Einstein thought “Combinatory Play” was the secret of genius and the essential feature in productive thought.
“Combinatory Play,” he says, comes about as a result of the collection of cross-disciplinary building blocks we amass — knowledge, memories, bits of information, sparks of inspiration, and other ideas — and then combine and recombine. The process occurs mostly unconsciously, and results in something “new.”
We build an infrastructure of “own” “original” ideas.
This concept is shared by many great minds.
Mathematician and network scientist Samuel Arbesman explored how Gutenberg’s printing press embodied the power of combinatorial creativity in his book In The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date.
In it he details how Gutenberg combined a host of technologies and innovations from an wide variety of areas. For example, metallurgical developments were used to create metal type that had a consistent look and could be easily cast, which allowed for whole pages to be printed at once. And chemical innovations were used to create a higher quality ink than had previously been in use.
T. S. Eliot believed that the poet’s mind incubates fragmentary thoughts into beautiful ideas.
Arthur Koestler’s famous theory of “bisociation” explained creativity through the combination of elements that don’t ordinarily belong together.