Book Reviews Gold Stars

Review: Kevin Ashton’s How to Fly a Horse

The universe delivered Kevin Ashton’s book, How to Fly a Horse, to me in the form of work.

As part of first year orientation at the university where I work, students read the book. And I had the lucky opportunity to be a discussion facilitator. Which meant I, too, got to read the book.

As a creative who loves nothing more than seeing the process other creatives use to get to their ultimate goal, this book was fascinating. Ashton starts by debunking the age-old myth that creativity is limited to a chosen few who have some sort of divine powers. He then walks the reader through the idea that all people who are creating, whether a symphony, a novel, or an airplane, are doing so through steps.

One step at a time.

Through numerous illustrations from history and social science, Ashton unfalteringly argues his point. That’s right. No aha moments, no eureka in the bathtub, no light bulbs popping up out of thin air. Progress is made in inches, not feet.

Great examples of such a proclamation are the Wright brother’s planes. Ashton points out that if you look at each plane, year by year, you will see that each looks similar to the last, but with tweaks on the design. However, if you looked at their plane from say 1900 and their plane from 1903 they would look drastically different and it’s easy to miss the small changes in between. As Ashton puts it, “Orville and Wilbur Wright did not leap into the sky. They walked there one step at a time.”

The final product you see, whether a beautiful sculpture or a perfectly designed car is merely the culmination of many many steps.

So, dear reader, here is the secret: any one of us can create.

It is not a divine power. It is not decreed upon a select few. Any one of us has the power within to invent, construct, design. However, as Ashton so deftly points out, those who are successful at it work hard, bit by bit. “Creation is execution, not inspiration,” Ashton posits and I have to say I agree with him. An idea for a short story is not the same as actually sitting down and writing it.

What about originality, and the consequences of creation, and motivation? Ashton tackles those topics, too. By weaving social science research with examples from famous inventors, scientists, writers, and entrepreneurs, Ashton moves the reader through all aspects of creation, invention, and discovery. This is a must read for any creative wanting to feel saner about their process, looking for motivation, or desiring to learn from history.

And what happens if you don’t use the creative powers bestowed upon you? Ashton describes an indigenous people native to Luzon, the Ilongots, who believed that excessive passion without knowledge to channel it into creation was destructive. “Passion is the most extreme state of choice without reward,” Ashton writes. “Or rather, it is its own reward, an energy that is indifferent to outcomes, even when they include missed sleep, becoming poor, losing your friends, bleeding and bruising, even death.” So my friends if the argument that we all can create does not resonate, know this: if you don’t put your powers into action, you will likely be left destroying yourself or others.

And no one wants that.

Do us all a favor and get out there and create. I’m dying to see what you come up with.