Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Staying Creative, Part 3: Link the Unlinkable

A lot of research says that creative people see connections among things that most other people do not. Put together post-war Italy, the movie business, the Catholic Church, male friendship, and the last bond of a life mentor, and you have Giuseppe Tornatore’s masterpiece film Cinema Paradiso. Connect the Eric Whitacre unique choral work Lux Aurumque with 185 voices from around the world in a virtual environment, and out comes a lush performance that has become an Internet sensation. Combine our a New York poet in the late twentieth century dying of AIDS and the English writer Virginia Woolf at the turn of twentieth century, and voilĂ : Michael Cunningham’s inventive novel The Hours. Weave together close-up photography and abstract painting, and the result is Chuck Close’s stunning color portraits. No doubt about it: Great works of film, music, literature, and art have in common the creator’s talent for linking the unlinkable.

This practice also applies to business. Consider what former AT&T CEO Michael Armstrong said in an interview with Charlie Rose that was aired on November 18, 1998:

“(The company that can) globally have a common, seamless architecture … of features and functions and services that can go around this globe … and can offer that service the best, the first, is going to win.”

At that time, the BlackBerry had not yet entered the market. The iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were a few years down the road. Yet Armstrong already knew that his developers imagined the possibility of connecting nearly every data delivery and storage system imaginable into a palm-sized device that could allow the owner to wirelessly, quickly, and globally make phone calls, e-mail, instant message, chat, and browse; make and view videos and photos, play games, schedule appointments; use as an alarm clock, calendar, compass, flashlight, and stopwatch; manage applications usually reserved for desktop computers; and store vast amounts of data. The hard-to-imagine is for the consumer; the make-it-happen is for the producer.

What does this idea mean to writers at work, whether they’re composing short stories or client proposals? Engage yourself and your readers by seeing connections among disparate points. Join any two people, places, events, or objects in the same place at the same time or, for that matter, in the same place at different times or different places at the same time. Something interesting is bound to happen.