“We learn, from the time we’re little, the process of the scientific method–how to discover things–but we don’t teach the parallel art of how to invent things,” Stanford innovation scholar Tina Seelig says. “That’s one of the reasons creativity seems so mysterious.”
However, creativity and invention can be as simple as connecting the dots, according to Steve Jobs. Here are a few tips from Albert Einstein, Jobs, and many other creatives.
1. Einstein: Play with multiple ideas before taking action
Einstein had a delay-oriented form of problem solving: If given an hour to tackle a monstrous problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about it and five minutes putting the solution together. His approached creativity the same way.
Brain Pickings editor Maria Popova noted that Einstein thought of creativity as “combinatorial play” among the ideas brewing inside your mind. He would play with elements and concepts before attempting to put the resultant ideas into words.
2. Jobs: Collect lots of different types of experiences
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” Creativity feeds on diverse experiences, or a large career vocabulary, to get enough dots to connect. “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” To accumulate more creative raw material, have more expansive experiences; for example, travel more.
In addition to collecting more experiences, you should notice more: According to Seelig, “The first step to becoming more creative is certain appreciative, inquisitive mindfulness: We need only to observe the world with acute focus.”
“When you realize that we’re influenced by so many things that we don’t even pay attention to, then you can start seeing the opportunities in your midst. If you don’t pay attention, not only do you not realize what’s affecting you, but you also don’t see the problems that can be turned into opportunities.”
4. Do a little bit every day
Every artist in Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, found some way to carve out time to work, says Jessica Grose, “either in the early morning, or before binge drinking the rest of the day like Francis Bacon. In some cases, it’s not that long. Gertrude Stein would only work for 30 minutes each day. Some other writers said two to three hours every day is great, but more than that wears them out and hurts the next day’s work. But they worked at the same time every day, regardless of their other obligations.”
5. It’s the spaces between the work that matter
Many creative behaviors, Grose discovered, relate to taking breaks. “Taking a nap and drinking coffee were typical. Igor Stravinsky would do a headstand. Thomas Wolfe had the weird fondling-himself habit. Walking seems the most common, especially among composers. Composers all seemed to take a long walk every day.
6. Clean body, creative mind
Many artists used bathing habits as part of their creative process. “Beethoven would stand at the washstand and pace back and forth and then go back to the washstand and put water on himself,” says Grose. The novelist Somerset Maugham would think about the first two sentences he wanted to write while soaking in the bathtub in the morning. Woody Allen would give himself the chills so he wanted to take a hot shower.”
7. Always ask questions
PayPal founder Max Levchin talks to tons of random creative people, asks them questions about their craft, takes extensive notes of their quandaries, and then compiles–and reviews–all of his research. What comes out of it? Companies–like his new mobile payment solution Affirm.
This slide show explores the specific creative habits of artists from poets to directors.