The key to being creative, in any field, be it scientific, technical, or business, in the 21st century definitely requires a certain comfort level in technology. But the best way to harness the power of computers doesn’t reside in coding – it resides in letting computers do the grunt computational work that humans are bad at, so that humans can focus on the creative, problem solving work that computers are bad at.
And if you want to foster those creative, problem solving skills, the solution isn’t learning to code – it’s learning to paint. Or play an instrument. Or write poetry. Or sculpt. The field doesn’t matter: the key thing is that if you want to foster your own innovative creativity, the best way to do it is to seriously pursue an artistic endeavor.
In the history of the Nobel Prize, nearly every Laureate has pursued the arts. According to research by psychologists Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, “almost all Nobel laureates in the sciences actively engage in arts as adults. They are twenty-five times as likely as the average scientist to sing, dance, or act; seventeen times as likely to be a visual artist; twelve times more likely to write poetry and literature; eight times more likely to do woodworking or some other craft; four times as likely to be a musician; and twice as likely to be a photographer.”
Physicist Max Planck, who both wrote operas and composed symphonies, once wrote that scientists “must have a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination.”
History seems to agree with him. Many of the world’s greatest scientists, in eras both ancient and modern, were also artists. Da Vinci, of course, is famous for his talents both artistic and scientific. Robert Fulton, the inventor of the modern steam engine, was a painter. The actress Hedy Lamarr was the co-inventor of the patent that underlies cell phones, wi-fi and GPS. Her partner in that invention? George Antheil, a composer and musician.
(Lamarr actually exemplifies this process in reverse: her day job was an actress, but as a hobby she was an engineer. Her mansion had a laboratory in which she developed a number of inventions.)
The science behind why studying the arts boosts creativity is still in its infancy, with a number of studies producing some conflicting results. But one possible reason for this strength is the similarity in practice between the arts and the sciences. An artist might sketch and tweak before finalizing the drawing that will become the basis of a painting. A novelist produces a number of rough drafts before finding the one that works. Similarly, the essence of the scientific method is hypothesizing, testing, tweaking the hypothesis, forming new hypotheses, testing again, etc. Engineers design, test, toss out drafts, test, toss out more drafts, etc. So even in the practice of one’s chosen art, a scientist or engineer is still practicing the essential skills she needs to be successful in her primary profession.
Albert Einstein once said that “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” To reach our own creative potentials, we’d do well to live by his example.