Thinking Creatively

It was the first class in Professor Atkin’s class. After going over the syllabus, she asked the students to get out a sheet of paper for a quiz. Students were shocked. “This is a simple True/False quiz,” she began. “I’m going to give you five quotes and then ask you to identify if the author of the quote is the person’s name I give you.  Here are the quotes:”

  • Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein said that.  True or False?
  • All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. Thomas Jefferson said that. True or False?
  • A banker is a fellow who hands you his umbrella when the sun is shining but wants it back the minute it begins to rain. Mark Twain said that. True or False?
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead said that. True or False?
  • All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Edmund Burke said that. True or False?

When the students had finished, Professor Atkins asked for a show of hands for whether they thought the quote was true or false. The Einstein quote was almost unanimous in True selections, followed closely by the Jefferson quote.

Then Professor Atkins gave the answer “All the quotes are falsely attributed to the person whose name I gave you. In fact, we don’t know who to attribute the quotes to. We live in a world where misinformation has become the norm.”

“Make no mistake, those are wonderful quotes. I’d love to know who said them. But the fact that we don’t know is even more relevant today. The persons behind those quotes were original thinkers. They were expressing something they truly believed in. They weren’t tweaking something someone else said. That’s true creativity.”

Then she added “Most of my life was prior to the internet. Certainly, there was no AI, which I call Abetted Ignorance. The best advice I ever received in my career was to approach every situation as if no one had ever encountered anything like that situation.

“What I didn’t know at the time and what neuroscientists are now discovering is that the advice I was given helped develop that part of my brain associated with creative thinking. This is a class that requires you to think creatively. You won’t find help on the internet and certainly not with AI. My advice for you in doing the homework is just to think.”

“If you have an internet OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), put your own thinking on paper. Let it resonate in your brain as you sleep. Then see what others say. But only change your own thinking if you find a clear and compelling reason to do so.”

“Our society doesn’t need extensions on what others have done. We need original ideas. I promise you, I’ll never give you a bad grade for bold thinking.”

With that, she finished class. And the students’ creative journeys began.

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“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein

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