Haven’t humans always been creative? Isn’t that what brought us here? If so, when and why did we cease; why did a market appear for books about creativity techniques, and creativity tools such as small decks of cards with fragments of sentences on, intended to spark ideas?

Creativity books say that the first ideas you get are the same old. This is a reflex, something we do by nature. You need to trick yourself into creating new ideas.

But if it is something we do by nature, then it must have been important for our survival. It means we have been able to focus on other things more important. But in order to survive, we had to think of new things as well: create tools and weapons, learn to make fires. Under what circumstances do we become inventive?

I’ve read that in stressful situations, we stick to what we know; we get overly rational, and do each thing at a time. Creativity means exploring unknown alternatives, so when stressed, we obviously aren’t very creative. At the other extreme, it doesn’t seem likely that we would get creative when all is fine, when there are no problems to be solved – after all, creativity is most often about solving problems. (Perhaps we are creative in calm moments to solve problems of past failures?)

It seems that a vital factor must have been that humans have lived relatively safe, exposed to a moderate frequency of challenges – not too high a frequency to make us too stressed to be inventive, and not too low a frequency to make us comfortable. Has somebody written about this?

The above was posted to my personal weblog on July 12, 2003. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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