The formula for creativity involves the element of surprise

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Creativity and surprise are closely related. Surprise comes from seeing something unexpected or experiencing something you’ve never come across before. Here’s the surprise: we can say the same things about creativity – anything truly creative will surprise you.

Creativity will always have an element of surprise.

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Comedians can really attest to it. I rank stand-up comedians really high on the creativity scale – they know how to take seemingly mundane situations and offer an unexpected point of view that surprises us. That’s the punchline. But comedy is only one of the many facets of surprise.

The element of surprise helping comic creativity

The element of surprise helping comic creativity in a cartoon by Vic Lee

According to Marty Neumeier, “surprise can take the form of drama, shock, wit, or even extreme beauty. It can take the form of contrast: dark vs. light, big vs. small, fast vs. slow, simple vs. complicated, and so on”.

Neumeier is the Director of Transformation for Liquid Agency. He has a very fancy title now, but he started out as a designer and that’s what he is at heart. In his new book, The 46 Rules of Genius, rule #18 (Don’t be boring) stresses how surprise must be present in all creative work, in one way or another. He also argues in favor of surprise as a device to make your work memorable: “It begins with a perceptual event—we notice something different—which then triggers an emotion. If the emotion is strong enough, we may store it as a memory and assign a meaning to it.”

The Creativity Hack:

The element of surprise can help us judge creativity. It works as a great standard to check your ideas against. Whenever you want to gauge how creative an idea is, ask yourself:

What’s surprising about this idea?

If you don’t have a satisfactory answer for that question, maybe you should go back to the drawing board.

What do you think?