Brilliant BBC Horizon documentary last night - ‘The Creative Brain: How Insight Works’ on the neuroscience behind creative insights - utterly compelling viewing for entrepreneurial educators like me.
Interestingly the tactics and habits that emerge from the programme are things that I’ve been teaching for a few years anyway - but based on the insights of writers like Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Johnson, and Edward de Bono.
It’s great to see the neuroscience seemingly agreeing with the observed models.
So some summary bullets of the show:
- Insight or ‘eureka’ moments feel instantaneous because insight often comes from the momentary realisation that an assumption you had made about how to solve a problem was just that - an assumption - and thus once you can side-step that false thought you can suddenly make progress. Tactic #1 - identify your assumptions and test them out.
- Being ‘intelligent’ and being ‘creative’ have different neural processes and structures - intelligence is more about rational deduction whereas creativity requires a degree of ‘irrational’ connectivity and the association of seemingly unrelated ideas. Tactic #2 - don’t go looking for the ‘right’ answer and be willing to explore some seeming dead-ends for answers.
- The creative process (neurologically) seems to be a slower and more meandering process - thus insights and creative breakthroughs can take their time to emerge. Tactic #3 - don’t try and force it, but just keep stimulating the slow-burn process.
- Research indicates that unusual experiences or at least changes in routine and cognitive expectation can produce short-term creativity gains of around 15% - basically by breaking up your ‘usual’ or ‘expected’ patterns and routines you gain access to more creative potential. Tactic #4 - do something different - hang out in new places with new people and do new things - even approach everyday tasks in unusual ways - just to provoke that sensation of the unusual.
- There’s also some evidence that in conventional brainstorming a break in which you do something relatively menial and un-challenging can help you be more creative when you return to the brainstorm. Utterly idle time and doing other demanding tasks in the break are not as effective as doing something easy and repetitive! Tactic #5 - struggling to solve something? then walk away and do some housework and then come back!
- There was also some fascinating stuff about how the front of the brain seems to be responsible for a lot of ‘self-monitoring’ activity (i.e. watching yourself in social interactions and adjusting your behaviour moment-by-moment). However when people are successfully engaging in creative activity (the example given in the show was jazz musicians improvising) this bit of the brain is less active… self-monitoring does not help creativity - it inhibits it. Tactic #6 - tune down the self-awareness, use your surroundings and the company you keep to allow you the confidence to express yourself - to de-risk the making of ‘mistakes’.
- Finally a great observation about how all of us are almost constantly ‘ad-libbing’ in everyday situations - we’re all making it up as we go along so why do we regard ‘creativity’ as a stand-alone and specific activity? Tactic #7 - remember that you’re already highly creative.
Go watch it on IPlayer!