Creative people have messy brains. Their imaginations are messy. Why? Because they don’t want to throw anything out.  Why don’t they want to throw anything out? Because they believe on some level that there is always something of interest or value in whatever they encounter. 

They know enough about how mysterious and serendipitous and unpredictable the creative process is that they realize that it’s dangerous to make too hasty a judgment about the value of anything that they come across. 

People in noncreative universes have exactly the opposite relationship to information or to experiences. They’ll see something and they’ll say, is it relevant to what they're doing, and if it’s not they should push it aside and focus on what their task is. 

If you were at Proctor & Gamble and you’re the head of Ivory soap your job is to sell more soap and if you get distracted by some interesting, but ultimately marginal, subsidiary issue you won’t sell as much soap. That is an extreme example, but that is a world that demands focus. If you’re a surgeon and you’re operating you cannot let your imagination wander about some idiosyncrasy of the operation. You have to zero-in. 

So I think that embracing messiness and understanding that it is a contribution to the creative process is something that writers and creative types have got to cultivate. They have to learn to be comfortable with this because it goes against a lot of our instincts and training as educated people.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.