The Creative Spark! – Flashy Trash

Have you ever saw greatness in something useless?

Nothing is trash. Not people. Not rotted food. Not foul words. Trash amounts to mere misuse of something valuable. Or mere misunderstanding. After all, someone’s trash is someone’s treasure.

In genetics exists something called “junk DNA.” In other words, part of your DNA is misunderstood as worthless. But new theories argue that junk DNA contains hidden treasures. As I say, nothing is trash.

Years ago, I threw out junk during a move. At the back-alley trash can, an old woman fondled a garment I had chucked. Her eyes wide, she sighed, hugged the cloth, and tucked it in her bag. She muttered, “Beautiful,” and nodded at me. As she strolled away, I could see more of my trash poking out of her oversized handbag.

Maybe my junk held value. So, let’s look at something with no apparent value: vomit. On a stroll in the park, a woman unleashed her dog. He ran headlong toward a puddle of puke, and snacked away. The woman felt sickened for hours. As for the furry guy, he gobbled gourmet Gumbo.

Even mold in petri dishes once got trashed. That is, until someone saw its value: Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin (as cited in Ness). Fleming found usefulness in the gross. Because of Fleming’s discovery, your chance of surviving pneumonia shot sky high.

A decade ago, I found value in a devastating flood. Water rose halfway up my calves. Traffic jammed. Cars crashed into sound barriers. But I stumbled on science. Mad science. Refractions and reflections of street lights excited me. Long ribbons of light laced every road-lane. Some saw doomsday; I saw a Christmas lightshow in summer.

Over time, I saw opportunity in mere reflections. You see, reflections behave like gizmos. For one, some reflections hold color and throw heat. For another, reflections sit in physical space—locatable when they move in harmony with, say, a tree as you sway side to side. But most of all, reflections brim with untapped power. Let me explain. On a rainy day, I saw a handrail’s reflection on a sidewalk morph into a sine wave as I moved. This wave glowed and flowed like electricity as I pedaled over it. Solar power on steroids, anyone?

Observe what others overlook. That’s one way to find value in the useless, the gross, or the scary. After all, nothing is junk.

Dr. Rebecca Ness exposes the power of observation in her book Innovation Generation: How to Produce Creative and Useful Scientific Ideas. Learn how to look for discoveries; discover what others overlook. Ness show how:

• To stumble on discovery, you need more than everyday observation. You need to see like a star.
• Your senses get bombarded every day. Hundreds of colors, sounds, and moving things surround you always. Yet, you focus on a few at a time. You see, if you ride a Volvo, you might notice many Volvos, but few Mercedes. If your house is built from boulder rock, you might see many boulder rock buildings, but few glass towers. In other words, you see from your “frames.”
• But when you travel abroad, your senses heighten. You soak up details you’d normally overlook. [When you go hard in the gym, colors and sounds intensify. Food tastes more tantalizing, too.]
• So, learn to observe better. Do so by learning to draw: turn a photo upside down and draw it. Or draw an object’s outline without looking at your paper. Or draw the negative space around the object—and not the object itself. Train your eyes.
• Flemings noticed that mold dissolved bacteria. Others saw the petri dish mold, but they took no heed. Instead, they trashed the petri dishes. Yet, Flemings took his finding further, and discovered penicillin.
• When you find something unexpected, pay attention. Or when something bugs you, fix it.
• If you want to win a Nobel prize, look closer at your surroundings.

And don’t overlook trash.

Once I found a broken pair of glasses on a sidewalk. I wore them. Later I went to a comedy club and got ushered on stage. The glasses? A smash hit. A paradox? I call it a creative spark!

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