Characteristics of Highly Creative People: Playing and Working on the Edge (Part 1)

For ten days I’m writing about what it really takes to be Highly Creative and whether greater opportunities make for greater Creativity. Yesterday I wrote the Introduction to this series.

Highly Creative people put in the time to know their field inside and out and look for the edge, then they shoot for it and play there. They head for the unknown, instead of staying comfortable in the thick of current thinking. Children do this.

My children are all wearing aprons and shoes and have cleaned under their fingernails with a small brush. Celine, our French cooking instructor, is teaching them how to make apple tarts.  As apples melt into sugar in a pot on the stove, the smell–rich with hues of cinnamon and butter, relaxes everyone. Celine says,  And then you are going to get some apple here and on the top you’re going to add a little bit of sugar. Everyone follows her instructions.

Suddenly, my six-year old says, Oh!  Stop it! What are you doing! I turn to catch my son chewing, mouth full so he can hardly keep his lips closed.  The six-year-old says, Mom, he’s eating the dough!

My eight-year-old son follows the rules and then shoots for the edge, not always, but definitely if he’s fully engaged in an activity.

Highly Creative people keep their childhood drive to shoot for the edge of the known.

Eighteenth century French mathematician, physicist and philosopher, Sophie Germain, shot for the intellectual edge of her time. She was not trying to debunk myths regarding women’s ability to engage in abstraction.  She just loved mathematics and spent her time pursuing what she loved, numbers.  Her mother worried for her social life.  Her father taught her all he knew about mathematics and introduced her to famous intellectuals, but asked her not too study past midnight. But Sophie never bothered to check the clock.  Daily, she traded intellectual comfort for intellectual adventure and pushed to where she knew the edge of knowledge to be. She became a pioneer of elasticity theory and worked on Fermat’s Last Theorem to provide a foundation for mathematicians exploring the subject even two hundred years later.

Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, also shot for the intellectual edge of his day. He actively sought the biggest question in Science and once he found it, he began his studies of heredity with peas. Mendel played and worked on the edge until he discovered how genes function in living organisms.

Highly Creative people look for the intellectual edge, for questions that have not been answered by anyone, then they shoot for it and play there.