Thinking About Creativity

Thinking About Creativity

I listened to a podcast this morning called The Writer Files; the specific episode was called The Best of ‘The Writer’s Brain’ Part One: Creativity.  The guest was neuroscientist Michael Gybko and addressed creativity as a brain function.  They also talked about ideas on how a person could increase their creativity.

The gist of it for me was that creativity is about making novel and unique connections between dissimilar objects, issues or concepts in new and novel ways.  This connection could be made as a part of problem solving or as a part of a creative project.

Information and experience is necessary for the creative process.  We have to have information to make connections with.  So increasing that basic resource is a part of increasing our creative abilities. Some ways to do that are to have new experiences, read about topics unfamiliar to us, go to discussions or lectures about something we’re not well versed on, go to classes or workshops and learn new skills. The bigger our base of knowledge and experience resources, the better we are able to make connections.

A quick tour of the internet searching for information related to ‘increasing creativity’ or ‘making creative connections’ yielded a few more interesting tidbits.  In an article by Saga Briggs, How to Make Connections Like a Creative Genius, the writer quotes Steve Jobs as saying that “Creativity is just connecting things” which lines up nicely with the brain research from the earlier podcast as stated here from this post “When we learn something new, the antennae-like spines on one neuron swell and reach toward the spines of another neuron, forming networks of understanding. The difference between a highly creative brain and an average brain, then, might very well come down to the quantity and strength of those connections–and the ability to make them.”

What can we do to be better at making creative connections?  Are there games or activities we can utilize to increase our ability to make those novel and unique informational equations?  In the podcast the suggestion was to increase new knowledge by taking classes, trying new things, etc.  That is nicely illustrated in the following infographic presented on Inc. in a post by Larry Kim.

[infographic credit: Shout!]

That’s all well and good for stuffing new information into our brains, but does this help us with the ‘making connections’ part?  That’s what I’m curious about.  I am wondering which games or activities we can engage in to practice making connections between apparently dissimilar ideas and objects. Right off the top of my head, I’m thinking about Pictionary and related games where you have to express clues in creative ways.  But that doesn’t get to the heart of making novel and unique connections.

The article by Briggs goes on to address the potential behavioral differences between creative geniuses and a more ‘traditional’ intellectual genius. Reading down through the post, there is discussion of the difference between standard genius and creative genius thinking could be about divergent vs. convergent thinking.  Convergent thinking is about converging on a single, well-thought out and proven solution to a problem.  Divergent thinking is more spontaneous, concerns multiple possible solutions and outcomes being compared and interesting comparisons and connections discovered.  A-ha, we’re back to looking at connections. Once these different approaches have been compiled, the convergent thinking comes back to organize and rate them.  So, creativity involves both convergent and divergent thinking.  Standard IQ tests measure convergent intelligence only, FYI.

The article discusses studies used to measure brain activity during convergent and divergent thinking and also delves into the topic of “Is creativity more nature or more nurture? Can we learn to be more creative?”  The writer suggests that there is evidence to support the idea that creativity can be learned.  If all of this is of interest, I suggest you read the article, it’s informative and not to dense with academic language. I was interested in the list they presented on how to make more connections – tap into mixed emotions; rely on different levels of attention for different tasks (high single focus vs. ‘daydreaming’) – utilizing different attention levels leads to higher in-brain connections which leads to more of those novel leaps we are striving for in creativity; do creative work in an ‘unusual’ environment; to solve a problem, ignore it; seek out new experiences (echoes the infographic and other posts I found on creativity.  New experiences can bring on mixed emotions and that takes us back to the first item on the list.  New experiences also brings us more information not just about the world, but about ourselves and how we react and what we are capable of.

Which of these, if any, are familiar to you in your creative work?  When I saw the ‘ignore it’ suggestion, I had an immediate recognition and the quote in the accompanying text matches my experience:  As for how creative solutions and ideas emerge, almost all of Andreasen’s subjects confirmed that when eureka moments occur, they tend to be “precipitated by long periods of preparation and incubation, and to strike when the mind is relaxed.”  There was also the recognition that movement helps us do problem solving – going for walks, driving, showering.  I know that when I engage in familiar manual tasks like weeding, it feels like my brain is more able to do it’s deep processing on whatever problem I’m trying to solve.

One thread for me my whole life has been a thirst for new experiences and information.  Most people who know me have heard me say something like, “I don’t like to be bored”.  Being a life-long learner is an anti-dote to boredom and keeps my creative fires stoked.

I’m curious about your thoughts on creativity.  Did you resonate with some of the information I shared, what do you know about creativity (personal or general) that wasn’t discussed?  Do you feel inspired to try new things in order to get your creativity fired up?

[disclaimer:  I did not exhaustively research this topic, I was following my own curiosity and gathering information as I found it.]

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