In Walter Isaacson’s seminal Steve Jobs biography, you find Jobs reflecting on creativity:
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. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences, or they have thought more about their experiences, than other people.
The literature backs this — there truly is little new under the sun, but rather a huge amount of new connections and combinations. Take your favorite startup, product, or service: With near-certainty it is merely a clever rethink of a set of existing pieces, combined in new, unique ways.
Which means the most creative people and the best innovators simply pull from a larger pool of existing ideas and concepts than most of us — and have trained themselves (and practiced) to connect and combine these pieces into a new whole. Both of which you can do. It just requires us to expose ourselves to new impressions, ideas, concepts — and play with them.
Jobs wouldn’t be Jobs if he wouldn’t have “one more thing” though: The real superpower is to connect and combine things which are seemingly unrelated — this is where the real magic happens. By bringing pieces from disparate fields together, you create truly novel, interesting, and potentially disruptive, combinations. And this means that you need to not just push yourself to experience new things — you also need to push yourself to experience new things which are (much) different from the ones you are usually exposed to.
In a recent paper on “Technological improvement rate predictions for all technologies: Use of patent data and an extended domain description”, published in ScienceDirect, the authors point out that the number of patents in a given field is a mere weak indicator of future growth and development in the field, whereas how technology borrows from seemingly unrelated technologies is a strong indicator. The same insight as above.
Jump into the vast ocean and expose yourself to all kinds of seemingly random stuff — it will make you a better creative, innovator, disruptor, ruckus maker.