their employees pre-emptively with stifling surveillance and security measures. Management can’t imagine that one of their production-line workers, dolts that they are, could ever originate a useful idea.

Manufacturing and commerce aren’t alone in their draconian policies, with publishers and literary agents constantly dogging those artists contracted to them. I suppose they never heard the saw, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

 

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