Combinatorial Creativity

Maria Popova is the editor and creator of interestingness at Brain Pickings.

Debbie Millman is the inquisitive mind and voice behind Design Matters.

(Note: you can skip directly to the “combinatorial creativity” section of the audio above if you prefer.)

Maria Popova explores the idea of “combinatorial creativity” on her blog in myriad contexts and ways. One of her head-on looks at the idea is highlighted here:

“[Combinatorial creativity is the] idea that in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new castles.

Kind of LEGOs. The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become. Because if we only have one color and one shape, it greatly limits how much we can create, even within our one area of expertise.” ~ Maria Popova (

Diversity and cross-pollination. Abundance. Filtered. Curated. Reconstructed. Yes!

“Now, implicit to this idea of combinatorial creativity is the admission is that nothing is truly original, at least not in the sense of being built from scratch, and that can be hard. There’s a lot of resistance in the creative ego to that idea. But there is plenty of evidence for this ecosystem of influences and inspirations.” ~ Maria Popova (

Resistance indeed. Creators are held up as little gods. Alchemists. Magicians. But creators are more like gardeners, drawing upon the composted richness of the universe to grow plants and flowers and fruits…

I’ll wrap up with this distilled wisdom that rings true-true for me.

“I believe creativity itself is the original open-source code.” ~ Maria Popova (

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