When Richard Feynman was in high school, he abandoned traditional trigonometry notation for his own. He believed his symbols, which resembled a radical symbol that enclosed the variable, made more sense than the traditional “sin,” “cos” and “tan,” which represent functions, yet are denoted as though they are values that are multiplied into the equation and thus could be divided off. Feynman became one of the most influential physicists in the 20th century, his work spanning to that on the Manhattan Project and quantum theory. When Feynman’s IQ was tested in high school, however, his sister peeked at their scores and noted Feynman had a “normal IQ” a decent way before “genius.” In fact, his sister had beaten his score by one point. Something else in Feynman’s mind was at play: he was creative.
“Creativity” is a trait teachers and parents encourage when we are children; however, as we move on to higher education, the attribute is seldom ever mentioned, let alone actively encouraged. However, the importance of creativity reemerges when we reach the real world: it now presents itself as humanity’s change agent and the driving force behind most of the minds we admire.
Unfortunately, at that point in life we have spent 20-something years learning that intelligence is king, losing sight of thinking differently. Intelligence is very important, but not as important as we may think. For context, Lewis Terman, a psychologist, conducted a study of around 1,500 children with an average IQ of 151, well into the “genius” IQ range of 140 and above. The study followed the students and unsurprisingly found that most of the individuals became very successful in their fields. However, they were not changing their fields as someone may expect from a proclaimed “genius”; they had simply excelled in their work. Even still, they were producing significantly less published contributions than Nobel laureates of the same age. Such a result is only explained if we count creativity as a major player in the contributions of people.
Albert Einstein’s contributions to physics were nothing short of creative. Instead of viewing the laws of physics as dependent on the observer’s speed, Einstein suggested that relative to any constant speed, the laws of physics, including the speed of light, were exactly the same.
Nobody had made such a groundbreaking proposition to physics since Isaac Newton, 200 years before Einstein’s contribution of the theory of relativity. Instead, most of the physicists in those 200 years operated under the idea that Newton’s Laws were a universal truth; Einstein, conversely, contradicted a very fundamental idea in the theory of the physical universe, and countless experiments thereafter would show that his concept of space and time is the most accurate model to date.
When Einstein suggested that the science field had misunderstood the very fabric of physics, he was a patent clerk. All of his ideas were just explanations of other scientists’ work: he just could view the application of their results differently.
From an early age, he had used his imagination to envision the physics of the universe — his model of relativity even sprouted from him imagining himself traveling on a beam of light and wondering if another beam of light would appear stationary from his frame of reference.
His proficiency in math and physics helped him greatly with being literate in the studies which preceded him; however, creativity gave him the ability to introduce a new concept altogether.
Taking a close look at the “geniuses” of our time, most of them are creative geniuses, either entirely or in addition to being traditionally intelligent.
Much of the creative process relies on possessing the confidence — or the arrogance — to express dissatisfaction with the current state of things, as Feynman had with math from a young age, and, most importantly, being able to suggest a new idea which challenges the well-established principles of the field, as Einstein had when he penned his essays in a patent office. Or as Vincent van Gogh had when he left behind his dark paints for vivid ones, choosing to join a highly-criticized art movement of which we now consider him to be the most prominent artist. Or as Steve Jobs had when he insisted on seemingly-random requests, like insisting the first iPhone be made with Gorilla Glass, a hardened scratch-proof type of glass which had been used on windshields in the 1960s, or requiring music to only be three clicks away on the iPod. Looking back, we now understand why these great minds diverged from the norm because by now, the world has changed to their minds, not the other way around.