The Mystery Of Creativity

When I was in school, most of my friends were on track to earn either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree. The "scientists" were usually working towards things like pre-med, pre-law, biology, engineering, and math degrees. The "artists" (just as predictably) were usually majoring in things like drama, music, literature, or, in my case, architecture.

As an "artist," I was always in awe of my "scientist" friends who seemingly had no trouble speaking the language of science. They could transition from calculus to physics to biology without batting an eye. I was fascinated by it all and still am, but try as I might, I simply couldn't grasp the more advanced concepts to the degree that would turn me into a scientist.

Conversely, my "scientist" friends could never figure out how I could make an architectural model out of a blank piece of cardboard. "How did you make that? I don't see any instructions," they'd say.

"There aren't any," I'd respond quizzically.

"They don't provide them?" my friends would ask.

"Well, no. It's my design. I'm creating it as I go along. I won't know exactly how it will turn out until it's finished," I'd offer.

"But... how?!"

How indeed. It's a question about the creative process that I've encountered a lot during my career. And it's certainly not limited directly to me. I see it asked of writers, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and pretty much anyone engaged in a creative endeavor.

Occasionally, I come across something that addresses this directly. In the past I've shared talks with Art Wolfe, Steve Vai, and Mike Myers. Recently, I discovered two interesting videos featuring writer/producer/director J.J. Abrams.

The Mystery Box

This first clip is an 18 minute TED talk from March 2007. In it, J.J. uses the physical metaphor of The Mystery Box - a box of magic tricks that he purchased in his youth - to describe the influence his grandfather had on him. As he explains, mystery is a catalyst for imagination. Curiosity, potential, possibility, and hope can all spring from it.

Inventing Worlds In A Changing One

This second video comes from the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit that was held in San Franciso this past October. In it, producer Brian Grazer leads a conversation between himself, J.J. Abrams, and Apple's Chief Designer Officer, Jony Ive. The discussion touches on numerous topics including curiosity, memory, focus, instinct, inspiration, stress & happiness, and how they all relate to the process of turning nothing into something.

Even if you aren't as interested in creativity as I am, you still might smile at how fast and animated J.J. speaks. And how slowly and measured Jony is in comparison!

If you are interested in the creative process (and I assume you are if you are reading this), what inspires you?  What is your mystery box?