" We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
Consider that most children abound in innovative energy: a table and an old blanket transform into a medieval fortress, while the vacuum cleaner becomes the knight’s horse and a yardstick a sword. Research suggests that we start our young lives as creativity engines but that our talent is gradually repressed. Schools place overwhelming emphasis on teaching children to solve problems correctly, not creatively. This skewed system dominates our first 20 years of life: tests, grades, college admission, degrees and job placements demand and reward targeted logical thinking, factual competence, and language and math skills—all purviews of the left brain. The propensity for convergent thinking becomes increasingly internalized, at the cost of creative potential. To a degree, the brain is a creature of habit; using well-established neural pathways is more economical than elaborating new or unusual ones. Additionally, failure to train creative faculties allows those neural connections to wither. Over time it becomes harder for us to overcome thought barriers. Creativity trainers like to tell clients: “If you always think the way you always thought, you’ll always get what you always got—the same old ideas.”
Neurologist Bruce Miller’s examination of patients with brain disorders lends credence to the notion that the logical left hemisphere may block the creative right side. With the help of imaging techniques, Miller has determined that people with frontotemporal dementia lose neurons primarily in the left hemisphere. Patients have trouble speaking and show no regard for social norms. And yet this very lack of inhibition allows dormant artistic talents to bloom. Miller draws parallels to creative geniuses such as Vincent van Gogh and Francisco Goya, who ignored social expectations and developed unorthodox styles that opposed contemporary conventions. Great artists often exhibit an ability to transcend social and cognitive walls.
Nevertheless, it is wrong to assume that the left hemisphere is all that stands in the way of genius. Not every unconventional idea is necessarily a good one; many completely miss a problem at hand or are simply outlandish. The most important creative work is useful, relevant or effective. And it is the left hemisphere that conducts this self-evaluation as creative thoughts bubble up from the right. As Ned Herrmann, artist, actor, management trainer and author of The Creative Brain, notes, the left-brain keeps the right brain in check. Creativity involves the entire brain.
Voyage of Discovery
Convergent thinking is also required for a creative breakthrough. Inspirational thunderbolts do not appear out of the blue. They are grounded in solid knowledge. Creative people are generally very knowledgeable about a given discipline. Coming up with a grand idea without ever having been closely involved with an area of study is not impossible, but it is very improbable. Albert Einstein worked for years on rigorous physics problems, mathematics and even philosophy before he hit on the theory of relativity.
Various psychologists have floated different models of the creative process, but most involve an early “preparation” phase, which is what Edison was talking about. Preparation is difficult and time consuming. Once a challenge is identified, a person who wants to solve it has to examine it from all sides, including new perspectives. The process should resemble something like an intellectual voyage of discovery that can go in any direction. Fresh solutions result from disassembling and reassembling the building blocks in an infinite number of ways. That means the problem solver must thoroughly understand the blocks.
Steven M. Smith, a professor of psychology at the Institute for Applied Creativity at Texas A&M University emphasizes how important it is to be able to combine ideas. He says people who are especially inventive have a gift for connecting elements that at first glance may seem to have nothing in common. To do that, one must have a good grasp of the concepts. The more one knows, the easier it will be to develop innovative solutions.
In this context, psychologist Shelley H. Carson of Harvard University reached an interesting insight in 2003. She analyzed studies of students and found that those who were “eminent creative achievers”—for example, one had published a novel, another a musical composition—demonstrated lower “latent inhibition” on standard psychological tests than average classmates. Latent inhibition is a sort of filter that allows the brain to screen out information that has been shown by experience to be less important from the wealth of data that streams into our heads each second through our sensory system. The information is cast aside even before it reaches consciousness. Think about your act of reading this article right now; you have most likely become unaware that you are sitting in a chair or that there are objects across the room in your peripheral vision.
Screened data take up no brain capacity, lessening the burden on your neurons. But they are also unavailable to your thought process. Yet because creativity depends primarily on the ability to integrate pieces of disparate data in novel ways, a lower level of latent inhibition is helpful. It is good to filter out some information, but not too much. Then again, lower latent inhibition scores have been associated with psychosis.
