The Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, plus or minus about 50 million years. In all this time, humankind has evolved from crafting spears out of trees to building artificially intelligent robots capable of making decisions independently. Each generation passes down knowledge and insight to the next generation, advancing technology akin to building a house, with one block on top of the next to form a foundation and one layer on top of the other to make a hundred stories in a skyscraper.
It’s a common misconception that an original idea is born out of isolation, but this cannot be more wrong. You can create a new concept from an already existing one.
September the 3rd, 1928. Alexander Flemming, while sorting through Petri dishes containing colonies of bacteria, noticed one of the dishes was dotted with colonies, save for one area where a blob of mould was growing. The zone around the mould, later identified as a rare strain of Penicillium notatum — was clear, as if the mould had secreted something that inhibited bacterial growth . Fleming found that his “mould juice” was capable of killing a wide range of harmful bacteria. Thus began the rigorous task of isolating penicillin from the mould juice, which proved unsuccessful at the time.
February the 12th, 1941. A 43-year-old policeman, Albert Alexander, became the first recipient of the penicillin extraction done by Oxford University pathologist, Howard Florey. His work was made possible by biochemist, Norman Heatley, who developed a technique of extracting penicillin from huge volumes of the filtrate by first extracting it into amyl acetate and then back into the water, using a countercurrent system. Edward Abraham, another biochemist, then used the newly discovered technique to remove impurities from penicillin. Thus began the era of antibiotics, which has been recognized as one of the greatest advances in therapeutic medicine. What you may not know is that this phenomenon existed long before the discovery of penicillin.
Ancient Egyptians devised a practice of applying a poultice of mouldy bread to heal infected wounds. Centuries of research and experiments when stacked up against each other, creates more meaningful discoveries in the current world.
Five (5) Tricks to Cultivate your Creativity
Cultivating creativity requires a voluntary effort and a yearning desire to delve inwards to uncover latent abilities. Now, the first trick to this is simply exploring.
- Limitless Exploration: László Polgár believed a genius is made, not born. He tested this theory by exposing his children to chess. His three daughters turned into chess geniuses before they hit puberty, with his youngest, Judith, regarded as the strongest female chess player of all time. Some people are born with a natural affinity toward a defined skill such as music, art, etc. Some people are coached into developing talent; Some people grow into a skill as a result of practice. If you find yourself on an inquisition into your gifts, there’s a need to expand your reach. Ever wondered how people discover that they can do unorthodox things like making a perfect portrait out of shards of glass? Explore within the confines of the known and dig deeper into the unknown.
- Learn from the experts: I read about a man whose strategy for learning quickly is to seek out an expert in the field and pay this person to dissolve decades of experience into bite-sized nuggets. He researched an expert psychologist, and asked her what she earns in a month, she said $9,000. He then offered her $9,000 to teach him the secrets of psychology in a day. Admittedly, this is extreme, we don’t all have $9,000 just laying around, but we can apply this mindset to learning in other ways. Take photography, for example, some experts show their work online for free, learning materials that cost as much as a cup of coffee. When you begin to gravitate towards a niche, start iterating.
- Iterate: Just like it took decades of research to discover how to extract pure penicillin from mould, it will take several iterations to develop a new technique from an existing one. The way to get to this point is a formless mind. A mind untethered to existing solutions is a mind open to forming innovations. Take cooking as an example; there are over 150 ways to make pasta. Many of these recipes have been adapted into newer recipes that have become generational secrets passed down from “Abuela” to “madre” to “hija”. Refine your skill through consistent practice and learn from your failures.
- Spontaneous Expression: Shinzen Young, the author of the Science of Enlightenment, calls this a state of mind where creativity flows outside of consciousness, fear and anxiety . It means putting out a brush to paint before thinking about all the steps it would take to create a masterpiece. It is a form of intuitive expression that underpins the mind’s proclivity for spontaneous thinking, which is key to tapping into creativity in its primordial state.
- Create for its own sake: This may seem counterintuitive, but stay with me. Flemming was just back from a vacation when he stumbled on to the concept of penicillin by accident. Creativity doesn’t need to have an end goal. Do it for the sake of creativity rather than what it can do for you. Let it be the journey, not the destination. Not for the money or the fame, but for the sake of expression. Only through this trick can you reach untold potential.
Observe your mind as it runs free, enjoy the creative process, don’t allow your fears hold you back.
Credits: American Chemical Society International Historic Chemical Landmarks, The Consciousness Explorers Podcast ep.19