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"Play is distinct from ordinary life, both as to locality and duration. This is its main characteristic: its secludedness, its limitedness. Play begins and then (at a certain moment) it is over. Otherwise, it's not play." Johan Huizinga
Creativity simply cannot be explained, it's like Mozart's music or Van Gogh's painting or Saddam Hussein's propaganda. It is literally inexplicable. Freud, who analyzed practically everything else, repeatedly denied that psychoanalysis could shed any light whatsoever on the mysteries of creativity.
However there is one negative thing that I can say, and it's "negative" because it is easier to say what creativity isn't. Creativity is not a talent. It is not a talent, it is a way of operating. Creativity is not an ability that you either have or do not have.
It is, for example, (and this may surprise you) absolutely unrelated to IQ (provided that you are intelligent above a certain minimal level that is) but researcher Donald Wallace MacKinnon showed in investigating scientists, architects, engineers, and writers that those regarded by their peers as "most creative" were in no way whatsoever different in IQ from their less creative colleagues.
So in what way were they different?
MacKinnon showed that the most creative had simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood -- "a way of operating" -- which allowed their natural creativity to function. In fact, MacKinnon described this particular facility as an ability to play. Indeed he described the most creative (when in this mood) as being childlike. For they were able to play with ideas… to explore them… not for any immediate practical purpose but just for enjoyment. Play for its own sake.
We can usually describe the way in which people function at work in terms of two modes: open and closed. Creativity is not possible in the closed mode. By the "closed mode" I mean the mode that we are in most of the time when we are at work. We have inside us a feeling that there's lots to be done and we have to get on with it if we're going to get through it all. It's an active (probably slightly anxious) mode, although the anxiety can be exiting and pleasurable. It's a mode which we're probably a little impatient, if only with ourselves. It has a little tension in it, not much humor.
It's a mode in which we're very purposeful, and it's a mode in which we can get very stressed and even a bit manic, but not creative. By contrast, the open mode, is relaxed… expansive… less purposeful mode… in which we're probably more contemplative, more inclined to humor (which always accompanies a wider perspective) and, consequently, more playful.
It's a mood in which curiosity for its own sake can operate because we're not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play, and that is what allows our natural creativity to surface.
One example comes from one of Alfred Hitchcock's regular co-writers who has described working with him on screenplays. He says, "When we came up against a block and our discussions became very heated and intense, Hitchcock would suddenly stop and tell a story that had nothing to do with the work at hand. At first, I was almost outraged, and then I discovered that he did this intentionally. He mistrusted working under pressure. He would say "We're pressing, we're pressing, we're working too hard. Relax, it will come." And, says the writer, of course it finally always did.
We need both modes:
But let me make one thing quite clear: we need to be in the open mode when we're pondering a problem but once we come up with a solution, we must then switch to the closed mode to implement it. Because once we've made a decision, we are efficient only if we go through with it decisively, undistracted by doubts about its correctness.
For example, if you decide to leap a ravine, the moment just before take-off is a bad time to start reviewing alternative strategies. Humor is a natural concomitant in the open mode, but it's a luxury in the closed mode.
No, once we've taken a decision we should narrow our focus while we're implementing it, and then after it's been carried out we should once again switch back to the open mode to review the feedback rising from our action, in order to decide whether the course that we have taken is successful, or whether we should continue with the next stage of our plan. Whether we should create an alternative plan to correct any error we perceive.
And then back into the closed mode to implement that next stage, and so on. In other words, to be at our most efficient we need to be able to switch backwards and forwards between the two modes.
But here's the problem: we too often get stuck in the closed mode. Under the pressures which are all too familiar to us we tend to maintain tunnel vision at times when we really need to step back and contemplate the wider view.
So, as I have said, creativity is not possible in the closed mode. There are certain conditions which do make it more likely that you'll get into the open mode, and that something creative will occur.
You'll need five things to get yourselves into the open mode:
Let's take space first: you can't become playful and therefore creative if you're under your usual pressures, because to cope with them you've got to be in the closed mode.
So you have to create some space for yourself away from those demands. And that means sealing yourself off. You must make a quiet space for yourself where you will be undisturbed.
It's not enough to create space, you have to create your space for a specific period of time. You have to know that your space will last until exactly (say) 3:30, and that at that moment your normal life will start again.
And it's only by having a specific moment when your space starts and an equally specific moment when your space stops that you can seal yourself off from the every day closed mode in which we all habitually operate. So combining the first two factors we create an "oasis of quiet" for ourselves by setting the boundaries of space and of time.
Now creativity can happen, because play is possible when we are separate from everyday life. Now, because it takes some time for your mind to quiet down it's absolutely no use arranging a "space/time oasis" lasting 30 minutes, because just as you're getting quieter and getting into the open mode you have to stop and that is very deeply frustrating. So you must allow yourself a good chunk of time. I'd suggest about an hour and a half. Then after you've gotten to the open mode, you'll have about an hour left for something to happen, if you're lucky.
Yes, I know we've just done time, but that was half of creating our oasis.
Now I'm going to tell you about how to use the oasis that you've created. Why do you still need time?
