Today, creative people learn from talking to one
another. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
In 1978, 31 creative
scholars were called to Sigtuna, Sweden, for an odd
semimar. The aim was to learn how inventive minds
worked. They talked and wrote personally and
self-revealingly. They free-associated. The seminar
organizers, and they themselves, looked for
commonality in the way they worked. Finally, they
listed five stages in the creative process:
First, the arrival of a new idea.
Second, sharing the idea.
Exposing it to criticism by trusted friends.
Third, the hard work of analysis.
Fleshing out and testing the idea.
Fourth, creating a language of
Learning to teach the idea to others.
Fifth, going public with the developed
Notice how we move back and forth from public to
private -- from solitary to social. The people all
wrote, sometimes poignantly, about the tension
between needs for intellectual companionship and
Most had a lot to say about places. They all spoke
of walks and neighborhoods -- of cafes, libraries,
and bookstores. Everyone craved creative solitude
-- some special place of quiet.
Often that place was a personal office. Often it
was a place occupied by other people. One
Although I am a loner, I do not like to be alone.
[I further my creative dream-like thinking] by
being alone in big peaceful crowds. I like to mix
with people moving on the main streets ... looking
at things ... seeing faces.
The place changed with the creative
stage. In Stage One, these people reached for
a dream state -- a mood of reverie. Ideas arrived in
a peculiar loneliness fed by beauty of one sort or
another. Sometimes it was the beauty of remote
nature. Sometimes it was the beauty of the presence
of other people.
But their new ideas immediately needed community
nurture. In Stage Two you call on those you
trust to help you breathe life into your idea.
Without human contact, it'll probably die.
Stage Three, the analytical stage, is lonely
once again. Now the place has to be a familiar and
comfortable workplace. It is a place where thought
is uninterrupted. But the analyzed and tested idea
that comes out of it isn't complete yet.
Stages Four and Five deal with
preparing, then delivering, the idea to a wider,
less comfortable, public. And I stand reminded of
the myth of the lonely intellectual. Creativity,
with all its need for retreat and isolation, is not
a lonely act.
In the end these people treasured community. One
said it best. He told of an elderly woman who ran a
bookstore. "She let me stay for hours," he said.
Then one day she was gone. So was the human face of
an important place. And it was a terrible loss.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds