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Creativity with Academics
Guest Author: Ted Kraver, Ph.D.
It seems like there is a procedure for everything. For creativity we work and work on a problem or idea and then take a break or sleep on it. BINGO…the solution appears from nowhere. In the 1960s my group of engineers even tried auto-hypnosis with mixed results. The breakthrough idea does not come from quantitative world of mathematics. Logic can find and describe the problem and be used to implement the solution. But unique solutions seem to come from creative intuition, the mainstay of the arts. It may come from far outside the domain of the current problem.
In the late 1950s my engineering capstone course had a design problem of putting the Physics Department at MIT (massive building with stone columns) into orbit and safely returning it to earth. The professors wanted us to ignore orders of magnitude while we wrestled with our slide-rules and got creative. Putting it into orbit was straight forward and stone makes a pretty good heat shield for reentry. But how would I bring it in for a safe landing? Then I remembered that during a summer job at Goodyear Aircraft an Inflatoplane was flying around the plant. Goodyear engineers had taken their inflatable airship and carpet making technology and invented inflatable wings that would be collapsed in a canvas carry bag. Voila! My rock based physics department would sprout inflated wings and glide to a landing. I then capped the capstone by using my boyhood skills to build a model of the reentry configuration.
Academics of math, science, technology and engineering with their drill and practice are crucial as a foundation for creativity. But this knowledge is only a foundation. True success comes when you are able to use this foundation to implement you creative ideas. Creativity is hard to teach but proliferates outside a classroom setting. Do not miss opportunities to practice your creative side.
I wanted to be an artist but mom, with her infinite wisdom, set me on an engineering pathway, bless her soul. I prospered. About twenty years later I was between high tech enterprises and decided to take an art class at Mesa Community College. I recaptured my earlier skills and turn out some decent still-life paintings. Then our professor tacked strips of cloth and ties on a board and told us to paint that. I loosened up and started painting from instinct. The class ended shortly and left the unfinished painting, and forgot about it. Six months later my teacher called me and said, “Come by pick up your painting. I won best of show over 300 others!”
The most rewarding life is to roam back and forth between academics and creativity. Let your calling be your guide. Being at an age where I am post-gainful employment I no longer have the enterprise world of creativity driven innovation. In its place I have turned to my boyhood passion of control line model aircraft. I study the hobby/sport for new ideas to support my designs, building and flying. What fun!