Creativity for the Rest of Us

Busting the Myth of Creativity

Jonah Lehrer was interviewed by Michael Krasny today on KQED Forum about his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.  Lehrer is a science writer by trade who has turned his attention to the intersection of brain science and creativity. He offers a feast of research busting the myth that creativity is rare and possessed by the gifted few.  Nice to know that science has caught up with what we already know to be true.

Creativity is a universal facet of human nature and embedded deep in our genetic code.  We simply can’t stop ourselves from making new connections between old ideas.  As is true in any population, creativity is not distributed equally.  While the expression of it is unique to each individual, we are creative all the time.

Boosting our creativity is not a magical process.  We can all get better at it.

Here are three highlights from the interview:

C’mon get happy

Show people a 5-minute video of some hilarious comedy routine and they will generate more positive results in problem solving. People in a positive mood will solve 20% more insight problems.  We’re more creative when happy and relaxed.  These states of relaxation are much more conducive for generating moments of insights. If you want to solve a difficult, seemingly impossible problem, get happy and relaxed.

Need some stimulation?  Check out Laughter Yoga.

Laughter Yoga

Embrace frustration

The act of feeling frustrated is an essential act of the creative process.  You have to hit the wall, want to quit and feel that the problem is impossible.  Before there can be a breakthrough, there has to be an impasse where we are sometimes immersed in disappointment.

Constraints unleash the imagination. Being stumped about a problem forces us to think of novel situations, to create more original associations between ideas, and make connections that haven’t been made before.

Don’t give up.  Dig in.

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stayed with problems longer.  – Albert Einstein

Dream a little dream

We are a daydreaming species. Daydreamers mash together new ideas, let their imaginations play and are unconsciously working problems in the background.

Breakthrough ideas come when we’ve left the problem and are off doing other things.  That’s why it’s good to physically leave your environment, go for a walk, mix up the modalities you’re working in.

And even if time ain’t really on my side, it’s one of those days for taking a walk outside.  I’m blowing the day to take a walk in the sun and fall on my face in somebody’s new mowed lawn. – The Lovin’ Spoonful

When asked to comment on whether he considers the Internet a threat to creativity, Lehrer instead characterized it as a drawback.  Moments of boredom that we would previously have spent daydreaming are now immediately alleviated by our constant companion – the smart phone.  Being always so connected cuts off our creative mind.

Could be why we still have so many epiphanies in the shower – the one place you can’t take your smart phone.  We are suffering from a shortage of productive daydreaming.

Developing the character quality of “grit”, thoughts on education and why it’s so hard to be creative in big companies are a few more of the topics touched on in the interview.  Get the book.  His writing is engaging and accessible for non-scientists.

In the meantime, take a break for some daydreaming…and leave your phone at home.



2 Responses to “Busting the Myth of Creativity”

  1. Karl Staib says:

    I have most of my ideas on my bike. It’s impossible to ride a bike and work my smart phone. I’m relaxed, slightly distracted by the view and it’s a perfect mix for my brain to think of something really cool.

    Now that we have a lot of this research to prove that we need to unplug to unleash the creativity, we must schedule this time into our day.

  2. Anice says:

    the information you showed us is very reliable.

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