Being creative means coming up with many useful ideas. This ability can be considered a natural trait that someone has, and an outsider could say, “I am not that creative”, or “I will never be able to come up with those kinds of ideas”. I argue that creativity at an individual level can be learned and grown. You don’t need job experience to say that you’ve had creative experience, nor a job can magically make you more creative.

Good ideas in fiction and in retrospect seem like something that comes to you. Consider the anecdote of Archimedes, for example. Archimedes discovered how to obtain the relative density of gold, he yelled “Eureka!” when noticing that the level of his bath rose when he got in. Another anecdote is when Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head. We get the impression that good ideas somehow come to us at chance, like a leprechaun with a pot of gold vanishing into a rainbow. But you make your own luck.

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will surely type the complete works of William Shakespeare. It turns out that actual monkeys are not random generators, and when they actually tried this as an experiment, monkeys urinated and defacated on the keyboard and broke it, making further work impossible. Anyways, just like the infinite monkey theorem, more effort dedicated to creativity will result in more creativity. But ideas can’t be typed from a keyboard, so how do I generate new ideas? And, if I had a million ideas, how do I know which ones are the good ones?

The problem of not having good ideas can be broken down into

  1. Coming up with lots of ideas
  2. Selecting which ideas are better than others

I can’t go over all the ways of coming up with new ideas, but let me tell you about one way that tends to generate some good ideas. It’s called recombination, and I’ll use cooking as an example. Cooking has recipes. Each recipe specifies ingredients and processes that at the end of the process, the outcome will be delicious. How do you come up with new recipes?

First step in recombination is to break down the recipe into its components, break down some other recipe into their components, then combine the different parts of those recipes into a new recipe. For example, suppose that we have the recipe for sushi and another for pasta. Take a pair of scissors and cut the ingredient part of pasta out, and the steps part of sushi. Put the ingredient part of pasta on top of the sushi part of pasta, and KABAM! You have a new recipe. Italian Sushi.

Typical ingredients for pasta:

  • Bacon
  • Tomatoes
  • Cheese
  • Rigatoni
  • Herbs

Typical steps for sushi:

  1. Shape the starch
  2. Cut a slice of the protein
  3. Put the protein on the starch
  4. Optionally apply sauce

This would result in a rigatoni (the tube shaped pasta) stuffed with bacon, in tomato and herb sauce, topped with melted cheese. Chopsticks mandatory.

Congratulations, you are now creative. Alternatively, you can swap out single components of recipes. For the pasta, substitute in rice. For the sushi, substitute the fish with cold cuts. There are many possibilities for recombination with just these two recipes.

Another way to recombine for a recipe is to take some ingredients and make flavor pairings. Take one ingredient that you like, take another ingredient you like, and eat them together! Just like Ratatouille the movie. Let’s try it.

Tomato Carrot Onion Grape Cheese Sausage Rice Bread

Immediately, I notice that rice and bread together wouldn’t taste so good, because they are both starch. So we break down the list into starch and non-starch.


and so on.

abstraction synthesis cooking understand what cooking is and the components needed to make meals e.g. take a delicious thing and combine it with another delicious thing and sometimes it’s nice permutate make a circle of words out of a dozen food items you like make triangles that connect three out of the dozen guaranteed to come up with a new thing you’ve never eaten that is going to be delicious and for fun you can mix those words for a funky restaurant name //

use the analytical knife

Synthesis algorithm analytical knife into different ways for each kind of thing, come up with a few different things in that category combine work on the most interesting out of that list


break down into ingredients process

intredients into ethnic ingredients

process into different ways to process ‘em

You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.

//more complicated if you want to get more variety of ideas, use different frameworks such as

I use sweet sour bitter umami spicy salty for sauce

break down ingredients into carbs/fat/protein

break down process into flavor development / presentation

break down

selecting which ideas are better than others

most ideas are bad

criteria for idea selection

idea algorithm

perhaps the ones that rhyme or alliterate

perhaps the ones that other people like the most

to try it is the best way

give it a criteria


making it come to reality

people look at big software companies and say “it’s such a simple idea i could’ve come up with it myself”

like art

uber example vs former competition

“only if i had that idea first i would’ve been a billionaire like that guy” a case of better-than-average overconfidence

“it must have been a bad idea because it failed”

not looking at the whole picture

an idea doesn’t become reality linearly

problem of too many ideas

synthesis isn’t the only way to be creative, but it’s one very effective way for one person to come up with a bunch of fresh ideas

e.g. improv “be funny” is harder than “You are now the cuddle master for a group of car salesmen from five different continents”

Filling out a form that gives direction to writing is easier than a blank piece of paper

creativity in combination with rigor is much more powerful than without

Some processes are more effective at the context

creativity as synthesis combine stuff and BOOM people call you creative we can’t actually create anything out of nothing everything is a remix