“Creativity is the residue of time wasted,” is a quote that has been attributed to Albert Einstein. Never heard it before, so I searched and searched, dozens and dozens of pages of Einstein quotes and found nothing even resembling that line. The only source of the quote I could find points to a single origin. RED FLAG! It’s being passed off by an author, who shall remain nameless, in a book he wrote, which won’t be mentioned, and repeated repeatedly in every interview with the author or review of the book. It’s astounding how one cute phrase, left unchallenged, and not all that brilliant to begin with, can, in a short few weeks, spread like the magic spell from an endorsement by Oprah. (Who also has been known not to fact check.) But in my search to verify the erroneous, fabricated quote, I came across a few quotes that are commonly attributed to the famous man. (No guarantee of authenticity, but these are much more clever.)
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
Having fun. Reminds me of the saying attributed to Confucius, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” If you’ve spent any time in creative endeavors, the idea of intelligent fun will sing to your muses.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
I can’t discount the importance of knowledge. It’s necessary to build ideas and to feed the imagination. Knowledge is the food imagination runs on. Encyclopedias have huge amounts of knowledge—not one lick of intelligence. Knowledge by itself gets us nowhere. Intelligence is the application of knowledge through the transformative action of the imagination. Yes, we need to daydream.
“Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”
Too many examples of energy spent solving a problem that needn’t have been created in the first place. Look for the solution in front of the problem. It goes back to the old saying, which I’ll adapt to the 21st century, “a gram of prevention is worth a kilo of cure.”
This ties in with another quote attributed to Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” Genius is seeing and acknowledging the obvious. (And ignoring the trivial.)
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
My number one favorite. As both a student and a teacher, I’ve been in the situation of having trouble learning or conveying an idea. In every case, it was a shortage of a clear, concise understanding of the concept.
Ideas need to be challenged to test their relevance, to test their clarity, to test their truth. Challenging ideas spurs our creativity. It makes for a nice little feedback loop; challenge—think—create—challenge. . . Add a little playful imagination to the mix and new, unique ways of approaching the world emerge. This is the way of the artist; this is the way of the inventor.
It’s also been said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” The difference may not be obvious initially. Copying is duplicating. There’s no creativity in monkey-see-monkey-do. No matter how much skill it takes, it needs no imagination. Stealing ideas, or borrowing if you prefer a softer term, is taking the techniques and concepts from not just one, but many sources, mixing and remixing them with your own personal experiences to turn out a result as unique as a snowflake. Real creativity can’t emerge from a vacuum. The trick is to steal from everyone you can, but copy no one.
Steal, challenge, imagine.