The Mystery of Creativity: Synthetic Imagination and Creative Vision

By: Martin Grunburg

Let’s pick things up where we left off in the last post about creativity.

The Two Types of Creativity

Napoleon Hill, author of Think & Grow Rich, often referenced two types of creativity as something he’d learned from Thomas Edison, among the most prolific creators of all time: synthetic imagination and something described as creative vision.

Between the two, creative vision is far more rare and is the application of an entirely new, creative and fresh idea. A great example Hill often used was Edison’s breakthrough insight for the light bulb as he awoke from one of his famous catnaps.

Incredibly, the solution to his most pressing and persistent problem of the moment (how to prevent the filament from burning out in his light bulb) came to him in a creative vision (you might call it). The hot, glowing coals mostly covered with dirt would continue to burn long after the other wood had been entirely consumed by the fire.

This was the answer!

Edison sat straight up with amazement, astonished he’d not realized the solution sooner!

Can you see how that vision helped him solve his problem?

Synthetic imagination, as Hill described it, is the combination of one or more existing inventions, products or ideas that, when combined in a unique way, would fabricate or “synthesize” to form a new invention.

For instance, the garbage bag (liner, trash bag) is a good example of synthetic imagination. A synthetic solution combining the garbage can and plastic. Or, the iPod, creating a music player like a “walkman” and utilizing a small computer hard drive to play MP3 files.

The list of synthetic imagination inventions is truly endless, for each new invention births the potential for dozens of offspring!

The UBER-ization of Businesses

Uber might be considered creative vision — a fresh insight and solution to urban travel. Or, you could make the case that it is synthetic imagination, combining “on demand” services with the taxicab industry. Either way, for purposes of this discussion, the real synthetic imagination as it relates to Uber has only just begun!

Dozens of industries are looking to Uber-ize and provide a similar on-demand solution within their services industry — from health care to dog-walking and equipment repair — in an attempt to differentiate and break away from their competition.

Here is a great article in Forbes and another in The New York Times. I’m still amazed that I haven’t noticed any IT home or business solutions providers who’ve Uber-ized their services just yet.

All This Talk of Synthetic Imagination Leads Us to: “Stealing Like an Artist”

While I have not read this book (sharing said name), I’ve heard great things about it and, as you might guess, I’m a fan of the general concept. In fact, whether it’s mentioned in the book or not, to “Steal Like an Artist” is really the essence of synthetic imagination.

In my experience, many/most people may be familiar with the quote but aren’t exactly certain what it means. I can only presume that the above saying is attributed to Picasso, who famously once commented, “Good artists copy and great artists steal.”

What does that mean to you?

Here’s what it means to me: If something is a copy it’s a direct duplicate, a clone, easy to identify as a copy. However, when something is stolen, it is obfuscated — hidden and not obvious. Further, upon detection you are only likely to find component parts (maybe) that have been synthesized together to create a new vision, product or service.

Hence, good artists copy and great artists steal. A great artist, I think Picasso is suggesting, is an inspiration for a new, fresh and different spine or vision on an old idea. A great artist won’t immediately be recognized as a copycat because he or she is producing some original value while “borrowing” some inspiration and insight.

In business and personal ventures, while striving to achieve your goals, be ready for fresh insight — creative vision — and stay attuned to what surrounds you to let synthetic imagination organically occur — just don’t get caught stealing.


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