When we imagine Archimedes jumping out of his tub, shrieking “Eureka!” and running naked through the streets of Syracuse to celebrate his discovery, we miss the point. His eureka moment was not a sudden inspiration, but rather the culmination of hours, days, weeks, even months of letting a problem gestate in his mind. And it was no accident that the ancient Greek scholar’s epiphany came while he was soaking in a hot bath.
A key to creativity, according to R. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina who studies creativity and innovation, is to follow up periods of intense study and research by letting your mind relax, wander, and imagine. Work hard, take time off, play, get your mind off the problem, and let it incubate. No wonder that Archimedes’ discovery—he saw the water level rise as he sank into the tub and realized he’d found a way to measure the volume of irregular objects—came when he was relaxing. John Lennon once described struggling for hours to write a song before giving up in frustration. He sacked out on a sofa and, in short order, the lyrics and melody to “Nowhere Man” came to him almost fully formed. (As the Beatle would sing in a different song, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream …”)
Creativity starts with asking the right question, being receptive to solutions all around us, being willing to combine different ideas, and freeing the mind to imagine. In this issue of Yale Medicine we look at how clinicians, scientists, and educators at Yale have come up with creative solutions in surprising ways: Tiny machines that can decipher how cells talk to each other; an iPad app that has created a new dynamic in the classroom and in clinical clerkships; and a controversial procedure to treat aneurysms and spare patients a heart transplant. And the new Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology creates a seemingly unlikely consortium of engineers, clinicians, and scientists to brainstorm new ways of developing medical devices.