Creativity is intuition. True?

Rea­ding time: 4 minu­tes

How are intui­tion and crea­ti­vity rela­ted? Actually, in the same way that intui­tion is rela­ted to play­ing soc­cer, sur­gery, and jazz improvisation.

Every human being is crea­tive, because every human being basi­cally has a talent for coming up with some­thing new — some even con­sider this to be one of the most important abili­ties of the human spe­cies that distin­gu­is­hes us from other species.

The theory is often put for­ward that one should pro­ceed as intui­tively as pos­si­ble in order to deve­lop crea­tive ideas. Pre­fer­a­bly wit­hout any rules, wit­hout any con­stric­ting sys­tem or metho­do­logy, so as not to hin­der the free flow of ideas. It used to be said that ideas were sent directly from God, but that only applied to the par­ti­cu­larly gifted. This some­what eli­tist genius myth is out, and that’s a good thing. 

Intui­tion draws on so-cal­led impli­cit know­ledge. “Impli­cit know­ledge can also be cal­led kno­wing how.… (kno­wing how) or as skill. That someone knows how to play the vio­lin or how to paint with encau­stic colors can be reco­gni­zed by the fact that he can do it. (…) Only in the stage of lear­ning are con­scious­ness and atten­tion invol­ved. After that, impli­cit know­ledge works auto­ma­ti­cally.” (Hans Die­ter Huber in: Das Wis­sen der Sinne, 2015). This applies to all areas, not only to crea­tive idea development.

The pro­fes­sio­nal soc­cer player knows exactly with what momen­tum he has to kick the ball into the open field so that seconds later a team­mate rea­ches it in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. He knows this intui­tively, because if he had to cal­cu­late it mathe­ma­ti­cally, it would take far too long. It is often said that it would be harmful to ask the player to be aware of his intui­tive beha­vior. This can be a hin­drance in the moment of fast play, because thin­king takes too long and inter­rupts the flow of the game. But in trai­ning, it is actually very useful to be aware of one’s own intui­tive beha­vior in order to improve it and not make the same intui­tive mista­kes over and over again. 

After a lot of prac­tice, even a sur­geon will even­tually have inter­na­li­zed the pro­ce­du­res of an ope­ra­tion to such an ext­ent that she does them as if auto­ma­ti­cally. Here, too, it would take far too long if she had to think about every move for a long time. But a sur­geon also has to inte­grate new medi­cal fin­dings, which she may learn at a con­gress, into her beha­vior and con­stantly read­just the intui­tive auto­ma­tism. Other­wise, she would remain etern­ally at the same level and would never expand her know­ledge and learn not­hing for the course of action in prac­tice. Ever­y­body can sing — even the Nean­dert­hals are said to have been able to do that, but for really pro­fes­sio­nal sin­ging, a lot of prac­tice, trai­ning and, best of all, sin­ging les­sons are needed.

When I play the saxo­phone intui­tively, it’s more plea­sant for the peo­ple around me than when I play the gui­tar intui­tively. I can’t do both. With the gui­tar it sounds awful, while with the saxo­phone I can’t even get a note out. If one is prac­ti­ced in play­ing the saxo­phone, has har­mo­nies, rhythms etc. intui­tively available wit­hout thin­king about it, one can expe­ri­ment with new melo­dies and rhythms, com­pose some­thing new or con­cen­trate in an ensem­ble with other musi­ci­ans on what the others are play­ing and what next note one can expect from the pia­nist and impro­vise together.

This is no dif­fe­rent when it comes to crea­tive idea deve­lo­p­ment — and with com­po­sing we were alre­ady on the sub­ject of crea­tion — also in all pro­fes­si­ons where idea deve­lo­p­ment is part of it, e.g. design. Methods that lead to ideas — such as res­truc­tu­ring, ali­en­ating, com­bi­ning, loo­king at things from a dif­fe­rent per­spec­tive or trans­fer­ring them from other areas in an ana­log­ous way — are car­ried out intui­tively. Here, too, the ideas don’t just come from the gut. Rather, prac­tice is the key to success.

Working through the ins­truc­tions of a crea­ti­vity tech­ni­que, such as Brain­wri­ting 653, then dis­turbs the intui­tive pro­cess, while such tech­ni­ques can be valuable for untrai­ned peo­ple to learn methods first. Deve­lo­ping ideas really flu­ently — i.e., in flow — works bet­ter, howe­ver, if one is alre­ady intui­tive with the methods. Here, too, you can use the basic set of tech­ni­ques you’ve alre­ady prac­ti­ced, which you no lon­ger have to think about, to learn and try out new ones and expand the possibilities. 

In addi­tion, the ideas also need resour­ces. Not­hing comes from not­hing, as the say­ing goes. So you also have to think inten­si­vely about the sub­ject on which you want to deve­lop an inno­va­tion. The­r­e­fore, an artist may invent a new style of art because he has dealt with art styles in a cat­chy way, but rarely a new vehicle drive, while the vehicle engi­neer, who has a lot of know­ledge and expe­ri­ence in the field of vehicle dri­ves, has a bet­ter chance of coming up with a new inven­tion in this area. 

Two ways of deal­ing inten­si­vely with a topic, pre­fer­a­bly in com­bi­na­tion, are pur­po­seful here: under­stan­ding the topic in its con­texts or under­stan­ding the essen­ti­als (sys­te­ma­tic-ana­ly­ti­cal) and wild rese­arch, in which one coll­ects ever­y­thing that is clo­sely or even very distantly asso­cia­tively rela­ted to the topic. The last is food for intui­tive connections.

Intui­tion is the­r­e­fore cor­rect and important for crea­ti­vity, but it does not sim­ply arise all by its­elf in the uncon­scious, but must be fed and trai­ned. Then it pro­vi­des a basis for a fluid deve­lo­p­ment of ideas and con­stant fur­ther development.


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