I have an astonishingly bad memory. On the plus side, I'm more creative than most civilians. I think the two are connected. That's my hypothesis for today.

I'm good at remembering concepts, systems, ideas, and generally how things flow and fit together. But I don't have a trace of photographic memory in which one can remember exact conversations, phone numbers, names, and other matters of objective fact. I also can't remember directions to a new place until I've been there a hundred times. It's inconvenient as hell.

In school, I could force myself to remember topics for tests, but it only lasted as long as the test. At home, we have a lot of conversations about what I might have heard or said at some specified time in the past and it almost never sounds vaguely familiar. Sometimes it feels as if someone else lived my life until this very moment and now I'm taking over.

The way I perceive the act of creativity while it happens in me is as a process of forgetting, not a process of creating. The mind is not capable of having zero thoughts, so when you flush whatever is in your head at the moment it creates a sort of vacuum that sucks in a new thought. In my case, that process of forgetting and then sucking in a new thought happens continuously. My memory isn't "sticky," so what comes in slides right back out in a nanosecond. Sometimes a new thought is worth writing down, which I either do right away or lose it forever. Usually the new idea is random garbage and it passes quickly, making room for the next idea. My mind feels like a slot machine that I can't stop pulling. Sometimes the diamonds line up, but not often.

My question for readers is this: Do any of you have a combination of excellent memory for facts/dialog/numbers while also possessing commercial grade creativity? My hypothesis is that none of you will have that combination.
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+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 18, 2012
I can relate to having lousy short-term memory. But I don't view it as being the source of my creativity, its more the other way around.
If you can creatively come up with solutions to problems on the spot, then you lose the incentive to remember the details of solving these problems because you'll figure out the solution next time. As a result, my memory becomes very selective as to what it wants to remember. What it seems to favor, is exactly what you descrived, Scott: concepts, systems, ideas, and generally how things flow and fit together. Its like I remember the map, but not the directions (because I don't really need them).

This can come off as arrogance to many people who don't understand. I become extremely impatient when somebody is describing details, when all I want to know is the big picture. Its like I am constantly judging peoples words as to whether their relevant or not, and purge them from memory if I don't think the information is useful to me. Happens often during conversations, unfortunately.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 18, 2012
I haven't.

But I don't think it's forgetting. I think it's that the stuff gets processed much more and toyed with and taken apart and reduced to the bits you (think you) need for being creative.

Personally I have given up fighting "I said/you said" battles.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 18, 2012
One advantage of having poor memory is that you can enjoy a joke or a riddle more than once. I have commercial grade creativity (I think, because not yet commercialized) and very poor with memory - just like Scott.

Word to word, I could have written this post in my own blog and meant every word in it - including the details on difficulty with the tests. I would have hypothesized the co-relation as well.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 18, 2012
I have a really good memory. Like, really good. I remember conversations I've had with people word for word. Even through grad school I rarely had to study for a test. I remember tiny details years later.

I'm also pretty creative. I took a lot of art classes in school. I've done metalsmithing, drawing, and painting. I've written quite a few short stories. I'm really good at graphic design.

For me, my creativity comes from having a huge repository in my memory to draw from, and then being able to combine that in novel ways.
Aug 18, 2012
Scott, don't generalize. Creativity is a function of intellect and unbounded imagination. They aren't mutually exclusive. There is the right versus left brain theory, but it's just that. You're trying to make a complex subject simple.

But what's the point? Are you trying to quantify what makes someone creative? Let's put it in a beaker and boil it down to its essentials.

Give me a break. What's creative is. What's intellectually focused is. Let it be.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 17, 2012
I have commercial grade creativity, I'm a gallery artist and freelance illustrator. I have a great memory for words and conversations. I'm not great with numbers but when I put effort into it, it's not that hard. My memory for directions is not wonderful but not terrible.
Aug 17, 2012
Your hypothesis has the ring of truth to me -- I feel like I am very much the same way -- but I doubt that you'll get much real confirmation of it from anecdotal evidence. Asking people if they are creative is like asking if they are above average drivers, which, as the joke goes, 80% of people believe themselves to be. "Creative" is one of those positive-but-vague attributes that people feel safe applying to themselves because there isn't any real way to prove or disprove it.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 17, 2012
Having a bad memory used to be something to brag about in school amongst the "smart" people. If you're smart enough to understand the rules and the correlations, then you don't have to remember so much, something along those lines.

It wasn't untill much later in life that I realised that it isn't quite so smart to neglect your memory. Memory is like a muscle, it can be trained. Memory can't be too full; the more you remember, the better your memory gets, and the more you can add to it. If you don't use it, it gets weak, just like a muscle.

The really genius creative musicians and composers of the past were able to remember an incredible amount of information, and be creative at the same time.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 17, 2012
"Eidetic memory" is pseudo-science. It hasn't been proven to exist, even though proving it would be trivially simple and it's been claimed for thousands of different people for many decades now. If it did exist, surely it would have been proved by now. It's got to be regarded as having the same status as telepathy and other pseudo-science.

