If you read any of my articles you would know that I don't believe that some people were born more creative than others. I don't believe that introverts are more creative than extroverts, or vice versa. In fact, even the left-brain right-brain myth was dispelled. In a recent article, Neil Stevenson described how Neuroscience is helping in understanding creativity in people. He underwent a brain MRI scan to help in research done by the Imagination Institute, which leads the charge against the "left-brain, right brain" model.
The operation of the brain is much more complicated than that over-simplified model. The frontal lobes are responsible for our executive, organizational functions, and in fact separate us from our ancestors (and explain why our eyebrows are higher than theirs, due to the development of the frontal cortex with evolution). Whenever we exercise our organizational/executive skills, the frontal cortex "lights up."
However, the study shows, instead of looking for what areas "light up" for creative functions, we should focus on the neural networks that operate when the executive functions are not utilized, during daydreaming and relaxation. "Creativity is a mode, not an identity," claims the article. Instead of exercising our "creativity muscles" we need to simply learn how to shut down our executive frontal cortex and daydream. This is why our best ideas occur in the shower, or while resting.
But in order to learn how to shut the frontal cortex down, we need to know what turns it on. For the most part, three things we do turn our executive functions on: trying hard to focus and concentrate, drinking coffee, and filling up "dead time" with organized activities, such as checking email.
Based on that, the two things you should stop doing so you can turn on your creative brain are:
1. Stop drinking coffee.
Coffee sharpens executive attention and prevents our mind from drifting. Let's face it--that's exactly why we drink coffee. So stay awake. To stay alert. If we stop drinking coffee, we let our mind drift. We may daydream. And that's when we are creative.
2. Stop using your phone when you have nothing to do.
Clayton Christensen, in The Innovator's Solution (his sequel to The Innovator's Dilemma) realized that RIM's Blackberry's "job" was not to communicate and connect, but rather to fill small snippets of time with productive activities. Those same activities that will light up the frontal cortex and prevent us from being creative. "Our phones are a jungle gym for the executive control network," and thus prevent us from enjoying some peace time. There is a reason why our best ideas occur without a phone in our hands. While walking, for example. Another article claimed that "Charles Dickens routinely walked for 30 miles a day, while the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared, "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking." I bet they didn't use their phones while walking.
3. Stop trying to focus when you can embrace "down time"
Down time is when you will be creative. Accept times in the day in which you will have no responsibility. In fact, the article claimed that our education system fails us by requiring students to be alert and focused, the opposite of relaxed and creative.
Let yourself daydream. Don't try to prevent it with coffee, don't try to fill "dead time" with your phone, embrace "down time" and you will increase your creativity.
I'm done. Where's the coffee?