Review of How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery – Kevin Ashton

Posted: July 15, 2015 in nonfiction, Review

How to Fly a Horse

Is creativity a gift only a few have? What separates the successful development of an idea from the unsuccessful? Are groups better at solving problems? Do masterpieces spring fully formed (or almost) from the mind of their creators? Kevin Ashton provides answers to these questions. The answers shouldn’t be surprising: no, perseverance, no and no.

Ashton’s book is a palliative to those self-help books that promise a quick fix, or threaten doom because you’ve not sent your child to the right school, social club or whatever. He starts by exploding the myth of Mozart creating most of his symphonies, concertos and other major opera more or less complete and without much effort. Like Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, the creation myth of which Ashton also punctures, the reality was careful construction, editing and rewrites. This is the secret to all the success stories Ashton investigates; a basic idea is built on, refined and developed until the final expression is right.

Creativity is not the preserve of the gifted few, though successful creation is the preserve of the persistent few. Ashton demonstrates through the use of examples the benefits of persistence, offering up the Wright Brothers as a prima facie case, along with several others. He also produces the example of the Edmond Albius, the slave responsible for the commercial viability of the vanilla orchid outside of its native environment. Nor is creativity enhanced by think-tanking or group brainstorming sessions. Individuals tend to throw up more solutions than groups of individuals.

Ashton has written a serious critique and how to manual for those keen to hone their creativity. Being a proof copy, it is in need of some minor corrections. And while he may seem to hammer away at the message, persist, repetition does get the message across and, perhaps more importantly, drive it home. Some of the examples used are a little obscure – mercifully I had heard of the vast majority, a reflection of my magpie interests – but they all illuminate the thesis of success derived from persistence and the coupling of small steps to arrive at the end point. As Ashton notes, every journey finishes with a single step.

Read. Digest. Apply.

William Heinemann

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve


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