By Mary Jaksch
Creativity is a mystery, don’t you think? I don’t profess to understand how creativity works, but I’ve recently noticed some interesting patterns. There are definitely times when my creativity is sparking like crazy, and times when it seems to go to sleep. Do you experience that too?
The interesting question is: when is your creativity is at its peak? What circumstances are optimal? Because if you know that, then you can try to replicate the circumstances of maximum creativity.
Do you look for creativity in the right places?
Let me invite you to take part in a little quiz: imagine two different scenarios and tell me in which one you would be more creative:
Scenario 1: You are sitting on the deck of a small beach house. The tide is coming in. All you can hear is the sound of waves lapping and the cry of seagulls. As the sun comes up, you open your notebook on a fresh page, pen in hand and look up at the distant mountains …
Scenario 2: You’ve just got home from work. Everyone seems to want some attention from you, even the cat. You’ve got less than an hour to get a new post written and published. Next door you hear kids squealing and a door slams. You boot up your laptop and look at the empty page…
In which circumstance would you be more creative?
I bet you plumped for the first scenario! It’s a writer’s dream: peace, space, breathtaking landscape, an empty page … aaaah!
Well, I tried it and it didn’t work. I went to Awaroa where the photo was taken (which is an hour away from where I live). I sat on an upturned boat, gazed at the mountains in the distance, ready to write my best stuff. And…
My brain went quiet. Creativity: zilch.
Why didn’t it work? My theory is that it didn’t work because the moment was too perfect. My neurons didn’t have anything weird to rub up against.
In the second scenario there is plenty of weird stuff. Your brain keeps replaying significant moments of the day. The cat walks across the keyboard, you spy the weird book you read yesterday.
What happens? Your creativity kicks in and comes up with a string of quirky ideas.
Robert J. Sternberg, Yale University Professor of Psychology claims that creativity is a right-brain activity – which entails making loose, freeform associations between seemingly unrelated ideas.
In the first scenario everything is peaceful and the brain isn’t triggered into creating unrelated thoughts that rub up against each other. Whereas in the second scenario, there are plenty of triggers that can connect unrelated ideas.
The secret of reading weird books
Did you know that reading weird books make you more creative? Maybe you’re wondering what a weird book is. Well, ‘weird’ is whatever is just outside your circle of information. Here’s an example, I recently took two books with me on holiday, Robert Winston, The Human Mind and Chris Anderson, The Long Tail. (Both excellent books, by the way!)
Winston’s book takes a comprehensive look at the human mind and I thought it would generate a lot of post ideas for Goodlife Zen. But in actual fact it didn’t. Because it was too close to the ideas my brain usually plays with. On the other hand, Chris Anderson’s book about the Long Tail was weird (from my perspective) because marketing is outside my ken. So it triggered many ideas for my blogs.
Why weird is good for creativity
Anything that triggers new neural pathways is good for creativity. In my post How to Use a Genius Tool for Writers: Mind Maps , I explain that when two bits of information intersect, an idea is formed. Then the idea triggers radiant thinking. This means that the brain makes countless associations, radiating in all directions. The more different the ideas are from each other, the more new associations are formed.
If you want to be creative, don’t go for perfection and harmony. Go for weird.
What’s your take on this?
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