It's time for some wisdom from Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher whom I consider to be the world's first creativity teacher. His words today are: "Knowing many things doesn't teach insight."
As with all of Heraclitus' ideas, there are many ways to interpret this. What stands out for me, though, is this creative strategy:
I think what he's getting at is this: forgetting what we know — at the appropriate time — can be an important means for gaining insight. This is illustrated in the story about a creativity teacher who invited a student to his house for afternoon tea. They talked for a while, and then it was teatime. The teacher poured some tea into the student's cup. Even after the cup was full, he continued to pour, and soon tea overflowed onto the floor.
Finally, the student said, "You must stop pouring; the tea isn't going into the cup." The teacher replied, "The same is true with you. If you are to receive any of my teachings, you must first empty out the contents of your mental cup." His point: without the ability to forget, our minds remain cluttered with ready-made answers, and we're not motivated to ask the questions that lead our thinking to new ideas.
For example, one day on his regular walk past the local blacksmith's workshop on the island of Samos, the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras temporarily forgot that the banging sounds produced by the smith's hammering of iron bars were "noise" — his usual reaction — and instead viewed them as "information." He soon discovered that musical pitch is a function of the length of the material being struck — his first principle of mathematical physics.
Remember: everyone has the ability to forget. The art is knowing when to use it. Indeed, novelist Henry Miller once stated:
to my success as my memory."
Some questions to think about:
What conventional wisdom are you relying on? What would happen if you forgot the obvious answers that spring to mind and searched for new ones?