Another thoughtful article, in which Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire explore how to develop creativity as a habit and a style of engaging with the world, dropped into my mailbox this week from the Greater Good website. Their book, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire (Perigee Books, 2015), looks intriguing. I resonated to the recommendations which emphasised solitude, daydreaming and mindfulness as fosterers of creativity, though I still recoil from a conflation of intuition with fast processing, for reasons I’ve explained at length elsewhere. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.
What exactly is creativity? So many of us assume that creativity is something we had as a child but we lost, or something allocated to rarified individuals that we can only admire from afar.
Neuroscientists who study creativity have found that creativity does not involve a single brain region or even a single side of the brain, as the “right brain” myth of creativity suggests; instead, it draws on the whole brain. This complex process consists of many interacting cognitive systems (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions, with different brain regions recruited to handle each task and to work together as a team to get the job done.
The discovery of the “default network” of the brain—the part of the brain at work when we are not purposefully engaged in other tasks—is one of the most important recent discoveries in neuroscience. The default network enables us to construct personal meaning from our experiences, imagine other perspectives and scenarios, comprehend stories, and reflect on mental and emotional states—both our own and those of others. It should come as no surprise then that the activity of this network—as we like to call it, the “imagination network”—also informs our most creative ideas.
The “executive attention” network of the brain is also crucial to creativity, however. Executive control processes support creative thinking by helping us deliberately plan future actions, remember to use various creative tactics, keep track of which strategies we’ve already tried, and reject the most obvious ideas. They also help us focus our imagination, blocking out external distractions and allowing us to tune into our inner experiences.
When we generate new ideas, these networks—along with the salience network, which is responsible for motivation—engage in a complex dance. Researchers have observed this cognitive tango in action through the brain scans of people engaged in their personal creative processes. Initially, their brain states resemble a state of flow or complete absorption in the task. The imagination and salience networks are highly active, while the more focused executive domain is relatively quiet. However, as creative people further hone and refine their work, the executive attention network becomes increasingly more active.
Creative people are particularly good at exercising flexibility in activating and deactivating these brain networks that in most people tend to be at odds with each other. In doing so, they’re able to juggle seemingly contradictory modes of thought—cognitive and emotional, deliberate and spontaneous. Even on a neurological level, creativity is messy.
So, what can we do to augment this cognitive flexibility? In our book, Wired to Create, we explore how to develop creativity as a habit, a way of life, and a style of engaging with the world. We present many paradoxes—mindfulness and mind wandering, openness and sensitivity, solitude and collaboration, play and seriousness, and intuition and reason—that contribute to the creative process. We encourage people to embrace their paradoxes and complexities and open up to a deeper level of self-understanding and self-expression. It is precisely this ability to hold the self in all of its dimensional beauty that is the very core of creative achievement and creative fulfillment.
Here are the some of the habits of mind we recommend to foster more creativity in your life.