Where does creativity come from?


It’s Meret Oppenheim’s 104th birthday.

So what?

Meret Oppenheim was one of the first women to become a professional artist in her own right.

She made a name for herself as a surrealist – an approach that takes elements that you would not expect to find together and creates something new.

One of her best known works is Object, a fur covered cup, saucer and spoon.

These aren’t things you would expect to find together – and the work might be seen as a joke or a decision by the artist to ignore convention, or an attempt to find something new.

It doesn’t have to make sense. A surrealist joke goes like this – how many surrealists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? The fish.

People might respond to the work in different ways – some failing to see any art in it, others taking offence and some being fascinated by it.

That isn’t very different, when you think about it, from the way innovation progresses in general.

The creative process is not a rational, linear, sequential exercise. It’s messy and random and much more akin to insanity than we would like.

You also need to put more into the creative process than what you know already. This post describes a good example of this process.

If a person is asked to think up ways of using a box, their approach might be to think of how it can be used, what you can fit in it, where you might put it and so on.

A creative person might try and look at it from more angles – what happens if you open it up, get into it, tear it up, fold it down. What else could you do with that?

This kind of thinking results in unexpected combinations of ideas. For example, what does Origami, the ancient art of folding paper, have to do with space rockets?

NASA is experimenting with origami techniques to mechanically fold solar panels into small packages that can be deployed to space.

An origami folded package measuring 2.7 metres in diameter can unfold to create a solar array in space 25 metres across. You get a lot of power from a little folding.

Imagine the possibilities on earth as well.

You could deploy an origami solar package by drone anywhere on earth that could unfold to create a fully functioning solar power station. Free energy anywhere.

It’s easy to assume that surrealist art does not have much in common with practical, down to earth business.

The businesses and opportunities of the future, however, may actually emerge from combining two things that seem completely unrelated right now.

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