Rocket Science, Brain Surgery and… Art?

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do that!” the common phrase goes. “C’mon man, this isn’t brain surgery after all.”

I started wondering why these two disciplines – rocket science and brain surgery – are so highly regarded. They both involve tremendous precision, years of study, mathematical calculations, complex directions, excessive memorization, and level-headedness under intense pressure. In other words, it’s like the Left-Brain Olympics. The X-Games of Logical, analytical, linear thinking.

Why don’t we attribute the same statue to creative, Right-Brain practices? You don’t hear people saying, “You don’t have to be a film producer to do that!” or “C’mon man, this isn’t haiku composition after all”.

Is it more difficult and challenging to do repetitive, linear tasks? Should these be valued more in society than abstract, non-linear, imaginative disciplines? Personally, I think we have it backwards. Steve Jobs had the imagination and creativity to dream up the iPod, which was a much more significant accomplishment than merely engineering the circuit board. Edison invented the light bulb, a breakthrough of much more impact than the accountants who tally the corresponding profits.

Certainly we need brain surgery, rocket science, mechanical engineering, and actuaries. But let’s stop devaluing the incredible impact produced by inventors, artists, musicians, dancers, photographers, poets, and other “creative types”. Who is to say that rocket science is more difficult than jazz improvisation? Who is to say that brain surgery is more difficult and challenging than writing a brilliant movie script? Who is to say that supply-chain engineering is more difficult than composing a beautiful symphony?

All progress – in business, society, family, and life – requires both aspects of human intelligence. The duality of linear, analytical, computational thinking and abstract, non-linear, imaginative thought. It’s time to celebrate creativity on the same level as detailed memorization. It’s time to raise innovation and original thought to the same stature as precision and computation.

So the next time someone says, “This isn’t rocket science, you know” you should reply, “Yeah. It isn’t painting a masterpiece with oil on canvas either!”