What form does creativity take? Sometimes creative ideas seem to arrive without effort — after all, “such flashes of insight are the very cliché of the creative genius,” writes Arne Dietrich, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, in Scientific American Mind.
“But it only takes a moment’s reflection to see that the opposite also holds. For all the uplifting stories, the Einsteins riding on beams of light, the Newtons watching falling apples (a myth likely originating from Voltaire) or the Archimedeses displacing bathwater, creative ideas can just as easily be the result of laborious trial and error, which — clearly — requires the activation of executive processes in the [brain’s centre of higher cognition].
What would we otherwise make of Edison’s ’empirical dragnet’ method that yielded a total of 1093 patents; Watson and Crick’s algorithmic approach to testing the stability of DNA base pairs; Bach’s assembly-line tactic to composing hundreds of cantatas; the imaginative ways in which NASA engineers solved the problems of the otherwise doomed Apollo 13 mission; or the countless occasions each one of us has converged on a creative solution by systematically eliminating alternative possibilities?” (Read more here.)
Dietrich points out the error of “seeing creativity as one thing, but not the other.”
I would also add that the “flash of insight” model of creativity may lead some to adopt a fixed notion or mindset regarding intelligence — “Well, I’m not a genius who gets these flashes of insight, so I must not be creative.”
Whereas the “trial and error” model — laborious though it might be — is perfectly in sync with the “growth mindset” that sees intelligence and ability as incrementally acquired.