Sunday, August 14, 2011

Combinatory Play

Creativity, especially creativity associated with engineering, involves the ability to synthesize.  Einstein captured this notion when be called his own work "combinatory play."  It is a matter of sifting through data, perceptions and materials to come up with combinations that are new and useful.  A creativity synthesis is useful in such varied ways as producing a practical device, or theory or insight that can be applied to solve a problem, or a work of art that can be appreciated.  The art of "combinatory play" requires both self-assurance the ability to take risks.  Breaking generally accepted rules, or even stretching them, takes confidence. 

Engineering creativity is, for lack of a better word, often downright subversive.  One is fundamentally attempting to undermine an established system, process, and/or product.  This might seem unsettling to some.  Innovation needs to be disruptive - - the march of civilization is down the path of creative destruction.  Engineers can be divided into two camps.  Homo economicus - - one that makes the most of what nature permits him or her to have.  The other is homo creativus - - one that rebels against nature's dictates.  Technological creativity, like all creativity, is an act of rebellion.  Given the complexity of our global problems and the apparent limits and constraints, the future might just belong to homo creativus.

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