Forms of Creative Inspiration

Creative thinking involves imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena.”       Roger von Oech, Expect the unexpected

There is an old adage that states: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” For those of you who have ever used a common object to fix an uncommon problem, or an uncommon object to fix a common problem, you know that this is true. Mimicking the central character in a long running TV series, it might be called the “MacGyver” effect. The movie Apollo 13 was full of examples of human innovation that were very real.

In looking for sources of inspiration opportunities to spark creativity, there are many things which have inspired creative acts or innovative solutions. These “sparks” are an important part of the creative process. Here are some of the documented historical examples of sources of inspiration.

1. Triggers and flashes: Nature is often a primary source for creative production, as are common things that surround our lives — A sunset, a mountain, a verse of a song, a certain phrase, a child’s smile.

2. Obvious connections: Buckminster Fuller discovered that the triangle was the basis of the geodesic dome.

3. Visions and voices : Harriet Beecher Stowe saw Uncle Tom in an ice cube. The medieval prioress, Hildegard von Bingen had visions that led to her music and writing.

4. Dreams and drugs: Mary Shelley dreamed Frankenstein, Kuekle dreamed a snake biting its tail, and this lead him to envision the benzene ring.

5. Reflections on death: Tennyson’s elegy for a friend became the poem in Memoriam.

6. Being in love; being out of love; tormented by rejected love: The Taj Mahal was a tribute to a beloved wife. Love poems and songs, and fond memories of love have inspired poets and song writers for ages. And where would country music be without all those “cheatin” hearts?”

7. Following trains of thought: Rorschach invented the ink-blot test as members of a poetry group composed poems in accordance with what ink-blots suggested to them.

8. Suggestions: Seeds of ideas come from the suggestions of others, piggybacking off others’ ideas.

9. Plain old thievery: Velcro was invented when George de Mestral was trying to remove burrs from his hunting clothes.

10. Fakes, mistakes, and accidents: Ivory soap was a mistake as a worker accidentally left on the soap beater, and POST-IT notes were conceptualized from a bad glue formula.

11. Desperation: Mike Nesbitt’s (of the Monkees) mother developed “Liquid Paper” in her Dallas kitchen using tempera paints and her blender. Bette Nesmith Graham was a divorcee with a child to support. She had gotten a job as a secretary and wanted to make sure she kept it, and so she developed this concoction to white out her mistakes. Pretty soon all the secretaries in her building were clamoring for her invention. Bette’s business boomed, soon adding colors to her Liquid Paper array. Bette parlayed her act of desperation into a multimillion dollar business, Shortly before she died in 1980, she sold her business for $47.5 million dollars plus continued commissions on the sale of each bottle.

12. Strong emotions: Channeling any strong emotion can bring about highly creative products — hate, rage, anger, rejection, disappointment, deep loss, unrequited love. Look at all the endless array of songs that are the result of rejection, loss or betrayal, or loss — Adele’s mega hit Rolling in the deep, or Phil Collins’ In the air tonight.

typwriter copyRead more about women like Bette Nesmith Graham in Vare, E.A. and Ptacek, G. (1988) Mothers of Invention: From the Bra to the Bomb : Forgotten Women and Their Unforgettable Ideas. William Morrow & Co

To do: 

Take a long look around you for unusual sources of inspiration. Keep a small notebook with you and write down the things you see, hear, feel. My massage therapist writes down interesting sayings that she hears or sees and places them all on a white board at the end of each month. She photographs them so she has a record of them and posts the photographs and also sometimes uses them in her creative writings.

Make students and children aware of different motivational sources or triggers for creative acts, and invite their stories about being inspired. And begin filling their lives, and your own, with inspirational moments — walks in nature, different types of music, poetry, art, performances, as well as stories, books and movies about creative people, and by meeting creative people when possible. Also, stimulate the senses early on so that children are aware of the world around as a creative playground for the mind.

Original materials on this site are copyrighted to Leslie Owen Wilson – e-mail