As for Scott's thesis. There's probably a correlation between creativity and tendency to think and remember in terms of "broad brush strokes". As a rule, people are at their least creative when they act like nitpicky pedants.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 17, 2012
I suppose you'd have to define "creativity." I think I'm creative, but often struggle to bring the more "arty" ideas to life in the way that a "commercially successful" author does. Not sure if that's an inherent limitation of talent or just a lack of refined practice, though.

I tend to have excellent pattern-recognition skills, which work well for things like navigation, games, or computer programming. I have a ridiculous short-term memory which borders on the eidetic - I can recite every shot for four players in my most recent 18-hole round of golf, or tell you what I was doing all day in 30 minute increments, tell you what I did every night for the last 2 weeks, etc., but it usually fades over time unless there's something exciting/interesting that makes part of that memory "sticky." My father tells me that's not remotely normal, but it always felt natural to me. I also seem to remember a lot of small random facts from long ago. On the other hand, I'm terrible at remembering faces, even of people I know well.

I did write a lot more in high school, but looking back on it, not much of it was really any good, so perhaps you're on to something. Then again, my instruction was mainly about form, which is probably why most of what I wrote was kind of stilted. Hard to say for sure - we all usually specialize, one way or another.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 17, 2012
I think your mileage will vary with this correlation. A counter-example: David Foster Wallace seems to have been able to remember tons and tons of details about a situation before creating an essay or novel from those details later. Jack Kerouac seems to have had a gift/curse for remembing full conversations, then later developing stories from them.

However, for data that supports your side, I possess a gift for remembering data along with commercial grade mediocrity.
Aug 17, 2012
If you define "commercial grade" as simply being paid for using the particular ability, then at least two of my occupations qualify for both memory and creativity.

First, as a design engineer I routinely create things from scratch using CAD, Excel, etc. while remembering details about a variety of other projects that are at various stages of development. Second, as a stage-actor I routinely remember large segments of dialog and create characters to fit the lines I have learned. I'm also somewhat musically inclined, being able to sing and also play the guitar, clarinet, and mandolin. (Not all at the same time, unfortunately.) I usually even have enough emotional energy left over to maintain relatively successful interpersonal skills.
Aug 17, 2012
Memory would seem to be much easier to quantify than creativity.

I wonder if creativity could be objectively measured by how quickly a person "gets" a joke. Because I'm thinking the mini-epiphany-followed-by-a-smile probably forms out of the same complex soup that creative ideas spring from. An experimenter could rig up lie detector-type equipment while having his subjects listen to jokes.

My mother died of Alzheimer's 2 years ago and the destruction of her memory seemed to be on-pace with the decline of her creativity. That doesn't really prove anything about the relationship of memory to creativity, I guess, because the disease is more like a wrecking ball to the brain. But now I wonder if any studies have been done on the decline of creativity in Alzheimer's patients.

Aug 17, 2012
Temple Grandin, PhD, is autistic, has eidetic memory, and is very creative. I believe there are other examples of autism, eidetic memory, and creativity in music and visual arts.
Aug 17, 2012
I am a radiologist and musician. Many of my colleagues in medicine also have similar artistic/musical talents.

+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 17, 2012
Ready to comment and then I thought, what are we talking about???

I am left-handed and have some sight issues and find myself creative, and terrible in some memory functions (including remembering how to drive to a specific location, remembering names, and if I had to close my eyes and then answer what I am wearing, I could not tell you). If somebody says to turn right at an intersection, I have to first visualize which hand I eat or write with to remember which is my left and which is my right.

As a software engineer I can "see" my code in the shower or while doing other things and find a problem/bug. But every time I go to my in-laws house, I have to ask my wife how to get there.

Somewhat off-topic but I feel that software "engineering" is not like most engineering professions. Most engineers, outside of software, you can ask them how to solve something in their discipline and you usually get a consistent answer. You ask 5 software engineers how to solve a problem and you typically get 7 different answers. So software engineering is a combination of engineering but a large part of it is creative/artistic.
Aug 17, 2012
I find I call upon my memory more often than creativity to do my job, but when I'm on vacation, the memory part of my brain is also on vacation and I find that's when I feel my most creative. I have all sorts of 'crazy' ideas, some of which might have been developed into something if I had more than a week off at a time.
Aug 17, 2012
Perfect pitch is correlated with near photographic (or eiditic) memory. People like Bernstein, Earl Wild, Sondheim have wonderful memories and are highly creative.

Perhaps it is only cartoonists who have the crappy memories along with their creativity? No... I know other cartoonists who have outstanding memories.

Maybe it's just you? And perhaps it isn't that you have a lousy memory, but only one that got lazy through inaction/inapplication.

It could be an rightie/leftie/ambidextrous thing as well. Or expectations (did your parents have good memories and expect you to as well?) as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lots of options.
Aug 17, 2012
I am wodnering: would you remember ALL Dibert ideas you ever published? (not the ones you rejected?)

I also judge myself as raher creative and reading old email makes me wonder about things ;)
Aug 17, 2012
I find that my memory is directly correlated with my mood. Specifically, when I go through cycles of depression, my memory goes in the crapper too. I'm able to retain trivial stuff (someday I'll be on Jeopardy) but I find I absolutely must write down work assignments or I'll skip them. Girlfriend gets really annoyed when I can't remember whatever it was that was so important that she interrupt whatever I'm watching on TV.
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