An article by Evangelia G. Chrysikou in the July issue of the prestigious Scientific American Mind magazine caught our eye as it reveals new evidence of the biological basis of creative thinking. According to Chrysikou, “scientists have mapped the innovative mind so that we can remake our own in its image.”
Many of us in the creative intelligence/applied creativity community have long shared the view that there is no such thing as a special creative class, but rather that creativity can be traced to mental processes and behaviors that all of us are capable of mastering.
Creativity is often thought of as the birth of new ideas. Neuroscientist Sharon Thompson-Schill has proposed that to create new ideas, you must cultivate a relaxed state of mind, with limited restrictions on your thoughts and behavior. In the 1990s, researchers measured electrical activity in the brains of people who were generating new ideas, and found that the analytical, rule-guided pre-frontal cortex was quiet. They proposed that this “hypofrontal” state, which is equated with lower cognitive control, bolsters creativity. Patients with damaged or degenerated frontal lobes tend to show impaired speech, but may also show spontaneous musical or artistic skills, which is consistent with this view. In other words, to be creative, you must disregard logic and diffuse your attention. In Humantific workshops, we teach deliberate skills to do just that; we refer to this behavior as “diverging.”
Chrysikou’s article mentions numerous techniques to enter a state of mind that is conducive to creative thought, such as focusing on the visual aspects of ordinary objects as opposed to their functions, categorizing things in unusual ways, performing tasks in an unconventional order, intentionally letting your mind wander, or abandoning the problem until after a good night’s sleep.
Chrysikou goes on to say that the second half of creativity, which is often overlooked, is the evaluation, selection, and implementation of your ideas. We refer to this activity as converging.
Chrysikou’s present day views map directly to the longstanding views in the applied creativity community going back to the 1950s. It has long been recognized that the most successful creative individuals are extremely adept at turning this switch on and off, a skill known as “cognitive flexibility.” In Humantificland we have for many years, been teaching Cognitive Flexibility as a three part think dance step that involves mastering 1. Divergence, 2. Convergence and 3. Deferral of Judgement. Among business leaders today, there is tremendous interest in mastering these skills, so we were very happy to see them being recognized by Chrysikou.
We look forward to more research on this subject.
For a view into the history of Divergence & Convergence in Applied Creativity see Lost Stories Applied Creativity History.
Read an excerpt from Fire Up Your Creativity from Scientific American Mind // July August 2012