How to be a Creative Genius

Have you ever sat in a brainstorming session where the facilitator pins up a blank sheet of paper and asks people to shout out their “new” ideas?

Everybody freezes as they start to worry:

  • Do they have a new idea?
  • Who has thought of it before?
  • Is it a good idea?
  • What will the boss think?

Tumble weed.  Nobody wants to admit they can’t come up with something new.

But there is nothing truly new

Only God can create something from nothing, and even he only did it in the book of Genesis.  For us mortals there is nothing new under the sun, creation is simply the process of crashing old ideas together to create new combinations.

The creative act is not an act of creation ~ Koestler

People say that Elvis was creative, but he didn’t invent any new notes.  All he did was rearrange the old ones.

Creativity is simply banging together existing concepts in a new and novel way

  • The Sony Walkman was just a normal tape recorder made smaller
  • It became a solid state device when the tapes and then CDs were replaced with memory chips
  • The iPod was simply a Walkman with access to the iTunes library

Creative ideas are nothing but old ideas combined and repurposed.

So next time you are running a brainstorming session:

Don’t start with a blank sheet of paper asking for “new” ideas, start with the old ones, the things that you know.  Look at what you have, list out all its functions, attributes and features and then start changing them.

  • What if we sent e-mail not paper?
  • What if the customers were women, not men?
  • What if we discussed problems instead of sharing solutions?
  • What if the headphones were white instead of black?

You will be surprised with what you can come up with.  You might even be able to convince your boss that you really have discovered something new.

Post Script:

The ideas in this post weren’t new.  All I did was modify those I heard on an excellent course I went on run by Dennis Sherwood.  You should get his book Innovation Express

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  1. Hi James,
    Doesn’t most innovation come from answering a question in a new way?


    • James Lawther says:

      I guess it does Adrian, though I think my point is that innovation follows observation, so to answer the question in a new way it is best to really understand the question.

      Thanks for your comment


  2. Valdez Daniel says:

    Interesante punto de vista… algo de cierto hay…

  3. Hey James.

    What Adrian said. :-) Except I’d add the word “old.” Answering old questions in a new way.

    Thanks, James… always making us think differently.

    Annette :-)

  4. Blake Overton says:

    Seth Godin wrote about this using the alphabet as his example. You don’t need a new letter to make new words, you need to rearrange the letters that you already have.

  5. Jamie Harrison says:

    Simple good points made here Mr Lawther. on a similar theme there is not enough merging of IT and process in modern business. why are we so smart with our Iphones but most businesses still think IT sits with an IT department. IT departments should be disseminated in process departments. Technological knowledge Process knowledge = Innovation…our ability to foster this environment determines our success in technological innovation

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