From early childhood, we are encouraged to be creative-to use our imagination and discover innovative solutions. But can creativity be learned at all, or is it one of nature’s gifts bestowed on the lucky few? Psychologists who have examined the nature of the creative process may have some answers. Join us as we dive into creativity and the open mind.
Creativity And The Open Mind
It is often suggested that you can test creativity, like IQ (Intelligence Quotient), using standard exercises – such as listing in three minutes as many uses as you can for a brick, or naming as many things as possible that are both white and edible.
These exercises certainly measure your ability to think of alternatives, but this ability is not quite the same as creativity. A more convincing test would be one that assess inspiration – your ability to solve problems with sudden flashes of insight. A classic exercise of this genre is the hat-rack problem.
You are alone in a room with just two poles and a clamp. How do you make a peg steady enough to hang a hat? Try leaning a pole against the wall and it will slip. Snapping the poles to make legs for a tripod is against the rules. And anyway, the clamp could not secure them. But then – eureka! – you look up at the ceiling and realize that if the two poles are clammed together, to make a single, longer pole, they could be wedged between ceiling and floor, leaving the clamp as the peg. This solution is both surprising and apt – the very essence of creativity.
Geniuses, who can apparently conjure these side-ways leaps of thought from thin air, say that they cannot pinpoint their source of inspiration. Picasso said his painting took him over, controlling his brush strokes. Mozart claimed that whole symphonies sprang to life in an instant, as if he had just heard them played. Einstein joked that he found shaving risky because this was often the time he was seized by a good idea. All remarked on the contrast between the usual hard graft of intellectual labor and the ease and completeness of their moments of sudden inspiration.
So what goes on in a brain when it makes such a jump? How distinct is power? The short answer from psychologists is that creativity increases when we relax our grip on established ways of thinking and free our minds, to spot offbeat alternatives. And this kind of mental letting go involves a subtle interplay between the two hemispheres of the brain.I have no special gift – I am only passionately curious. — Albert Einstein Click To Tweet
The role of sudden inspiration in creative thinking is exemplified by the story of Henri Poincare, the brilliant 19th-century French mathematician, who solved an important algebraic problem while jumping aboard a bus.
Poincare had just spent 15 fruitless days at his desk slaving over a problem with Fuschian functions – an aspect of multidimensional geometry. Then as he was hopping on the bus, the answer struck. ‘The idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it,’ wrote Poincare. ‘On my return to Caen, for conscience’s sake, I verified the result at my leisure.’
Popular belief has it that the brain is divided into a left hemisphere that is logical, verbal and rational, and a right hemisphere that is emotional and holistic. While there is some truth in this simple model, it is more accurate to say that the left hemisphere is specialized for taking a focused, sequential approach, while the right hemisphere is rather more widely branched and connected.
So when any thought is in mind, the right side rouses, a wealth of associated thoughts, feelings, and fringe meanings. When we think, the two hemispheres work in complementary way. The right brain creates a mental backup – a sense of the known terrain – which the focused thinking of the left brain can then explore more systematically.The analysis of data will not by itself produce new ideas. — Edward de Bono Click To Tweet
Of course, the problem comes when we want to break fresh ground. If we’re faced with a puzzle, such as making the hat rack, the right brain established a general mental picture – an image of the task, an empty room, a clamp and two poles – then the left brain sets to work logically considering the alternatives. However, if no answer is obvious, if no arrangement of the components seems to fit, we need to let go of our existing picture and find a different context within which to continue the search: the right brain has to relax its grip and start again.
So while intelligence can be seen as exploration within an established mental context, creativity is about broadening or changing the context – letting go and allowing your brain to come at a problem from a new angle.
People who are professionally creative seem to have discovered this fact for themselves. When they realize that they have reached a mental cul-de-sac, they step away from their desks, eases or drawing boards and go for a run, meditate, look out of the window, or go to sleep. By engaging in a different activity, a strongly roused set of ideas can fade and a different perspective may form in its place.
Most of us know from experience that holding a thought or image in mind can suppress alternative views of the same thing. For example, when struggling to remember a name that is ‘on the tip of your tongue’, a similar but wrong name often rises and blocks correct recall. If you stop and forget about the task, the right name often just pops into mind a few minutes later. This happen because the roused brain cells have relaxed enough to let other, weaker-firing, brain cells on the fringe break through with the correct answer.
Just relaxing from a task at regular intervals is an easy way to boost creativity, and there are more systematic techniques that can also help to re-frame a problem. But relaxation is not the only component. Creative thinking involves sweat as well as inspiration; the sudden snap of insight can only strike a mind that has prepared itself by forming a rich backdrop of knowledge and skill.
What is your way to improve your creativity? Share your genius technique with us in the comment section below!
Deus Lee is a Digital Marketer by day, Blogger by night. Lee is passionate about bringing out the best of the digital world and consistently engage with fellow digital marketers and bloggers to share insights and knowledge. You can find his recent works at D. Simple Life. He can also be followed on Twitter.