Thinking Your Way to the Top

Abdullah SayedJune 1, 2020Fun and CreativityThe Big Question

Artwork by Yingxin Liang

“My sister, she was always logically oriented,” my 7th grade music teacher, Ms. Nikkolas, once mused to my class. “So of course, she went into mathematics. Me...well, I’ve always been a bit more free minded. And here I am,” Ms. Nikkolas continued. The perception that fields of study rely solely on either logical thinking or creative thinking is a common cliché.

Creative minds are purported to be writers, artists, or musicians, whereas their logical counterparts are scientists and mathematicians. This way of thinking is flawed because it undercuts the value that creativity offers us in the modern age, and has offered us since the inception of society. In fact, creativity remains essential in unexpected ways today.

“Creativity” and “logic” are both vague terms. There are hundreds of perfectly acceptable ways to interpret these amorphous concepts. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we will try to frame them in generally accepted terms. Creativity is the ability to create novel ideas from existing inspirations. In other words, it is the ability to take what already exists and combine it with other existing sources of inspiration in an unprecedented way. Logic is the ability to arrive at conclusions, or deductions, based on known information.

Ever since the Age of Rationalism was borne out of the works of Enlightenment-era thinkers, we, as a global society, have sought to understand our world through logic. From economics to the origin of humanity, we have used reason to divine the nature of the universe. Of course, we have much to show for this way of thinking. The technological advancements of the last few centuries are evidence of this. However, this story leaves out the critical role that creativity has played in our progress and the role that it will continue to play in the future.

Sonar and radar were first developed during the World Wars as a way to detect enemy submarines and airplanes in the water and air respectively. Today, advancements are being made in this technology through an unlikely source: research conducted on bats’ and dolphins’ use of echolocation. Both sonar and radar rely on similar physics as those employed by these animals. This is an excellent example of creative application in a traditionally “logical” field. Scientists observed the techniques employed by animals and combined it with a seemingly unrelated concept. Examples of these kinds of approaches are abundant today. Slime molds have been used to improve Tokyo’s transportation system while sharks are studied to give American Olympic athletes an edge in water sports.

Critically, creativity is fundamental to all fields, regardless of whether it appears in the form of an artist’s masterpiece or an extraordinary scientific accomplishment. However, creativity can take different forms. Previously, creativity was defined as the ability to produce novel ideas. When creative ideas are applied to the real world and cause a significant change in conventional ways of thinking or doing things, they can be described as innovative. Our society runs on these innovations.

In today’s age, creativity is in short supply. This has to do with the nature of creativity and the nature of our economy. Before we explore that topic however, an important implication of our definition of creativity has to be defined. This is the fact that theoretically, everyone has equal opportunity to be creative. This has been known for millennia. As is stated in the Bible, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Every single innovation that has been made by humanity was based on something that already existed previously. In other words, the inspirations through which creative thoughts or innovations can emerge are hypothetically available to everyone. Anyone can look at the night sky and write a poem describing it. However, only few people can produce such a poem that might be recognized for their originality. As many of us who have been given a vague writing prompt or had to create an original piece of art in school know, even though all the pieces may lie in front of us, it is difficult to arrange our thoughts and what we understand with our senses into new configurations. Thus, though everyone might have equal opportunity to be creative, not everyone has equal capability to be creative.

Most of us have spent almost all our lives in some form of schooling with the hope that our education will give us the means to secure a well-paying job as adults. Though all of our circumstances are different, it is true that, in order to achieve the greatest material success, we will have to be more innovative than previous generations. The US economy is a market economy. The market rewards those who are able to conduct business with the greatest productivity. Productivity is always increased through innovations. For instance, whether a pharmaceutical company invents a new drug for a previously incurable illness or a baker finds a way to bake bread more cheaply than his competitors, their innovation is rewarded by the free market. This means that, regardless of the field you enter, you must also always be the most creative to be the most successful. Furthermore, the United States economy has become increasingly service-oriented in the last half century. This is a trend present in markets overseas as well. Gone are the well-paid manufacturing jobs that supported the US economy throughout the 19th century up until the mid 20th century. The consequence of this is that low-skilled jobs that require little to no creativity have disappeared. Where they still exist, they do not pay nearly as well as they did in decades past. Therefore, the American market is becoming increasingly reliant on more creative occupations.

Of course, no one operates like a computer without an iota of creativity, just as no one lives on simply creative impulses. However, creative thinking is in many ways the unsung hero that has led humanity to where it is now. In the 21st century, the changing economy has given us new reasons to seek out a creative mindset. Whether you aspire to be a doctor or a writer, recognize that your success may be contingent upon your ability to bring innovation to your field.

Abdullah Sayed is a 17-year-old self-proclaimed nerd. When he is not reading, you can find him biking down the streets of Queens, New York. Abdullah loves spending time in nature and hunting down strange bugs.