In the past week or so, I’ve seen a couple of interesting articles on the topic of creativity in the Huffington Post. What caught my attention more than anything wasn’t just the focus on creativity in a popular source, but that these articles place a fairly trans-disciplinary emphasis on the subject. This focus didn’t necessarily get down to the specific level of trans-disciplinary thinking skills (like observation, abstraction, etc), but signaled a broader view of creativity that crosses disciplinary boundaries. Most notably, both articles suggested something very much in line with the creativity framework I focus on — that people with more widely varied interests (whether in hobbies, skills, subject matters, intellectual interests, etc) tend to be better at innovative thinking.

The first piece I noticed last week, “Does Business Need the Arts to be Innovative? Five Executives Weigh In“, by Elysabeth Alfano, discusses the way that the most successful and innovative businesses have fostered creativity, by widening the scope of their employees experiences overall, and exposure to the arts in particular. The whole piece has some excellent quotes from successful business leaders and innovative entrepreneurs, which speak to the power of creativity — even in fields like finance or business, which we don’t typically think of as having a creative bend to them. For example, Mark Tebbe, co-founder and former vice chairman of, current tech columnist for “The Daily Splash” for the Chicago Sun Times and Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business…(i.e. guy who’s knowledgeable about successful business),

“Today’s business environment demands innovation and creativity today more than ever. Executives, as well as other business leaders, need to draw this innovation inspiration from a number of everyday creative sources such as music, theater and art. Those who appreciate creativity in these forms are often more inspired and open-minded to non-linear approaches to business problem thinking. And having art pieces around them and in the office can spark those creative inspirations, thus aiding the business.”

This is a powerful idea, highlighting the importance of creativity as a trans-disciplinary way of thinking. Creative thought processes, in any discipline, are leveraged through diverse and varied exposure to other disciplines (whether that involves scientists or financiers indulging in the arts or music, a sculptor with hobbied interests in biology or cosmology, or a visual artist with Escher-like mathematical vision).

The author also notes some interesting thoughts along these lines from other creative thinkers, such as famous comedian John Cleese, or legendary innovator Steve Jobs. Jobs, in particular, was noted for his conception of creativity as arising from a wide array of interests and life experience. In his own words, Jobs said that:

“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.”

Along those same lines, Cleese echoed this notion of creativity as a habit of open-mindedness born out of experiences, noting that, creativity is more a way of thinking and operating than it is simply a talent. Further, he intimates that the process to finding a creative solution is the same for comedic writing and the arts as is it for everything else.

“We too often get stuck in the closed mode. Under the pressures which are all too familiar to us, we tend to maintain tunnel vision at times when we really need to step back and contemplate the wider view.”

In a different recent short Huffington Post article, “Disruptive Innovation Often Comes from Unexpected Places“, by Maureen O’Neill discusses the way that people with varied experiences, interests and backgrounds can draw on this diversity to break out of our innate and nature human tendency toward sameness. She notes that:

“Our brains are clever. They have custom designed a search and retrieval system for each of us that is not dissimilar to how Google or Bing work. This system is based on what we have learned (our own equivalent of web pages) and how often we have experienced it (the frequency of how often those pages are viewed). The more we see, hear, touch or smell something, the more hard-wired in our brain it becomes. This kills innovation. In trying to solve a problem, we default to the set of knowledge and experience each one of us has…Want to find the next disruptive technology or approach, as Max Little (noted mathematician/inventor) appears to have done? Become a voracious reader of a wide variety of disciplines, including fiction. And create teams like the one Max is on that have much more diverse skill sets and experiences. We have barely begun to discover the big ideas.”

The ongoing truth throughout history of the last sentence, “we have barely begun to discover the big ideas”, is just one more reason to value the power of a type of creativity which, through wide and varied intellectual interests, breaks the boundaries of disciplines and subject matter.