Friday, August 25, 2017

Who Inspired Alex Osborn?

History may  have been kinder to me, if I'd written it.

Based on numbers of book editions, copies printed and sold, Alex Osborn inspired millions of people to become more creative. But who, or what, inspired Alex Osborn? His books are filled with ideas and opinions, supported by stories and quotes, so perhaps we can discover who he admired and learned from.

In the introduction to Your Creative Power; Osborn gives thanks and credit to nearly two dozen people and specifically mentions the books they wrote;
  • Julius Boraas (Teaching to Think)
  • Alexis Carrel (Man the Unknown)
  • James B. Conant (On Understanding Science)
  • Robert P. Crawford (Think for Yourself)
  • Paul de Kruif (The Microbe Hunters)
  • John Dewey (How We Think)
  • Ernest Dimnet (The Art of Thinking)
  • William H. Easton (Creative Thinking)
  • Joseph Jastrow (Effective Thinking)
  • T. Sharper Knowlson (Originality)
  • Matthew Thompson McClure (How to Think in Business)
  • Johnson O’Connor (Ideaphoria)
  • Harry Allen Overstreet (Let Me Think)
  • James Harvey Robinson (Mind in the Making)
  • C. Spearman (Creative Mind)
  • Graham Wallas (The Art of Thought)
  • J. F. Dashiell
  • Floyd C. Dockeray
  • Fryer and Henry 
  • A. T. Poffenberger 
  • F. Wayland Vaughan
  • W. B. Wiegand

Which of these authors did Osborn rely on most heavily? Consulting the Index and searching the text reveals his favorites;
  • Thomas Edison - 23 mentions
  • James B Conant, - 16 mentions
  • Alexander Graham Bell -10 mentions
  • Dr. Alexis Carrel - 7 mentions
  • Paul de Kruif, Paul - 7 mentions
  • Dr. R. W. Gerard - 6 mentions
  • Walt Disney - 6 mentions
  • Henry Ford - 6 mentions
  • Ray Giles - 6 mentions
Thomas Edison's contributions relate to the value of first hand experience, persistence, cautions about perfectionism and stubbornness, the value of optimism, self-confidence and courage, not fearing failure, dealing with discouragement, the value of curiosity, quizzes and puzzles, the principe of substitution, multi-tasking, luck, building on the work of others, and being open to all possibilities.

Osborn used Conant to illustrate the value of creative imagination, lots of wild ideas, withholding judgement, role reversals and time travel in ideation, following thru on accidental discoveries, the tradeoffs of working singly or in groups, the power of science in creative activity, the value of precision in experimentation, iteration, and the power of mixing science and liberal arts.

From Bell, Osborn learned that age need not be a damper to creativity, The Rule of 3 in self-education (Observe, Remember, Compare), the need for new facts, being cross-disciplinary and cross cultural, and the importance of finding out things for one's self.

Dr. Carrel emphasized the value of awareness, curiosity; pursuing the "impossible and unknowable," and persistence.

Osborn seems to have used de Kruif as a philosophical counterweight, as his quotes are typically about some great inventors being arrogant and overly confident.

Gerard emphasized the value of analysis in the creative process.

Disney was used to illustrate the power of what Osborn termed vicarious imagination, the importance of exercising your imagination like a muscle, exaggeration and transposition in ideation.

Henry Ford was used to illustrate that there is value in imagination other than money, that lateral thinking can lead to success, the importance of persistence and creative leadership.

Ray Giles also advised to be persistent in the face of discouragement, asking "Why not...?", recording everything and going for quantity in ideation and asking various forms of "What if..."; "What new use...", "What other use..." and "How might we..." questions.

This list of ideas and suggestions which inspired Osborn and which he used to illustrate the chapters of his book provide a useful reference to anyone interested in expanding and enhancing their creative problem solving skills.

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