Lost and Found: The Secret Spices of Creativity

If you read my (yet to be) book The Creativity Operating System, you can quickly notice just how much I love Hamilton. When I saw the show in London, I fell in love before even knowing just how much it is connected to my model of Creativity. I didn’t know anything about it before entering the theatre (which is a whole different story), and I was full of awe when I saw it. And the feeling hasn’t faded away since.

Hamilton is an excellent and extensive case study of how Creativity works. The story of its creation is a story full of marvel. It is an ultimate example of just how magical Creativity is.

One small example from behind the scenes of Hamilton demonstrates this magical chaos. It is not a life-changing example. It’s not a breakthrough in any sense. But it is an excellent example of how small things — things other people will quickly dismiss or ignore — can be combined to form a masterpiece, even if you are not aware of them when you see the end result. Rest assured, in the grander scheme of things, this concrete example might have negligible impact. Hamilton would have been a huge creative success with or without it. But, what makes the creation of Hamilton such a magical story is that it is made of numerous such gems.

In an interview from 2016, Alex Lacamoire, the musical director of Hamilton, shared some details and background stories about the musical arrangements of the show. What I found striking in this interview is how different bits of inspiration found their way into the music. If you’ve seen the show or heard the soundtrack, it is impossible to ignore the numerous references to hip-hop songs as well as musicals. Sometimes these references are evident — you notice them immediately, and indeed you are meant to. At other times, they are well hidden, so you might recognize them only on second or third listening.

But there are other types of inspirations that no one would ever be able to recognize. These are references only the people deeply involved in this creation can recall (assuming they were used consciously, and undoubtedly there are many other unconscious bits of inspiration). Alex Lacamoire describes one such inspiration here. In one of Lin-Manual Miranda’s demos, Alex says, there used to be a sound of a door squeak. Somehow, it was a perfect fit with the song, and so Lin came up with the idea to convert this squeak into a musical phrase. Later, this musical phrase reappeared in other numbers, each time with a slightly different variation.

What could be more magical (let alone chaotic, random, and unpredictable) than that? Random noise on a demo tape becomes a key musical phrase, which sets the tone for multiple numbers throughout the show. It’s nothing short of amazing. And that is really the essence of Creativity. It is random and unpredictable, but you have to be tuned into identifying such beautiful opportunities. Someone less attentive could have created a fantastic musical too. Maybe. But the more sensitive you are to such random inspirations, the more you can see them as bits in the jigsaw puzzle of your creation. And with each such inspiration, your creation becomes more magical.

One of the Observe Function’s Core Practices is Don’t Dismiss Anything, and that door squeak is the ultimate example of that. Who would have thought a random interference could become so meaningful in the musical composition. It takes a solid and flexible set of creative skills — a unique Creativity Operating System — to see the potential of what others might consider useless (if they notice it at all).

Be attentive. Observe. Don’t dismiss anything, even if you can’t see how it could be used today. Be a collector. All creative people are.

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