To Be Creative, Read a Lot

You’ll be more creative if you fill your mind with a variety of information. It helps you make those distant combinations that lead to bigger and more surprising creative ideas.

So I loved reading this new article in Science Magazine, by Julian West, a doctoral student in organic chemistry at Princeton. I’ve excerpted the passages that resonated with me.

I aggressively curate and monitor the notifications I receive about newly published papers, and I read those that strike my interest, even if they’re not directly related to my research. Perhaps the biggest question is why I make the effort. The short answer is that I read widely to prepare myself for whatever might come along in the lab. My biggest fear is the one that got away, the important discovery that I missed because I couldn’t see it for what it was.

Reading only in my subdiscipline would limit the kinds of connections I can draw.

Time and again, strange observations in the lab reminded me of a paper I had read in some far-out journal, or a seemingly irrelevant visiting speaker’s talk suddenly led me to understand a result that had been bugging me for weeks.

My advice: Read widely and voraciously.

One of the key lessons is that it’s not easy. It takes time and effort. It’s easier to stay focused on one thing, to work on what everyone else is working on, to read all of the same articles that your colleagues are reading. But creativity? You’ve got to work at that, to do things your colleagues aren’t.

3 thoughts on “To Be Creative, Read a Lot

  1. Interesting article of FILLING YOUR MIND WITH INFO.

    Many highly creative people I have known personally, professionally or have met in person or through publications chose and still choose

    NOT TO FILL THEIR MINDS with information

    Einstein, Edison, Disney, Jobs and numerous others are samples.

    It is a style issue.

    Others among my heroes in the 9 different fields I have worked in and studied the past 57 years agreed with the premise of your article

    FILL YOUR MIND WITH INFORMATION

    yet in varied ways.

    George Lois one of the most highly famous creative advertising men totally disagreed with FILLING HIS MIND with other people’s information.

    Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lieber Meister, believed in FIRST-HAND INFORMATION over 100 years ago.

    Leo Burnet’s ad agency was and still is famous for believing in the FILL YOUR MIND WITH INFORMATION & RESEARCH.

    Remember I am the contrarian you met during the last Alden B. Dow Creativity Conference outside of Midland, Michigan.

    I seldom have seen things as black or white, either or, or limited in possibilities. My 41 year commitment to studying creativity and creative thinking both the printed or recorded and my on-going living experiences have taught me to be OPEN TO MULTIPLE or POLY-POSSIBILITIES for ALL aspects of human beings.

    Best wishes in all that you choose do to Keith.

    Alan Robert *Alan* Black, Ph.D., CSP, DLA,TM-Gold

    *Create **Your Life, Do not live one Created for You* *706 353 3387 alan@cre8ng.com http://www.cre8ng.com *

    https://www.facebook.com/alanofathens/

    https://www.facebook.com/WanderingAlan

    On Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 5:24 PM, The Creativity Guru wrote:

    > keithsawyer posted: “You’ll be more creative if you fill your mind with a > variety of information. It helps you make those distant combinations that > lead to bigger and more surprising creative ideas. So I loved reading this > new article in Science Magazine, by Julian West, a d” >

  2. Dr. Sawyer– First, I wanna just let it be known that I love your blog. Hope it continues onward and upward. I took the main point to heart, particularly re: the value of reading across diverse range of topics and how that can have unforeseen effects on one’s work. However– “You’ll be more creative if you fill your mind with a variety of information”–this seems a little reductive and deterministic, which I do not believe was your intention. Perhaps motivation and engagement are also important factors? I just learned of a study of rats where voluntary exercise resulted in neurogenesis and cognitive improvement, while rats who were forced to run in the wheel did not show the same results. I don’t want to put too much significance in this study on rats, I just thought it was thought-provoking. Same activity, but different results. It’s fascinating. It seems other studies have subsequently reproduced the findings. I think this is it…
    O‘CallaghanRM, OhleR, KellyAM. The effects of forced exercise on hippocampal
    plasticity in the rat: a comparison of LTP, spatial- and non-spatial learning. Behavioural Brain Research 2007;176:362–6.

  3. One of the key words in the quoted passage is “curate” – I find I need to be intentional about what and when I imbibe more information. The world is constantly shouting at us. I agree with variety, I agree with wide-ranging, but I also want to be picky. Find the experts. Find the people asking the deeper, more interesting questions. And then give my mind space to make the connections.

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