I met Balder Onarheim earlier this summer during a trip to Copenhagen. We found some simpatico based on our mutual interests in helping organizations optimize creativity.
Balder, please explain your background and what the Copenhagen Institute of Neurocreativity is.
I'm actually trained as an officer in the Norwegian army, but later I took a master degree in industrial design (at aho.no) and then a PhD on creativity. Most of my career I've worked with medical equipment design and enhancing creativity--in organizations, projects and ultimately in individuals. The Copenhagen Institute of Neurocreativity, or just CINC as we like to call it, is an institute I founded together with a neurobiologist, Morten Friis-Olivarius who happens to have a PhD on creativity and is very interested in enhancing creativity in individuals. It is a privately owned cross-institutional institute devoted to rigorous scientific study of the neurobiology of creativity, and to disseminate this knowledge to individuals and organisations.
So, how does it all work?Why did you start CINC and what is its mission?
Whoa, that's a long story! It all started with Morten Friis-Olivarius, the fore-mentioned neurobiologist, and myself catching an interest in how to do applied neurocreativity, based on his work on the neurobiology of creativity. We then designed a creativity training program for individuals, which we tested at different universities around the world for some years. This resulted in a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
This generated a lot of positive feedback, both locally and internationally, and since we felt that the type of research and dissemination we wanted to do in relation to neurocreativity didn't really fit in any of the existing institutions we were working for at the time, we decided to start our own place.
The institute works as an umbrella for for various researchers and consultants engaged with the neuroscience of creativity, and both for doing research projects together and for working with private clients. The funding for the institute currently comes from our consulting work.
What are key ways that people can practice optimizing their creativity?
The most important thing we can do as individuals is to challenge our (physically) established thought patterns. Our brain has a very logical way of working, and that is very helpful most of the time, but we also get lazy in terms of challenging this local way of reasoning. We can fight this laziness in two different ways, either by working on actual creative problem solving or by simply training our ability to reach 'random' associations. I give these 3 specific examples in my TEDx talk:
1- Constant Practice! For example, over the next 2 weeks when brushing your teeth, think of as many random words as possible associated with the toothbrush. How random were the words? At first it may feel challenging to do this, but over time you’ll get better at it.
2- Sleep On It Think of a problem before you go to sleep- but don’t try to solve it! Just fall asleep. Chances are you will dream–and when you awake write down all that you remember, no matter how far fetched the ideas seem. You may have dreamt of an idea that can assist in your problem solving.
3- Random Prompts Many people do not realize that Wikipedia has a “random article” tab on the far left side. Let’s say you look up “trees”, and when you click on the “random article” tab an article on “MV Dittisham Princess” pops up. See what sorts of associations you can make between trees and this passenger vessel!
Nice! Why is it important that companies, as well as individuals, begin to integrate creativity in a more robust way into their operations and culture?
It is widely accepted that most companies are dependent on continuous innovation to survive, and creativity lies at the core of being innovative. And while there are a lot of ways to enhance creativity in an organization with the purpose of increasing the chance for innovation, we find it most rational to start with the individuals in the organization. You can have creativity without innovation, but you can't have innovation without creativity. And you can have a creative employee in an uncreative organization (at least for some time), but you most definitely can't have a creative organization without creative employees!
Really interesting distinction!
How is CINC's value proposition distinctive from other companies we see focused on creativity?
Very simple--we offer creativity training based on actually explaining what creativity is, based on our own, and other researchers’, scientific (not pseudoscientific) studies of creativity! The explanatory model we use is based on a neuropsychological and neurobiological understanding of creativity, and to our knowledge there are no other companies in the world doing the same.
The academic literature acknowledges that a sound understanding of creativity is at the core of successful creativity training. We see a lot of other companies offering creativity courses and consultancy solely based on personal experience or basic assumptions such as 'painting expressive art will release your creativity'. Our goal is not to prove that painting is not an effective way to train creativity, but as scientists we have to base our work on what we know. There are a few other companies globally offering more scientifically based creativity training, but not based on neurocreativity.
Cool- do you have any closing thoughts?
I think one of the biggest misunderstandings about creativity in business is that it is something fuzzy and uncontrollable… that it is only about 'getting the good idea' at the beginning of a process. Creativity is a crucial component in any type of problem solving. It may be a secretary coming up with a new archiving system, or a production engineer optimising an injection mould to save 0.2 seconds per unit produced. Creativity is not something mystical reserved for 'the creatives' in front-end R&D departments.
You can follow Balder on Twitter @baldero.