Creativity and rock candy

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Did you ever, as a kid or a parent, do the science experiment where you dissolved a bunch of sugar in water and then tried to make rock candy?

Rock candy

I’ve done it both as a kid and as a parent, and it’s gratifying either way. But here’s what I noticed as a kid and had to explain as a parent: when you place the supersaturated sugar solution in a sunny window to slowly begin evaporating, putting it in a glass with nothing else makes crystallization take a really long time, on the order of days.

When you place the solution in the same window with a pencil across the top and a bit of string in the water, crystallization happens much sooner, within hours.

When you place the solution in the same window, with the pencil and string, but you moisten the string and roll it in sugar before you dip it in the solution, crystallization happens within minutes.

The reason why is simple science: crystals grow best when they have a point to start from. The stronger that starting point, the faster they grow.

This simple truth applies to more than just kids’ science projects. Creativity works the same way. Ever stare at a blank page for minutes, not even knowing where to start? That’s the equivalent of a sugar solution with no string at all. Your ideas will crystallize much more slowly. Why wait? Put something, anything on that page or that blog post to start. Copy and paste something random out of Wikipedia. Copy and paste some tweets. But get something – anything – to be that little bit of string that your ideas can grow off of.

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