Creativity at Work: Creative Thought and Innovation


Special to the HERALD

What is your definition of creativity? Psychologists traditionally have defined creativity as the purposeful generation and implementation of a novel idea. Creativity has typically been considered a gift of a select minority, however, psychologists have now revealed its seeds are in mental processes that we all possess – decision making, language, and memory - and that we can all boost our creative potential.

I recently read an article, “Your Fertile Brain at Work” by Evangelia G. Chrysikiou, in Scientific American Mind on The Mad Science of Creativity special edition magazine that inspired this week’s column.

The first stage in creative thought is idea generation. Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that specific states of mind may benefit creative thought. Behind the forehead is the prefrontal cortex which regulates decisions, focused thoughts and actions, i.e. deciding what to pack for vacation or solving a math problem. On the contrary, it was found that in a relaxed wakefulness and diffuse attention state spontaneous creative thoughts increase. i.e. the ideas and inspirations that easily occur when in the shower. When rules are abandoned or thoughts quieted down, a resulting state of “hypofrontality” may increase creative thoughts.

Here are a few exercises to encourage relaxed wakefulness and increased creativity.

  1. Think about unusual uses for everyday items, i.e. using tissue for blowing the nose vs. using tissue for a protective stuffing for packages. What’s next to you right now? How else could it be used?

  2. Try paying attention to the visual property of things - size, shape and material makeup. Describe the object in an unusual way. You will be more likely to notice obscure features, i.e. a candle can be described as a wick and wax, or a string and cylindrically shaped lipids.

  3. Try performing a common task in an unconventional order, i.e. fold your laundry differently, or take a different route on a usual daily commute.

  4. And the secret of many people who dwell in small homes, find alternative uses for common items, i.e. serving dish that can be used as a candle holder, a flower vase, or to hold rolled hand towels for guests.

The second stage in creative thought is evaluating options; picking your best idea and implementing a plan for realizing the vision. This is when the cognitive filter for prefrontal cortex is turned on and you can decide whether a creative idea is a viable one. Creative individuals may be better able to upregulate or downregulate their cognitive control system depending on the demands of a situation. This is called cognitive flexibility. A study used to demonstrate this included a list of the names of colors (i.e., yellow, blue, red) typed in a color that did not match the name of the color. Those who could read the correct words while ignoring the color they were written in quickly demonstrated how well they could filter out irrelevant information. This ability to focus on what is important is a major feature of cognitive control. Ways to increase cognitive control include:

  • Sleeping on an idea

  • Being in a dream sleep stage can help establish connections between remote ideas.

  • Try letting your mind wander, deliberately distracting yourself, taking a break and doing something else. Remove focus from the challenge at hand.

  • It has been found that imagining a situation one day vs. one year in the future has different results. It’s easier to imagine when there is more perceived time available.

  • Performing a common task in an unconventional order or alternative uses help diminish our fear of risk and “getting it wrong”. By giving the mind permission and a way to break down ways of viewing the world, and using strategies that encourage subconscious thought, new creative ideas can bubble up.

Raising our creative game may mark the difference between survival and failure. In 1994, when the Internet was largely limited to government and academic circles, a computer engineer Jeff Bezos envisioned a dramatic expansion of this network, one that would bring it into the daily lives of ordinary people. He saw that there could be a boost in efficiency of mail order business, starting with books. Bezos and his wife Mackinezie left their lucrative jobs in New York’s financial sector and Amazon was born in Seattle. By observing, imagining possibilities, and taking the risk, Bezos forever changed how people purchase goods and made a lasting impression on the business world. As Bezos once said, “Innovation is disruption”.

Next week I’ll share ideas on Creativity as a Practice from my interview with Maggie Oman Shannon, Author of Crafting Calm and five additional books.

Kerry Lee, a 25 year Benicia resident, is a Certified Intentional Creativity® Teacher and Coach, leading group workshops, experiential retreats (“Reclaim You: An Experiential Intentional Creativity Weekend for the Senses is May 19-21 in Sonoma, CA), Mobile Social Painting Parties with a Purpose for fun and fundraisers, Customized Corporate Team Building and Corporate Social Responsibility events and teaching essential oil lifestyle and wellness classes. Find her at KerryLeeArt.com / #TheAlchemicalArtist

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