Imagine That!

Annals of Ordinary and Extraordinary Genius

Building Blocks of Creativity

Playfully exploring the imagination provides the building blocks of creativity.

Consider this blog like a set of toy dolls or action figures. Or, better yet, a box of building blocks. In each post, we plan to explore in playful spirit the people, the places and the stories-in short, the who, what, where, when, why, and how-of creativity. Colorful building blocks form innovative shapes

Our approach shines a bright light on individuals both famous and obscure who bring new and effective ideas into their own lives and the lives of others. Their stories can be uniquely fascinating; they can also be generally informative. In the accumulation of personal creative experiences, we begin to recognize patterns of innovative behavior and nodes of inventive practice.


We are interested in all the faces of creativity, from the artwork of scientists to the science of haiku, from the nature of creative thinking to the evolution of culture. The geographical distribution of innovation fascinates us as much as its developmental aspects: Do creative people come from the centers-or the peripheries-of their disciplines? How might childhood play prepare for adult inventiveness? What sorts of imaginative skills and processes do creative scientists and artists share in common-and what sorts prove discipline-specific? Why are innovators so likely to be polymaths, people who seriously engage in more than one field of endeavor? We will use our stories to pose these kinds of questions, and many more!

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We therefore mean our opening building-blocks/action figure analogy quite literally. Writing, reading and responding to this blog, all of us will have a chance to animate various characters (including ourselves) in the particularly human drama of creativity. We'll have a chance to emulate children at play, particularly creative children like the Brontë siblings-Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their elder brother Branwell-who all (except for Branwell) grew up to produce some of the greatest 19th century British literature. As children, the Brontës spent long hours at play with a set of toy soldiers, providing each with a personality, quirks and desires. The children inserted themselves, too, into their make-believe stories as ‘genies,' masterful creatures with godlike powers over the little toy men and their adventures. From playacting the genie they segued into self-identification as genius, makers of untold stories, painters of unseen places, builders of imagined worlds.


Just so, we can play with our understanding of the experiences and achievements of creative men and women-and in the process discover the genius which belongs to us all. For just as imaginative play with toy dolls can prefigure great literary tales, so can playfully exploring ordinary and extraordinary imagination provide each and every one of us with the building blocks of creativity.

Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein are co-authors of Sparks of Genius, The 13 Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

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