Thursday, September 8, 2011

Diverse Experience Drives Creativity

The mother of Johannes Gutenberg had an estate in Eltville am Rhein and it is probable that he spent time as a youth at that estate. This is a region that is famous for the quality of it’s wine even today, so it is highly likely that the young Gutenberg was exposed the screw press technology that was used to extract the juice from the grapes. Later, he became a goldsmith and mastered the molding and casting techniques that would be required to create movable type.  

Around 1439, he brought the two technologies together along with an oil based ink to invent the printing technology which changed the world. Would this have been possible if he hadn’t been exposed to both wine making and metal working?


In 1972, Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Afterwards he became interested in computer design and in 1984, he enthusiastically announced the Apple Macintosh computer system. The graphics and typography capability of the Macintosh launched desktop publishing which impacted the printing industry more than any other invention since Gutenberg’s press.

Would the Mac have included those typographical tools if Jobs hadn’t taken that calligraphy class?  Not according to Jobs.

In his famous Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish address at Stanford in 2005, Jobs explained “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them.”

Innovation often involves combining elements from diverse experiences.  Expanding your range of experience is one of the best ways to improve your creativity.

How broad are your interests?  What new area are you going to explore this year?




Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
Steven Johnson links Gutenberg's experiences with the invention of the printing press.