Creativity Is Intelligence Having Fun

Albert Einstein? George Scialabba? Joey Reiman? John C. Maxwell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An invigorating comment about creativity is often credited to the universally recognized scientific genius Albert Einstein:

Creativity is intelligence having fun.

Are these really the words of Einstein?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein who died in 1955 made this remark. The most comprehensive reference about the physicist’s pronouncements is the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, and the expression is absent. 1

QI hypothesizes that the saying evolved from the concluding sentence of a March 1984 article titled “Mindplay” in “Harvard Magazine”, an alumni publication. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun.

The article author was George Scialabba who graduated from the prestigious university with the class of 1969. Later he joined the staff and began writing essays and book reviews for a wide variety of periodicals.

After publication the expression was disseminated and streamlined; in addition, the word “imagination” was replaced by “creativity” as shown in the chronologically ordered selected citations below.

Great thanks to researcher Barry Popik for his pioneering work on this topic.

In October 1984 the correct statement and ascription appeared in the “Reader’s Digest” magazine on a page of miscellaneous sayings under the title “Quotable Quotes”. 3

Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun.
— George Scialabba in Harvard Magazine

In October 1985 the remark and ascription were printed in “The Charlotte Observer” of Charlotte, North Carolina. 4

In 1992 a self-help book titled “Success: The Original Hand Book” by Joey Reiman employed a variant using the word “creativity” instead of “intelligence”. Reiman, a prominent advertising and marketing specialist, provided no ascription, and he may have constructed the altered saying: 5

People always ask me, “How do you come up with those wild advertising ideas?” And I always say something very mystical, like I had a flash in the shower or God appeared. The fact is that my brain goes out to play. That’s what creativity is — intelligence having fun.

In 1994 the original saying continued to circulate in “The Gettysburg Times” of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The word “perhaps” was deleted, and the name of the coiner was slightly misspelled: 6

“Imagination is only intelligence having fun.”
George Scialabbe

Also in 1994 the National Inventive Thinking Association published the book “Resource of Creative and Inventive Activities”. A section listing quotations compiled by Jan Casner included an exact match for the modern statement, but the originator was unidentified: 7

Creativity is intelligence having fun.

In 1997 “The Atlanta Constitution” of Atlanta, Georgia reported that the modern saying was employed within an advertising company called BrightHouse whose founding CEO was Joey Reiman: 8

The world’s first “ideation firm,” as Reiman likes to call his company, is owned by GGT, a British advertising conglomerate, and from the moment you enter you start seeing and hearing stuff like “Creativity is intelligence having fun “ and “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

In 1998 Reiman placed the saying into another book titled “Thinking for a Living: Creating Ideas That Revitalize Your Business, Career, and Life”. The excerpt below contained three quotations with only the first credited to Albert Einstein; however, an inattentive reader might ascribe all three statements to Einstein: 9

The moldings of the house are festooned with quotations to remind ourselves and our clients of the primacy of the creative process. So the words of Albert Einstein above the conference table in what we call the incubation area read, “Greatest ideas are often met with violent opposition from mediocre minds.” In other parts of the building the moldings read, “Leap and the net will appear” and “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

In 2001 “Fun Works: Creating Places where People Love to Work” by Leslie Yerkes ascribed the “imagination” saying to Einstein: 10

“Imagination is intelligence having fun. Imagination is more important than Knowledge.” ALBERT EINSTEIN

In 2003 an instance appeared in a self-help book titled “Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work” by John C. Maxwell: 11

Creativity is intelligence having fun. People admire intelligence, and they are always attracted to fun—so the combination is fantastic. If anyone could be said to have fun with his intelligence, it was Da Vinci. The diversity of his ideas and expertise staggers the mind.

In 2015 “The Boston Globe” published a profile of George Scialabba and referred to the adage he had crafted although the year given was inaccurate: 12

In a 1983 piece he wrote for Harvard Magazine, Scialabba coined an epigram: “Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun,” he wrote. The line, sometimes misattributed to Albert Einstein, was included in Reader’s Digest’s “Quotable Quotes.”

In conclusion, George Scialabba should be credited with the words he wrote in 1984. The saying was modified over time. Joey Reiman’s book included a version with “creativity” instead of “imagination”, and he may deserve credit for the change. Alternatively, it may have already been circulating. The ascription to Albert Einstein remains unsupported.

Image Notes: Picture of glass painting from nataliaaggiato at Pixabay. Portrait of Albert Einstein taken at Princeton circa 1935; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Victoria Fraser, Val Nereo, Jay Dillon, Marsha Calhoun, Tamara Temple, Esther Goretsky Kalder, B.E., and Max Arlestig whose inquiries and discussion led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Great thanks to Rand Hartsell for accessing “Harvard Magazine”. Many thanks to Danny for accessing the book “Resource of Creative and Inventive Activities”. In addition, special thanks to previous researchers Barry Popik and Jay Dillon.)


  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, (No page number because statement is absent), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1984 March-April, Harvard Magazine, Volume 86, Number 4, The Browser: Mindplay by George Scialabba, (Book Review of Howard Gardner’s “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences”), Start Page 16, Quote Page 19, Published by Harvard Magazine Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans; thanks to the library system of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)
  3. 1984 October, Reader’s Digest, Quotable Quotes, Quote Page 37, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with microfilm)
  4. 1985 October 15, The Charlotte Observer, Clogging Can Take You Far by Calvin Allen (Staff Writer), Section: Living, Quote Page YOP, Charlotte, North Carolina. (NewsBank Access World News)
  5. 1992, Success: The Original Hand Book by Joey Reiman, Chapter 1: Thumbs Up, Quote Page 10, Longstreet Press, Atlanta, Georgia. (Verified with hardcopy)
  6. 1994 October 27, The Gettysburg Times, Have a happy, healthy Halloween by Janet Brown McCracken, Quote Page 4B, Column 1, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1994 Copyright, Resource of Creative and Inventive Activities, Compiled by Dr. Elizabeth Rowland and Dr. Leonard Molotsky, Chapter: From the Mouths of…, Quotations Compiled by Jan Casner, Start Page 143, Quote Page 157, Published by NITA: National Inventive Thinking Association, Richardson, Texas. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Cooper Library of Clemson University)
  8. 1997 June 3, The Atlanta Constitution, Color reigns at BrightHouse by Colin Campbell, Section: Local News, Quote Page C1, Atlanta, Georgia. (NewsBank Access World News)
  9. 1998 Copyright, Thinking for a Living: Creating Ideas That Revitalize Your Business, Career, and Life by Joey Reiman, Chapter 3, Quote Page 49, Longstreet Press, Atlanta, Georgia. (Verified with hardcopy)
  10. 2001, Fun Works: Creating Places where People Love to Work by Leslie Yerkes, Quote Page 76, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, California. (Google Books Preview)
  11. 2003, Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work by John C. Maxwell, Part II: Eleven Thinking Skills Every Successful Person Needs, Skill 3: Discover the Joy of Creative Thinking, Quote Page 107, Warner Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  12. 2015 September 8, Cambridge’s George Scialabba gets his day of glory by James Sullivan (Globe Correspondent), Boston Massachusetts. (Online Boston Globe archive; accessed on March 2, 2017) link