#439  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 12          December 1999

Does Logic Stifle Creativity?
by Stephen R. Grossman

Mr. Grossman is President of Double Dominance, Inc. a creative problem-solving company in Maple Shade, NJ (phone 609-779-0702).  He is author of Innovation, Inc. (Wordware Publishing, Plano, TX, 1988). www.consultants-mall.com/grossman.htm

I always carry my umbrella when the weatherman says it’s going to rain.  Last night, the weatherman said it was not going to rain.  Today, I’m carrying my umbrella.

Am I being logical?

Most people would say no.  However, there’s nothing illogical about the above statement.  I never said I didn’t carry an umbrella on days it wasn’t supposed to rain.  My behavior may be silly and unreasonable; but, based solely on the information I gave you, it’s not illogical.

If you think this little exercise was something only a lawyer could love, you’re not alone.  Many people (including some who are experts in the mechanics of our thought processes) believe that logic is a limiting system to finding wonderful creative solutions to complex and difficult problems.  They see creativity as a magic, inspirational, intuitive process that only can be stifled by the drab, time-consuming, linear progression of logic.

Frankly, they’re not being logical.

Logic

Most of us fear what we don’t understand, and logic is no exception.  Far from being a limiting factor, logic can be the catalyst for actually dislodging the wonderful “Aha?” that lies imbedded in the recesses of the unconscious mind.

Logic is nothing more that conditional reasoning.  We start with a set of preconditions that must not be violated on our path to a solution; just as my carrying the umbrella on a sunny day did not violate the statement, “I always carry my umbrella when the weatherman says it’s going to rain.”  The fact that it is unreasonable of me to carry an umbrella on a sunny day is irrelevant.  “Reasonableness” or “rationality” are value judgments and only can mislead when applied to logic.

A logical train of thought must follow three rules:

1.  It must be sequential.  When going from A to Z, you must go from A to B, then B to C, and so forth.  You may not jump directly from A to C.

2.  Each step of the process must be correct.  If one of the steps violates the preconditions, the entire process is wrong.

3.  You may only use problem-relevant information.  We must stay within the boundaries and guidelines given by the criteria of the system.

Sounds pretty inflexible and uncreative, doesn’t it?  Now, let’s look at the creative process.  Although there are many definitions of creativity, we’ll use the one that’s commonly used by the anti-logic camp: “The creative process is a problem-solving act that involves a shift in perception--a sudden inspiration that develops a totally new way of looking at the problem.”

Non-logical?

For example:  A paper towel manufacturer wanted to increase sales, so they asked their designer to come up with a solution that would make the product more “personal.”  How do you make a mass-produced product, like a paper towel, deliver a “personal” message to millions of consumers?

The designer spent many sleepless nights working on that problem.  Finally, one morning while she was putting on her makeup, she realized that her mirror was a perfect example of what she was looking for.  Millions of people could own the same generic mirror, but each mirror would impart a unique message to its owner--the reflection of their own face.

Her first thought somehow put a mirror on the package, but she discarded this instantly as impractical.  Her next thought was the answer:  Create 12 patterns, one for each sign of the Zodiac.  People who purchased “their” sign saw the message as something intensely personal.  Since only 12 designs were needed, the “Astrological Towel” was a huge success, boosting sales without significantly increasing production costs.

On the surface, this creative process would seem the opposite of logic.  For example:

1.  It was nonlinear.  The designer jumped directly from a makeup mirror to astrology.

2.  One step was wrong.  She could not put a mirror on the towel or the packaging because the technology wasn’t available for her.

3.  She created relevance from the irrelevant information--the makeup mirror had nothing to do with paper towels.

A closer examination, however, shows that the designer could have used pure logic to reach the same solution.  In fact, the designer did not abandon logic; she simply redefined the parameters of the problem.  Instead of defining her task as making a paper towel “personal” to millions of people, she amended the boundary conditions to include the idea that the product simply should have the perception of uniqueness.  The parameters of the problem then would have included all such items or events that fit the conditions for “mass uniqueness”--birthdays, anniversaries, common first names, ethnic groupings, et cetera.

Because there are only 12 signs in the Zodiac, it would not have taken long for a solely logical process to reach the same solution.

How do we know this?  Because every result developed by the creative process can be backtracked using logic!  If it’s not possible to find a logic string that explains a creative burst, then the creative “solution” can’t possibly work as predicted.

You may argue that this is a conceptual non sequitur because the trick is to “create” the solution, not to use logic to rationalize it.  You may claim that it was only the mental foray that our marketing director took into the irrelevant that allowed the appropriate solution to present itself.

Preconditions

Every creative act reverses an underlying assumption that the problem solver has been making about the problem.  In other words, when there’s no logical answer, the creative person changes the question.

Remember the first rule of logic?  We start with a set of preconditions that must not be violated.  Very often it is the assumptions we make about these preconditions that constitutes the problem.  By changing the preconditions, the “creative” solution is inevitably the logical one.  The act of creativity is a confirmation, not a refutation, of the power of logic.

There are three unifying principles of creative and logical thinking:

1.  Logic may be unreasonable and irrational.

2.  There is always a logical path to every creative solution.

3.  Reversing the assumptions on which a logical argument is based may yield quite profound, unforeseen, and wonderful solutions, while preserving the integrity of the logical argument.

Those who try to separate logic and creativity are doomed to failure.  Logic is the tool with which we eat the meal.  If we don’t like steak, we don’t throw away the fork; we change our order.

It’s only logical.  

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