During my senior year of high school, my government teacher commonly told me that learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When we learn about a subject, our brains link the new material to other, seemingly unrelated ideas. Our brains are extraordinary machines, that make meaning from everything we encounter.
Once we recognize this concept, we are able to shift our creativity into overdrive, simply by mindfully consuming content. Looking back at teachers, we can see how knowledge and content consumption drives our ability to learn.
Digging Deep in Knowledge
History teachers are especially easy to pick on in this framework. At one point in college studied ancient Greecian cultures. While many of the city-states were interesting in their own right, Sparta captivated me. The pithy one-liners of Spartan women telling their warrior husbands to either come home carrying their heavy shields or return carried back dead on top of them stuck with me.
As a result, I can tell you all about the role of ancient women from that region as it relates to Sparta. This story, allows me to empathize with these strong women. More than that, it allows me to pull from this narrative and connect to seemingly disparate ideas, like the hierarchy of lion prides.
Typically, one male lives with the pride of females, fathering offspring. Once the male loses virality, another male disposes of him and takes ownership of the pride. There is no room for a coward who runs from a fight to pass on genes.
By digging deep enough in historical context to understand the phrases women would tell their husbands to dispel cowardice, I developed a framework to understand how that knowledge would pair in additional situations.
What happened with these two ideas is by learning about an idea allows our brains to draw connections. Even if our brains don’t connect this new knowledge to other topics, it causes us to develop intellectual curiosity.
This development of curiosity keeps us hungry for novel information. This search for knowledge causes our brains to find patterns. In fact, studies show this hungry as a predicator of creative-problem solving.
Allow Knowledge to Inform Questions
I’m always attempting to learn strange new things. This passion inadvertently allows me to drive creativity.
Weekends are filled with binging documentaries. I obsess with learning how Nazi war criminals escaped Europe through “ratlines.” After learning about the complex tunnel system stretched for miles beneath Berlin, unknown to Soviet troops who captured the city, I became transfixed other tidbits of information I could learn.
Will this ever come in handy for me, creatively? Maybe.
The concept of unknown tunnels under a city isn’t unique to Berlin during Nazi Germany. The small town I grew up in was home to a decommissioned airforce base. In school, I’d heard rumors of tunnels stretching out underground for the base’s use. Titilated by the rumor I told my sister. She and I mused on whether our grandfather had been in them.
Knowing he’d never divulge privileged information, she asked him, “Gramps, the tunnels under the base, were they limited to immediately under the base or did they stretch out all the way to the high school?”
“Who told you they exist?”
“You just confirmed them. Thanks.”
Now? Tunnels fascinate me! What problems would tunnels solve? How would changing our perceptions of the space we can travel manipulate navigation?! Perhaps this extends into lava tubes?
Unexplored cities possess the possibility of entire underground labyrinths sparking my desire to explore. These concepts, undoubtedly, creep into my creative outpouring where I am not limited to staying on the surface. This knowledge allows me to dig down deeper and wonder about subterranean complexes.
Harness Knowledge to Drive Creativity
If I move on to studying butterflies, I am sure my brain would look at metamorphosis and how flight changes my concept of navigating the world around me. While helping the team with Unsettled, we’ve all pulled together crazy facts and extrapolate how a planet would be if only (blank) did (blank).
This whole concept blows preconceptions out of the water. Now all the crazy things we have learned over the years matter. None of our learning happens in a vacuum and had I not binged volcano documentaries, I’d have no idea that lava loses mass as it cools, releasing gas. While this information might go largely unused, there will be a moment (outside of world-building) where this knowledge will become useful.
By staying hungry for knowledge, we can continue approaching the world with child-like wonder and create amazing things. When we take this same knowledge and team up with others to pull on their information, there is nothing that will stop us.