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CTMoment Creative thought to the rescue


Creative thought to the rescue
Or, how a plumber saved my father's life

Bones Rodriguez '94

If you’re like most people, you think plumbers are “uncreative.” The water goes, and when it stops, the plumber makes it go again. But what if I told you that a plumber who used creative thought is responsible for one of the most complicated medical procedures we have today, which has saved thousands of lives, including my dad’s?

Most people think that creative thought is for artists. They think artists are born with creativity, or are crazy, or are tuned into something divine. But what if I told you that it’s
harder to be “uncreative” than to be creative? What if I told you that your creativity has been beaten out of you for so long that you don’t even recognize it when it comes out?

As Keith Johnstone says in his brilliant book Impro, “It’s possible to turn unimaginative people into imaginative people at a moment’s notice.” He cites an experiment where “businessmen who had showed up as very dull on work-association tests were asked to imagine themselves as happy-go-lucky hippy types, in which persona they were retested, and showed up as far more imaginative.”

Most of us will dismiss creative ideas as fantasy or silliness. Most people are afraid of being judged, or afraid of failure, or afraid of success, so they never let their creativity flourish. But using creativity is the only way that problems are solved.

A long time ago, our ancestors had a problem transporting something long distances. Their creative thought gave us the wheel. When there was a problem of keeping records, creative thought gave us written language. It was creative thought that gave us the car, the plane, penicillin, law, money, the Internet. It works for the ordinary, everyday problem too—like the way you rearrange your closet so your pants can hang long instead of folded, or the way you drive through the supermarket parking lot in order to shave five seconds off of your commute.

Here’s what’s interesting: As creative as your mind may be, it can only create thoughts out of other thoughts. To tap into the power of creative thought, you must feed your mind many different ideas, from many different subjects. Where do your interests lie? What new ideas are you exposing yourself to? With the Internet, you can learn a variety of things on innumerable subjects.

For example, as a Star Trek fan, I recognized that many of my fellow Trekkies were socially challenged with the opposite sex, and I came up with the book Captain Kirk’s Guide to Women. When my friend Rick Kiley ’96 needed some good ideas for his event- marketing business, he used something he learned playing Xbox. Your brain uses whatever you feed it to come up with creative thoughts. All you have to do is feed it, and have courage to follow through. Are you paying attention to the creative impulses your mind sends you, or are you dismissing ideas as ridiculous and impossible?

Now here’s where the plumber saves my dad.

Heart surgery was thought to be impossible until Vivien Thomas, an African-American plumber, pursued his interest in medicine even though African-Americans weren’t allowed to formally study it. His creative thoughts, and the courage to pursue them, helped create cardiac bypass surgery, which saved my father’s life.

The world changes more quickly every day; new problems arise even before old ones are solved. It’s going to take a lot of people thinking creatively to lead the way to our new future. We can each choose to be one of them. Wanna?

Editor's Note: Got your own story about creativity? Your own take on how Creative Thought Matters? Submit your “CTMoment” to srosenbe@skid­ or to Scope Quarterly, Skidmore College, 815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.