Latent inhibition has a corollary: too much specialized knowledge can stand in the way of creative thinking. Experts in a field will often internalize “accepted” thought processes, so that they become automatic. Intellectual flexibility is lost. For example, a mathematician will very likely tackle a difficult problem in an analytical way common to her professional training. But if the problem resists solution by this method, she may well find herself at a mental dead end. She has to let go of the unsuitable approach.
The Bathtub Principle
Letting go to gain inspiration may be difficult. One aid is to simply get away from the problem for a while. Creativity does not prosper under pressure. That is why so many strokes of genius have occurred outside the laboratory, in situations that have nothing to do with work. Legend has it that Greek mathematician and mechanical wizard Archimedes was stepping into a bathtub when the principle of fluid displacement came to him—the original “eureka!” moment. Organic chemist Friedrich August Kekulé had a dream about snakes biting their own tails; his eureka moment occurred the next morning, when he depicted the chemical structure of benzene as ring shaped.
Creative revelations come to most people when their minds are involved in an unrelated activity. That is because the brain continues to work on a problem once it has been supplied with the necessary raw materials. Some psychologists call this mental fermentation or incubation. They surmise that associative connections between ideas and imagination that already exist in the mind become weaker and are transformed by new information. A little relaxation and distance changes the mind’s perspective on the problem, without us being aware of it. This change of perspective allows for alternative insights and creates the preconditions for a fresh, and perhaps more creative, approach. The respite seems to allow the brain to clear away thought barriers by itself. At some point, newly combined associations break into consciousness, and we experience sudden, intuitive enlightenment.
The little insights and breakthroughs we all experience should encourage us to believe that bigger eureka moments are possible for anyone. Our brains bestow moments of illumination almost as a matter of course, as long as there has been adequate preparation and incubation. The catch is that because the neural processes that take place during creativity remain hidden from consciousness, we cannot actively influence or accelerate them. It therefore behooves even the most creative among us to practice one discipline above all—patience.
from Scientific American Mind
"Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them."
How do geniuses come up with ideas? What is common to the thinking style that produced Mona Lisa and the one that spawned the theory of relativity? What characterizes the thinking strategies of the Einsteins, Edisons, da Vincis, Darwins, Picassos, Michelangelos, Galileos, Freuds, and Mozarts of history? What can we learn from them?
After a considerable debate in the sixties, initiated by J. P. Guilford, a leading psychologist who called for a scientific focus on creativity, psychologists reached the conclusion that creativity is not the same as intelligence. An individual can be far more creative than he or she is intelligent, or far more intelligent than creative.
Typically, we think reproductively, on the basis of similar problems encountered in the past. When confronted with problems, we fixate on something in our past that has worked before. We ask, "What have I been taught in my life, education, or work that will solve this problem?"
In contrast, geniuses think productively, not reproductively. When confronted with a problem, they ask themselves how many different ways they can look the problem, how they can rethink it, and how many different ways they can solve it, instead of asking how they have been taught to solve it. They tend to come up with many different responses, some of which are unconventional, and possibly, unique.
With productive thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can, considering the least as well as the most likely. It is the willingness to explore all approaches that is important, even after one has found a promising one. Einstein was once asked what the difference was between him and the average person. He said that if you asked the average person to find a needle in a haystack, the person would stop when he or she found a needle. He, on the other hand, would tear through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles.
Reproductive thinking fosters rigidity of thought, which is why we so often fail when confronted with a new problem that is superficially similar to past experiences, but is different from previously encountered problems in its deep structure. Interpreting such a problem through the lens of past experience will, by definition, lead the thinker astray. Reproductive thinking leads us to the usual ideas and not to original ones.
In 1968 the Swiss dominated the watch industry. The Swiss themselves invented the electronic watch movement at their research institute in Neuchtel, Switzerland. It was rejected, however, by every Swiss watch manufacturer. Based on their experience in the industry, they believed the electronic watch couldn't possibly be the watch of the future. After all, it was battery powered, did not have bearings or a mainspring, and had almost no gears. Seiko took one look at this invention that the Swiss manufacturers rejected at the World Watch Congress that year and took over the world watch market.
