In a Wired magazine interview in the late 1990s, when asked about how he manages his creative teams, Steve Jobs said something simple – but, as always with his quotes – extremely profound.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” ~ Wired, February, 1996
Probably, the most important insight from this quote is that everyone can be creative.
All you need is a variety of knowledge inputs and life experiences: be it interesting work, travel, hobbies, new faces, new projects, anything new.
Complement this with practical ways to find creativity in your daily life – and you get a nice little recipe for a fulfilling, creative life.
This partially explains why so many writers – from Haruki Murakami to Elizabeth Gilbert to Adrian Drew (founder of Mind Cafe publication on Medium) – had their first job as bartenders, cashiers, or waitresses. They had access to real human stories which they absorbed at the time – only to use later, in their writing.
Those writers who didn’t want to take service jobs usually worked as journalists: take Hemingway as one example, Neil Gaiman as another, Bill Bryson, or even the legendary Winston Churchill – who worked as a war journalist in his early years.
After all, unless you have good inputs – you can’t have good outputs. A big part (30%? 50%?) of the creative person’s job then becomes collecting these new dots, ideas, and experiences.
To make a reference to another Steve Jobs’s quote: to connect the dots, you need to have the dots in the first place.