Well, let me tell you a story. I was always intrigued that one of my Monty Python colleagues who seemed to be (to me) more talented than I was but did never produce scripts as original as mine. And I watched for some time and then I began to see why. If he was faced with a problem, and fairly soon saw a solution, he was inclined to take it. Even though (I think) he knew the solution was not very original.
Whereas if I was in the same situation, although I was sorely tempted to take the easy way out, and finish by 5 o'clock, I just couldn't. I'd sit there with the problem for another hour-and-a-quarter, and by sticking at it would, in the end, almost always come up with something more original.
It was that simple. My work was more creative than his simply because I was prepared to stick with the problem longer.
So imagine my excitement when I found that this was exactly what MacKinnon found in his research. He discovered that the most creative professionals always played with a problem for much longer before they tried to resolve it, because they were prepared to tolerate that slight discomfort and anxiety that we all experience when we haven't solved a problem.
You know I mean, if we have a problem and we need to solve it, until we do, we feel (inside us) a kind of internal agitation, a tension, or an uncertainty that makes us just plain uncomfortable. And we want to get rid of that discomfort. So, in order to do so, we take a decision. Not because we're sure it's the best decision, but because taking it will make us feel better.
Well, the most creative people have learned to tolerate that discomfort for much longer. And so, just because they put in more pondering time, their solutions are more creative. But please note I'm not arguing against real decisiveness. I'm 100% in favor of taking a decision when it has to be taken and then sticking to it while it is being implemented.
What I am suggesting to you is that before you take a decision, you should always ask yourself the question, "When does this decision have to be taken?" And having answered that, you defer the decision until then, in order to give yourself maximum pondering time, which will lead you to the most creative solution.
And if, while you're pondering, somebody accuses you of indecision say, "Look, Babycakes, I don't have to decide 'til Tuesday, and I'm not chickening out of my creative discomfort by taking a snap decision before then, that's too easy."
So, to summarize: the third factor that facilitates creativity is time, giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original.
When you are in your space/time oasis, getting into the open mode, nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake. Now if you think about play, you'll see why. To play is experiment: "What happens if I do this? What would happen if we did that? What if…?"
The very essence of playfulness is an openness to anything that may happen. The feeling that whatever happens, it's ok. So you cannot be playful if you're frightened that moving in some direction will be "wrong" -- something you "shouldn't have done."
Well, you're either free to play, or you're not. As Alan Watts puts it, you can't be spontaneous within reason.
So you've got risk saying things that are silly and illogical and wrong, and the best way to get the confidence to do that is to know that while you're being creative, nothing is wrong. There's no such thing as a mistake, and any drivel may lead to the break-through.
Well, I happen to think the main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.
I think we all know that laughter brings relaxation, and that humor makes us playful, yet how many times important discussions been held where really original and creative ideas were desperately needed to solve important problems, but where humor was taboo because the subject being discussed was "so serious"? This attitude seems to me to stem from a very basic misunderstanding of the difference between 'serious' and 'solemn'.
Now I suggest that a group of us could be sitting around after dinner, discussing matters that were extremely serious like the education of our children, or our marriages, or the meaning of life (and I'm not talking about the film), and we could be laughing, and that would not make what we were discussing one bit less serious.
Solemnity, on the other hand… I don't know what it's for. I mean, what is the point of it? The two most beautiful memorial services that I've ever attended both had a lot of humor, and it somehow freed us all, and made the services inspiring and cathartic.
But solemnity? It serves pomposity, and the self-important always know with some level of their consciousness that their egotism is going to be punctured by humor -- that's why they see it as a threat. And so they dishonestly pretend that their deficiency makes their views more substantial, when it only makes them feel bigger.
No, humor is an essential part of spontaneity, an essential part of playfulness, an essential part of the creativity that we need to solve problems, no matter how 'serious' they may be.
So when you set up a space/time oasis, giggle all you want.
And there are the five factors which you can arrange to make your lives more creative: Space, time, time, confidence, and humor.
“Write drunk, edit sober.” Ernest Hemingway
2. Coffee vs. beer: which drink makes you more creative?
What is creativity really?
When adenosine receptors are blocked, chemicals that increase the performance of your neural activity, like glucose, dopamine, and glutamate, are allowed to work overtime. So while you may feel that coffee is giving you more energy, it’s simply telling your body that your energy reserves are good to go even after they’re long gone.
Half of the men drank two pints of beer before playing the game while the other half drank nothing. The results showed that men who drank, solved 40 percent more of the problems than sober men. It was concluded that a blood alcohol level of 0.07 (about 2 drinks) made the participants better at creative problem-solving tasks but not necessarily working memory tasks where they had to pay attention to things happening in their surroundings (like driving a car). By reducing your ability to pay attention to the world around you, alcohol frees up your brain to think more creatively.
Researchers found that about 5 seconds before you have a ‘eureka moment’ there is a large increase in alpha waves that activates the anterior superior temporal gyrus. These alpha waves are associated with relaxation, which explains why you often get ideas while you’re going for a walk or in the shower. Alcohol relaxes you so it produces a similar effect on alpha waves and helping us reach creative insights.
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