Leonardo Da Vinci. Marie Curie. Thomas Edison. Margaret Knight. Buckminster Fuller. These and other famous inventors didn’t fall from the sky as full-fledged geniuses. Their paths to success were paved with setbacks and failures, begging the question, what was their secret to persevering?
This question has intrigued many researchers, and today there is no shortage of scientific study into the “DNA” of achieving creative success. Though our understanding of the creative process and what fuels it continues to refine, we do know that the most inventive minds in any field consistently exhibit the following three traits.
1. An attitude of insatiable curiosity and wonder.
To paraphrase Socrates, “All knowledge begins in wonder.” Behind every discovery, invention, or breakthrough is a question: a curiosity about how something works, what might be possible, or a fascination that leads to a new way of seeing. Without curiosity and wonder — without asking the right kind of question for the subject we are seeking to understand or the problem we are trying to solve — we are incapable of coming to a sound, innovative answer. Albert Einstein understood this truth well:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
- Albert Einstein
Even though only a quarter of Leonardo DaVinci’s famous notebooks still survive, they are a source of incredible insight into what fueled his genius. He committed many things to his notebooks: personal reflections, accounts of conversations with friends, analysis of political events, and so forth. But more than anything else, DaVinci asked questions and expressed wonder. In his own words:
“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plants and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it, and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone, and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engage my thought throughout my life.”
2. A penchant for journaling
DaVinci wasn’t the only genius who journaled. Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk have all relied on the habit of journaling to jumpstart idea-generation, ignite problem-solving, expand imaginative vision, and enhance cognitive agility. Through the new sciences of mind and the field of embodied cognition, we now understand that journaling facilitates a “listening conversation” between the rational, problem-solving aspects of the mind and the more imaginative, vision-generating dimensions.
Judy Willis MD, a neurologist, and former classroom teacher explains, “The practice of journaling can enhance our intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information… it promotes our attentive focus … boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives us time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of our highest cognition.”
3. A commitment to the creative process that transcends success or failure.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield identifies a fear that arises for all genuinely inventive people, which he terms Resistance. What Pressfield means by Resistance is the force in inventive people’s lives that works against them fulfilling their potential.
Pressfield makes a distinction between inventive people who are “amateurs” and those who are “professionals.” By Pressfield’s definition, the distinction is not one of career position but of the attitude of an inventor to their work:
“The amateur over-identifies with his avocation, his aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is an inventor, a CEO, a musician, a scientist, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows, for example, that the amateur inventor will never design and actually deliver on his invention because he is overly invested in its success and over-terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.”
The professional, on the other hand, does not locate their sense of self and personal worth in any particular success or failure but rather in their ongoing, self-chosen commitment to the creative process itself, come what may:
Resistance wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can. The professional blows critics off. He doesn’t even hear them. Critics, he reminds himself, are the unwitting mouthpieces of Resistance.
Inventive people know firsthand that the path from conception to production to market is rarely smooth and requires both know-how and perseverance. If you’re an inventor who’s trying to bring a product to market or looking for a manufacturer, we can help. At Pivot, we’re a single-source design, development, and manufacturing firm that works collaboratively with you and your business to see your product into a profitable future. Interested in learning more? Reach out to us today and talk to a member of our design team for free.