I found this very apt description on the value of experience on the 37signals website (the folks behind Basecamp)
Picasso, Paula Scher, and the lifetime behind every second - Signal vs. Noise
...The designer version of the Picasso story usually involves a designer sketching out a brilliant logo on a napkin during a lunch meeting. If you’re looking for a real-life example, that’s pretty much what happened to Paula Scher; She walked into a meeting and, a few seconds later, sketched the new logo for Citibank.
No lengthy process, just the right solution. In this Adobe video profile of Scher, she offers an explanation similar to the one in the Picasso tale:
“How can it be that you talk to someone and it’s done in a second? But it is done in a second. it’s done in a second and in 34 years, and every experience and every movie and every thing of my life that’s in my head.”
That video of Paula on the Hillman Curtis website is worth checking out too.
(I see this post is now becoming popular on some of the other blogs too)
Of course the 'Blinding flash of Inspiration' is not the regular MO of many a creative, I know that with most creative professionals it's still usually a case of 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration (your mileage may vary). Mind you we all have our moments and it's certainly a great feeling to crack a creative brief in an instance of crystal clear insight, great - but rare.
Paula's description of how this apparent ‘inspiration’ works is right on the money for me, it's all about the cumulative build up of experience.
In particular professional creatives actively seek out and accumulate visual references, and their success owes a lot to this habit.
John Hegarty (another creative hero of mine) referred to the creative mindset as behaving like a cultural antenna, I guess it's just how we're wired ;-)
So remember, if you encounter a creative bragging that genius-like inspiration strikes them regularly on a 9 to 5 basis then, like discovering that the chef is thin, run like hell.