It would seem that in today’s popular culture creativity is often associated with some sort of innate ability or inherited trait. Yet, such is not only misinformation, it’s nonsense. Each and every one of us holds the ability to make things better, to improve our lives, to innovate. I think that perhaps the reason so many do not believe themselves to be creative is because of this ridiculous notion that only those who are born with “it” can be creative. The fact is that creativity, like anything else, is the product of effort, of trying to be successful. When entrepreneurs create a product, it did not simply spring to mind in its entirety. Rather, said entrepreneur had an idea, an idea others have likely had, to be honest, and then he/she acted on it. It is the action here that distinguishes the would-be entrepreneur from the million dollar man. The million dollar man tried, failed, tried and failed again, and then tried again and again until they triumphed.
My preface aside, this is largely what How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery concerns. The author, Kevin Ashton, does a brilliant job of illustrating an abundance of man’s major breakthroughs and backing up said breakthroughs with the facts that led up to it. Spoiler alert: they were not spontaneous. They took years and years of effort from seemingly “average” individuals who displayed resilience, not genius.
In describing these various stories, Ashton exposes the facts behind the fiction, the truth behind the legends. Beginning his book with a tale of Mozart composing entirely in his head, as though his masterpieces are some sort of spontaneous creation and his committing notes to paper a mere record of what has already occurred, Ashton soon proves that creativity is the product of time and effort. Creation is work and Ashton manages to elaborate upon this fact with meticulous attention to detail, narrating with to-the-point prose and an engaging voice.
Yet, while the book is certainly worth reading, you could also just read the first chapter and understand the entire point. In fact, Ashton’s plot structure of moving from story-to-story to merely articulate the same exact message over and over again can be a bit tedious; and to be frank, I kept hoping the book would develop into something more. It didn’t.
Regardless, ultimately, I recommend it. How To Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery is certainly inspiring, and does a wonderful job of bringing a very real, tangible, measurable dimension to creativity. We are all “ordinary,” but with one extraordinary accomplishment, we become a legend.