We all know the story of how Isaac Newton was relaxing under a tree one day when an apple suddenly fell on his head. Then, in a flash of brilliance, Newton was able to equate an apple falling with gravity.
This is a very famous story, but the problem with this story is that it makes it seem like creative breakthroughs are just the result of some magical phenomenon.
Unfortunately, great ideas like gravity usually don’t fall from the trees. Instead, great ideas require a lot of study and preparation.
In the book “The Creative Curve,” Allen Gannett interviewed dozens of professionals across many different creative fields and over and over he found that highly creative individuals all spend a huge amount of their time not creating, but consuming.
“No matter whether I was interviewing a painter, a chef, or songwriter, I’d eventually hear some variation of the same story. Painters show up at numerous art exhibits. Chefs eat at cutting edge restaurants, visit farms, and travel to food shows. Songwriters are constantly listening to music, new and old.”
Although these highly creative individuals are extremely busy, Gannett observed that they consistently spend 3 to 4 hours a day, which is roughly 20% of their waking hours, solely consuming content.
This is what Allen Gannett calls “The 20% principle.”
But why do they do this? Well it’s because consuming content is what provides you with the building blocks that are necessary for creative insights to occur.
Many great creative writers, artists, and scientists such as Isaac Newton will tell you that creativity doesn’t just fall on your head out of nowhere. Instead, creativity is simply the result of making connections between at least two different ideas.
Therefore, the more ideas you have to work with, the more interesting connections you can make.
In relation to the discovery of gravity, people don’t realize that Isaac Newton had been studying physics for years. And it’s only because he studied physics for years that he was able to make the connection between an apple falling with gravity.
In “The Creative Curve,” creativity researcher Dr. Edward Bowden says,
So in order to reach your creative potential, be sure to spend about 20% of your time immersing yourself in the field you’re interested in, exposing yourself to it and consuming as much as possible. This is the key to creative breakthroughs and great work.
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