If I asked you to name a famous person who you thought has (or had) a really creative mind, what would your answer be? Have a think for a minute.
When I asked a friend of mine this question, his answer was Joan Miró the Spanish artist famous for his surrealist paintings. There is no doubting Miró’s creativity. His experimental style and striking sculptures are hard not to remark upon.
But creativity is more than just art.
Creativity is intelligence having fun. Or so said Albert Einstein. So what does it actually mean when someone says to you “that’s so creative!”.
And more importantly, how can you become more creative in your professional work?
Well a good place to start is with a definition. Professor Margaret Boden from the University of Sussex has been researching the science of creativity for more than 30 years and this is what she says about creativity:
“Creativity is a fundamental feature of human intelligence in general. It is grounded in everyday capacities such as the association of ideas, reminding, perception, analogical thinking, searching a structured problem-space, and reflecting self-criticism. It involves not only a cognitive dimension (the generation of new ideas) but also motivation and emotion, and is closely linked to cultural context and personality factors.”
In other words, being creative doesn’t necessarily mean you are artistic or musical. It means that your brain is designed in a way that helps you solve problems, think up new ideas and have insightful “eureka” moments. This is the #everydaycreativity that helps you devise an innovative business strategy, solve a problem with a client, or brainstorm new ideas with your team.
Ideas, Ideas, Ideas
Scientific studies on creativity often focus on what is called “divergent thinking”. In other words your ability to think of multiple open ended ideas and solutions either on your own, or with your colleagues. Techniques such a brainstorming, mind mapping or even spontaneous free-flow writing facilitate you ability to think this way.
Scientists are now starting to understand what happens in your brain when you generate a new idea. It involves your frontal lobes and a particular pattern of neural activity called “alpha oscillations”. Perhaps not surprisingly, it also shares some parallels with the type of brain processing which happens when you use your imagination (and hence the link to artistic creativity).
But this isn’t the only type of creative thinking.
A flash of inspiration.
“Insight” is your ability to solve a problem, or think of an idea when you are least expecting it, or when you aren’t even thinking about it (an Ahhh Ha! moment).
But you are thinking about it. Well at least your brain is. It has been busy working away at the problem in your unconscious whilst you are getting on with other tasks. And when it comes up with the solution, it pushes it through to your conscious mind. This “eureka” moment shows up in your brain as a blast of neural activity (called gamma waves) in your temporal lobes.
So why are some people more creative than others?
There are probably many answers to this question. But one thing researchers do know is that dopamine has something to do with it.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for creativity. And by looking at tiny variations (called polymorphisms) in the genes which code for the biological machinery associated with dopamine signalling (for example, the dopamine receptors and reuptake enzymes) they are starting to understand why some people are more creative than others.
But of course it is not just your genetics which defines how good you are at creative thinking. Your experience, your style of thinking and even your emotions also play a role.
Think Positive. Get Creative.
One of the things that science shows us is that your level of creativity and your mood are linked.
We have all heard how being positive is good for us. It is good for your health. It is good for your social relationships. It is also good for your creativity. And happiness is the best emotion for creative thinking. Being relaxed or serene isn’t as good. Neither is being sad or anxious.
This suggests that you don’t just need to be in a positive mood to harness your creativity. You need positive energy.
Distracted by Daydreaming
Daydreaming, mind-wandering and taking “time out” are also known to be good for your creativity. This is why so many organisations are starting to take the concept of a “break out room” to a whole new level.
Taking a break from your work and purposefully engaging in an easy distracting task (rather than just resting) creates the kind context which helps creative insights to arise. Although deliberate daydreaming is less effective than unintentional daydreaming in fostering creativity, scientists have shown that you can improve your creativity over time by practicing daydreaming.
Want to know more?
These are just of the few things that science has shown us about creativity and how you can become more creative in your work. If you are interested in finding out more about how to foster creativity in your organisation then please get in touch with Amy.