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The Creativity Factor, Part 2

April 29, 2011

Have you ever wondered how many tries some caveman made before he got the wheel right?

Did he (or she) need to invent fire first in order to make the wheel? Or did a stone wheel in motion provide enough friction to create fire?

I guess I should leave that one alone. The chicken or the egg thing can go round and round indefinitely. Either way, it was a load of creativity that brought out these wondrous inventions long ago.

When we look back now at what it took to chip away at a chunk of stone sans power tools to form a big circle, it’s quite daunting. This recognition of the obstacles to overcome never seems to deter the great creators from the past.

That caveman, Michelangelo, Galileo, Marconi, Edison, Disney and many others all had great determination to see their ideas come to fruition—regardless of the impediments before them.

While the results of great creativity are seen in an infinite number of inventions, artworks and thought processes, they all are borne of a few key characteristics. From one masterpiece in art, science, the humanities and so forth to the next, each of the creators had superlative skills in three areas.


Also known as determination and downright perseverance, one deal-breaker between those who are great creators and the mediocre masses is that they just don’t give up. Ever. Period. Michelangelo spent seven years on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. And that big marble statue? More than one sculptor before him had tried and given up on the difficult stone to form it into art. Now the David is considered one of the most amazing works of art ever created.

From Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life [not an affiliate link], these comments about the genius of Mozart:

“By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose…  As Mozart himself wrote to a friend, ‘People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.’”

No wonder Salieri was pissed! I bet his hands were in better shape….

Thomas Edison was famously mis-quoted as stating it took him no less than 10,000 attempts to invent the incandescent light bulb. (In fact, he said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”) Exactly who do you know who has the patience to stick to it a zillion times?

Like Marconi, Edison had no real hobbies or outside interests. Both were well-known for their dogged determination. Failures didn’t set them back. And for both, some of their failures were public and quite spectacular.

Lack of Fear

While Edison waged a propaganda war against Westinghouse to prevent adoption of his competitor’s low-voltage AC electric current delivery system, he ultimately lost since Edison’s DC delivery proved less effective over longer distances. Despite the potential financial loss and public embarrassment, he continued on with a myriad other inventions….

Walt Disney first moved to Hollywood with little funds and a dream to start his “Alice” cartoon series. After considerable success with Alice and the Oswald the Rabbit series, he incurred a huge business loss and lost the rights to the characteres and most of his business. He was not deterred. He started over – fearlessly – and Mickey Mouse was born.

Early Mickey Mouse


Despite numerous setbacks the most creative among us eschew the challenges and obstacles in our creative paths to forge new works.

Crankin’ It Out

One thing held in common by the most prolific and successful creative minds throughout history is the sheer volume of work they produced. I’ve been searching high and low in my own archives, memory and the internet for a study I read about awhile back. (But I’ve obviously not been creative enough to find it!) The study researched what made various artists and composers truly great versus those whose work was good – but not necessarily superlative. In it the researchers examined the works of artists such as Picasso, and composers such as Mozart or J.S. Bach (and many others). Their conclusions were that the differing factor between these well-known creative artists and others was simply that they produced far more volume than other well-regarded artists of their day. And as a result, while many of their works were wonderful, the probability that some were outstanding was greater in those producing a much greater volume of work.

Manuscript by Mozart

In theory then, if the rest of us ‘creative types’ just produce a greater body of work, we will be more likely to strike creative genius. (Yes, I can hear your Beavis and Butthead chuckles from the other side of the monitor! I did say, “In theory….”)

Go forth and create!

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 3, 2011 12:05 am

    While I still haven’t found the information on composers, here is some source material on greatness (with some back up on my Mozart comments on page 6):

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