Posted by: Ray Brescia | July 13, 2018

On Liquid Paper, the Nature of Creativity, and the Fierce Urgency of Now

In an important and long-overdue series, the New York Times is running the obituaries of women over the years who had previously been overlooked in the Paper of Record’s coverage.  Recently, the paper published the obituary of Bette Nesmith Graham, the inventor of that office staple of the analog age: Liquid Paper.  Two things stand out from the obituary.

First, Graham was a struggling office secretary who wasn’t very good at the main task of her job: typing.  She struggled to keep her work accurate and held onto her job only tenuously as a result.  But she was also an artist.  She combined her knowledge of tempura paints with her need to solve the problem of covering up her typing errors to come up with the brilliant invention that would not only keep her off the unemployment lines but also make her millions over the course of her lifetime.  It is this ability to combine different ideas from different fields that is at the very essence of creativity.  As Steve Jobs once put it: “Creativity is just connecting things.”

Second, necessity is the mother of invention.  If Graham wanted to keep her job, she needed to find a way to cover up her mistakes.  That drive motivated her to bring her creative insights from another domain to solve the problem she faced, and without her back up against the wall, perhaps she never would have put in the time and mental energy to come up with her invention.  This is similar to J.K. Rowling’s admission, impoverished and living on welfare as she wrote her epic tale of wizarding, that “rock bottom” became the foundation on which she would propel her career.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., called this notion the “fierce urgency of now”:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.

In a world on fire, those interested in social justice, fairness, and equality must embrace the fierce urgency of now and mine the creativity within us, wherever it may lie (and it lies in all of us), to use what tools we have to make the world a little more just, a little more sane, a little more fair.


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