Asimov’s Advice About Creativity

The Advanced Research Projects Agency, now known as DARPA, was created in 1958 by President Eisenhower. In 1959, an agency contractor working on ballistic missile defense systems invited Isaac Asimov to become a consultant. After a few meetings he stopped attending because he did not want to have access to secret classified information; he felt it would limit his freedom of expression.

Asimov’s one formal contribution to their work was an essay on creativity – about the process, the nature of creative people, and the best environment to foster creativity.

One of the people who commissioned the report filed it away for nearly 50 years, but it has been unearthed and posted on the MIT Technology Review website.

Asimov makes some thought-provoking points. For example — he was not someone who believed that creativity occurs in community:

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

He felt that group meetings were mainly helpful for surfacing information from which creative connections might later arise – and he made a number of recommendations about how these “cerebration sessions” should be run that have much in common with Alex F. Osborn’s brainstorming process.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]

5 thoughts on “Asimov’s Advice About Creativity

  1. Interesting coincidence: I saw references to this Asimov story a couple of places on the net earlier this week, and today the “Celebrity Cipher” puzzle on the comics page of my local paper decodes as (SPOILER!) “The work of the individual still remains the spark that moves mankind ahead even more than teamwork.” Igor Sikorsky

    Great minds & all that!

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