Creativity, is there a type?


Often, when people find out I’m a painter, it isn’t unusual for a person to tell me that they aren’t creative. The implication being is to be creative means you must be to paint, sing, act, anything falling under the banner of “creative arts.”  So that leads to the question, why do some people think there is only a limited definition of creativity?

Is creativity (right brain thinking) limited to a “type” of person or field?

I feel that creativity and creative thinking can be found in all fields and are not limited to the arts. A common stereotype is that engineers are mainly analytical, left-brainers! Let’s look at an example that refutes this stereotype.

Apollo 13

Most people are familiar with the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. Apollo 13 was on its way to the moon. While completing a routine task, a switch flipped to conduct a “stir” of the O2 tank. There was an explosion of an oxygen tank in the Command and Service Module. The damage was extensive and life-threatening.

The Challenge

Jerry Woodfill, a NASA engineer, explains the situation. “There were two round lithium hydroxide canisters in the LM, made to provide filtering for two men for two days. The trip back to Earth is at least four days in length, with three men on board. The carbon dioxide content of the cabin air would rise to toxic levels, and the crew would expire, without a solution.”

With two men on board, each canister had a life span of approximately 24. Since there were now three men, the canister’s life was shortened.

“Although there were plenty of filters in the Command Module, they were square and wouldn’t fit in the LM barrel,” Woodfill continues. “Without a miracle of making a square peg fit into a round hole, the crew would not survive.”

The Mission Evaluation Room (MER) experts had 24 hours to deal with the challenge and solve the problem.

Ed Smylie, who oversaw NASA’s Crew Systems Division, was given a challenge. His team had to use only the equipment and tools the crew had on board Apollo 13. That included plastic bags, cardboard, suit hoses, and duct tape. The biggest challenge was attaching a hose into a funnel-like device with a small, round inlet hole to a much larger square outlet attached (and surrounding) a square filter.

Duct Tape!

“Then the thought came to us, use the cardboard logbook covers to support the plastic,” said Woodfill. It worked! Now they had to figure out how the funnel could be fashioned to prevent leaking.

Of course, the solution to every conceivable, knotty, problem, duct tape!

That’s what I call creativity! On the surface, it might be a knee-jerk response to think of folks in fields like engineering as left-brainers who lack creativity, but that would be a great injustice and just plain wrong!




References: 13 Things That Saved Apollo 13 by Nancy Atkinson.

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