What a Vehicle Breakdown Taught Me About Creativity

Cartoon of two guys stuck in a van. One says, Maybe if we just give it a good car wash?

Recently, my family moved from Indiana to Arizona. For the first half of the trip, everything seemed to go according to plan. But as we were about to enter the Texas Panhandle, one of our two vans just lost it. Of all things, the power steering pulley broke.

We stayed two days in Shamrock, Texas while we waited for repairs. and we thought everything was fine. Then the same van overheated from Amarillo to Tucumcari, New Mexico. Once again, we found a garage to repair the ailing van. Alas, we limped through Albuquerque until the van gave up the ghost in Grants, New Mexico. It all sounds so simple now. But it was quite an ordeal. And guess what? I know next to nothing about cars!

Besides a great story for Spear family lore, this episode taught me a few things about creativity.

In a Crises, Nobody Wants to Brainstorm

Brainstorming sessions are fun when you can blurt out any idea, no matter how implausible or unrealistic. Flights of fancy are fun when you are relaxed. In a crises, creativity takes on a whole different feel. A crazy idea may give some humor to the situation… unless that’s all you have to offer. Then the one-liners can get quite annoying.

Knowledge Enhances Creativity

If your car breaks down, and you know little about cars, you have no idea what works and what doesn’t. You have a tendency to go with what you know. It’s like the old adage, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

That is why the more knowledge you have, the more creative you become. It gives you new tools for your mental arsenal. I wish I knew more about vehicle maintenance than how to give the car a good wash!

Limitation is the Basis of all Creativity

I wasn’t thinking at all about how to keep a van going until it was quite stationary. Suddenly, this limit gave me quite a creative problem to solve. The first time the van broke down, it was getting dark, it was a Saturday night, and the first five towing companies I called weren’t available. I got real creative pleading with one to go ahead and tow us that night.

Mechanics in small towns have to get creative. In each of the three shops I visited, I saw each do some amazing things with limited resources. Did any of them ever find the real problem? It’s hard to say. The van still hasn’t made it to Arizona. But we did. I’ll have to tell you how the story ended some time. Stay tuned!

If you need to jump-start your creativity, here is what I recommend:

  1. Acknowledge you have a problem to solve before you start brainstorming. Make sure no one feels threatened or in danger. It’s hard to take flights of fancy when you feel pressured.
  2. Get all the knowledge you can. (and not just on from the Internet!)
    1. Go to libraries
    2. Visit art museums
    3. Find out what makes an engine tick, for crying out loud!
  3. Realize limits can enhance your creativity. In fact, all creativity begins from some kind of limit.

Author: Kevin Spear

I am a marketing professional with a design flair, based in Clayton, Ohio. I specialize in digital and content marketing that increases brand awareness for small businesses and nonprofits.