Combine Two Things, Part 2: The Chemistry of Creativity

The other day I saw a Tweet that I loved. It named periods of innovation in various sectors, each of which had a profound impact on society:


The creator of this chart came up with four sectors of innovation based on a series of inventions. I made a similar list without the research to back it up, for a creativity and innovation workshop a while back that named:

  • Transportation (1890s-1900s)
  • Automobile (late 1940s-mid 1960s)
  • Film (1960s)
  • Music (1950s -1980s)
  • Airlines (50s-60s)
  • Computing (90s-00s)

What’s interesting to me though isn’t the “golden eras”, per se, but what spawned them.

A few weeks ago I posted that creativity and innovation happen when we combine two passions together. It’s not just any two things, though, and it doesn’t happen every time. But sometimes the combining creates a reaction that drives incredible new innovation and growth. It’s chemical, almost. Call it the chemistry of creativity.

My son likes to play a computer game called Little Alchemy. Here, you can try it now. You start with four basic elements – earth, fire, water, air – and you begin dragging them on top of one another to cool new things. For example, water and air create rain. Rain and earth creates plant. And so on. Hundreds of combinations. You eventually can go to space. It’s so cool.

When you find the right combination of two things, the effects are generational. That’s not hyperbole. They really are. It’s what I called Big I innovation in a previous post.

For example, Elvis combined pop culture crooning with gospel and jazz culture drums and bass. Bob Dylan combined guitars with bohemian beat culture lyrics. Then Bob Dylan combined that with electric guitars. The music industry exploded because people kept going, cool, let’s combine This and That! Like Mentos and Diet Coke, the reactions were legendary. (Who discovered that, BTW, and did they ingest both at once? Yikes.)

Every great period of creativity and innovation, regardless of industry, begins with a crazy combination of two unexpected things. What two things can you combine? Can you name any?

Which leads to the obvious: what This and That can you combine? What two things could you try to mix together, that no one else has tried, to see what happens?

I’m excited and a little nervous at my church/workplace because we’re about to combine “contemporary” worship music (rock band) and traditional worship venue (pews and concert hall) in a way that hasn’t been done. It could be a disaster, or it could be a chemical reaction that explodes in growth.

I’d love to hear your ideas about creative reactions.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).