For my very first post, I’m going to ask the most basic question. What is creativity?
To help you think about the answer, let’s start with a simple question. Which of these two ‘coat hangers’ is more creative?
Exhibit A (top photo): The superb Sydney Harbour Bridge, designed by John Bradfield in 1916 and completed in 1932.
Exhibit B (bottom photo): The marvel of simplicity known as the wire coat hanger, sometimes attributed to Albert J. Parkhouse in 1903. (I fully admit I prefer Parkhouse as the inventor because it’s a better back story.)
Seeing these two icons together oftentimes helps my (non-Australian) workshop participants understand why Aussies affectionately call the Harbour Bridge the Coat Hanger. The nickname is a perfect example of a metaphor, one of the most important elements of creative thinking.
As the urban myth goes, Parkhouse worked in a lamp shade factory in Michigan, USA. He came to work late one morning and found there were no more pegs by the door to hang his overcoat. He allegedly picked up a piece of stray wire and bent it into a shape to resemble the human shoulders. (Another metaphor!) The curl on the top was a graceful and practical finish. We might argue the historical accuracy of the details, but neither of us can deny that it’s actually rather beautiful, isn’t it?
Bradfield – also one of the primary architects of the City of Sydney – was obsessed with finding a way to cross Port Jackson, the formal name of Sydney Harbour. Not only did Bradfield design a practical solution to enable people to cross the Harbour, it’s also a perfect complement to its breath-taking setting.
So, which ‘coat hanger’ is more creative?
There isn’t a right answer because it’s a trick question. Choosing one good idea over the other is impossible, if not unnecessary, because Bradfield and Parkhouse created their solutions for entirely different reasons. More specifically, they were solving different problems.
This demonstrates the first principle of ‘What is creativity?’ People create ideas because:
- They have a problem to solve or overcome, or
- They want or need something
More often than not, these two reasons are different sides of the same coin. Creativity is both solving a problem and fulfilling a need.
Necessary is the mother of invention, says it perfectly.
So, what is creativity to you? Please comment below. And thank you for reading!