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  • Writer's pictureJeb Brack

Creativity IS Rocket Science

Mission Control, this is Ticonderoga 2; we are go for creative launch. Commencing countdown at T minus 4…

4...) FUEL PUMPS ARE GO. Everyone knows that without fuel, a rocket just sits on the launch pad like a high-tech grain silo. The same is true for creative people, and the fuel is called IDEAS. Ideas are highly volatile, evaporate quickly if exposed to the open air, and sometimes they stink.

3...) OXYGEN TANKS ONLINE. Take a whole bunch of rocket fuel into outer space and try to light it on fire. Never mind how you got a match to burn in the first place, because there’s no air in space, but that just proves the point—without oxygen, even rocket fuel won’t combust. In the case of making art, the air is the WORK you do to fan the flames. No work, no work of art.

2...) WE HAVE IGNITION! Remember the match in the previous step? That’s INSPIRATION—the spark that starts the reaction that sets things on fire. It doesn’t have to be huge, just sharp enough to set you off. In the combustion chamber of your mind, ideas and work combine, to be set off by inspiration.

So the ignition spark hits the fuel, mixed with the air and it explodes, right? And you have an amazing work of art, right? And that combination propels you—like a rocket—toward success, right?


Wrong. Because the most important element is missing.

Something has to channel the massive forces we are playing with, otherwise one of two things happens. If nothing contains it, then the forces dissipate every which way and nothing goes forward. Or if the explosion is too contained, it blows out in all directions, taking the rocket and the creative astronaut with it. Scientists call this a “rapid unscheduled disassembly”. (See Fig. 2.)

1…) ROGER, WE HAVE MAIN ENGINE START. Note the nozzle on the rocket engine in Fig. 1. It shapes and guides the flow of the rocket exhaust, which in turn thrusts the rocket in the correct direction. As the combustion continues, minute changes can fine-tune the steering so that the rocket can reach a destination thousands of miles away.

Hundreds of things make up the rocket nozzle of a creative project: the customer specs, the genre, the materials at hand, the desires of the artist, the deadline—anything that restricts the project also directs it, making it achieve its destination that much faster. Think about it: if you have too many choices for what you can do, you dither and experiment that much more. Everything takes longer, uses up more energy, and is more likely to fizzle. So embrace those restrictions. The more of them you have, the better! Unless you have too many, in which case, see again Fig. 2.

Mission Control, we have liftoff. We are GO for the moon! Godspeed, Ticonderoga 2!

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