When Univac invented the computer, they refused to talk to business people who inquired about it, because they said the computer was invented for scientists and had no business applications. Then along came IBM. IBM, itself, once said that according to their past experiences in the computer market, there was virtually no market for the personal computer. In fact, they said they were absolutely certain there were no more than five or six people in the entire world who needed a personal computer. Then along came Apple.
We need to vary our ideas in order to succeed. We all have a rich repertoire of ideas and concepts based on past experiences that enable us to survive and prosper. But without any provision for the variation of ideas, our usual ideas become stagnate and lose their advantages, and in the end, we are defeated in our competition with our rivals. Consider the following:
-In 1899 Charles Duell, the director of the U.S. Patent Office, suggested that the government close the office because everything that could be invented had been invented.
- In 1923 Robert Millikan, noted physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize, said that there was absolutely no likelihood that man could harness the power of the atom.
-German businessman Phillip Reiss, invented a machine that could transmit music in 1861. He was days away from inventing the telephone. Every communication expert in Germany persuaded him there was no market for such a device, as the telegraph was good enough. Fifteen years later, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and became a multimillionaire, with Germany as his first most enthusiastic customer.
-Chester Carlson invented xerography in 1938. Virtually every major corporation, including IBM and Kodak, scoffed at his idea and turned him down. They claimed that since carbon paper was cheap and plentiful, no one in their right mind would buy an expensive copier.
-Fred Smith, while a student at Yale, came up with the concept of Federal Express, a national overnight delivery service. The U.S. Postal Service, UPS, his own business professor, and virtually every delivery expert in the United States predicted his enterprise would fail. Based on their experiences in the industry, no one, they said, would pay a fancy price for speed and reliability.
Once we have an idea we think works, it becomes hard for us to consider alternative ideas. We tend to develop narrow ideas about what will work or what can be done and stick with it until proven wrong.
A growing number of scholars are offering evidence that one can characterize the way geniuses think. By studying the notebooks, correspondence, conversations, and ideas of the world's greatest thinkers, they have teased out particular common thinking strategies that enabled geniuses to generate a prodigious variety of novel and original ideas, creating a very clear picture of the nature of creativity.
The strategies are not a set of piecemeal formulas. In harmony, they provide a timeless, timely, and solid framework for creative thought.
Creative geniuses are geniuses because they know "how" to think instead of "what" to think. Sociologist Harriet Zuckerman published an interesting study of the Nobel Prize winners who were living in the United States in 1977. She discovered that six of Enrico Fermi's students won the prize. Ernest Lawrence and Niels Bohr each had four students who won them. J. J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford between them trained seventeen Nobel laureates. This was no accident. It is obvious that these Nobel laureates were not only creative in their own right, but were also able to teach others how to think. Zuckerman's subjects testified that their influential masters taught them different thinking styles and strategies, rather than what to think.
Cracking Creativity - The Secrets of Creative Genius - Micahel Michalko
"Ideas are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny."
An idea has some of that mysterious quality which romance lends to tales of the sudden appearance of islands in the South Seas. There, according to ancient mariners, in spots where the charts showed only deep blue sea, there would suddenly appear a lovely atoll above the surface of the waters. An air of magic hung about it.
And so it is, with ideas. They appear just as suddenly above the surface of the mind – and with the same air of magic and unaccountability.
The production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of cars; that the production of ideas, too, runs on an assembly line; that in this production, the mind follows an operative technique which can be learned and controlled; and that its effective use is just as much a matter of practice in the technique as is the effective use of any tool.
What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced and how to grasp the principals which are at the source of all ideas.
The first of these two is that an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.
The second important principle involved is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.
Here is where minds differ to the greatest degree when it comes to the production of ideas. To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. To others it is a link in a chain of knowledge. It has relationships and similarities. It is not so much a fact as it is an illustration of a general law applying to a whole series of facts.
When relationships of this kind are seen they lead to the extraction of a general principle. This general principle, when grasped, suggests the key to a new application, a new combination, and the result is an idea.
Consequently the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.
A Technique for Producing Ideas - James Webb Young