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.