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Creativity and Combinatorial Thinking in Arts, Science and Commerce

Summary:
In most narratives of my background, sports play a prominient role -- both the playing and the coaching -- and indeed they have.  Baseball was my first love, I was good at football, LOVED basketball, and enjoyed greatly competing in tennis (both individually in tournaments and with my college team).  Sports have shaped much of my thinking about everything. But between the ages of 12-15, I was also obsessed with music -- percussion to be exact.  My Aunt Lol married late in life to George Hotte, and my Uncle George put himself through college playing drums in a jazz band.  He had a drum set in their house and would perform.  I became totally intrigued.  My Uncle pointed me to Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, and had me listen to them on his reel to reel machine. So my parents bought me a

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In most narratives of my background, sports play a prominient role -- both the playing and the coaching -- and indeed they have.  Baseball was my first love, I was good at football, LOVED basketball, and enjoyed greatly competing in tennis (both individually in tournaments and with my college team).  Sports have shaped much of my thinking about everything.

But between the ages of 12-15, I was also obsessed with music -- percussion to be exact.  My Aunt Lol married late in life to George Hotte, and my Uncle George put himself through college playing drums in a jazz band.  He had a drum set in their house and would perform.  I became totally intrigued.  My Uncle pointed me to Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, and had me listen to them on his reel to reel machine. So my parents bought me a drum set which we set up in the basement, and my Mom arranged for lessons.  My instructor played in a rock band, and so we progressed quickly from drills on a drum pad to teaching me how to play my drum set.  I started with learning the basics from Ringo Starr and from Charlie Watts.  This got me started and I participated in orchestra, jazz band, and in a neighborhood rock band.  We played Beatles, we played Rolling Stones, we played Deep Purple.  But things started to get interesting when my instructor asked me to learn the drum solo from Iron Butterfly's In A Gadda Da Vida, which I faithfully practiced and practiced.

From there, he pointed me to bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer and King Crimson, and drummers like Ginger Baker, Carl Palmer, and Bill Bruford.  This shifted my musical tastes.  Now I was interested not in standard 4/4 rock bets, but anything with unusual syncopations. So music such as Supper's Ready by Genesis.

At the same time since I was a kid, I always enjoyed listening to female singers, starting with Joni Mitchell, but also Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, and this fascination continued later with performers such as Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, and Sarah McLachlan.  But, what really fascinated me and continues to do so, is an artist such as Tori Amos, who blends what I consider a powerful and beautiful voice with unusual syncopations -- listen, for example, to Precious Things or Caught a Lite Sneeze.

This is just one illustration of what I think is the greatest source of creativity in arts, science and commerce -- combinatorial thinking.  Folks mix and match things which others never thought of mixing and matching.  Rarely, if ever, I would argue is creativity something that emerges out of nothing.  Ray Kroc didn't invent the cheeseburger, or the milk shake, or the french fry, nor did he invent drive-through food. But he did figure out a way to combine things in a way that previously hadn't been done.  And, that is also true of "original thinkers" such as Einstein and Feynman, and painters such as Picasso and Pollock.  

This is also true for original thinking among economists.  So in so many ways creativity is just a matter of "scribbling, scribbling and bibbling, and bibbling and scribbling."

Peter Boettke
Peter Joseph Boettke (January 3, 1960) is an American economist of the Austrian School. He is currently a University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University; the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, Vice President for Research, and Director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at GMU.

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