Came across an article originally published at The Conversation. With all the talk of right brain vs. left brain, it turns out that recent research highlights that creativity is a whole brain process, or more specifically, creativity is a function of efficient communication between hemispheres. I blogged recently about using music to improve creativity, and it turns out that musicians, as well as trained designers (people typically thought of as creative), tend to have more cross-talk between hemispheres than others.
In addition, researchers studying cerebral blood flow in creative individuals concluded that,
“(creativity is) an integration of perceptual, volitional, cognitive and emotional processes.”
So, it looks like maybe we’re beginning to understand how our brains pull everything together and we act creatively!
Taken together, creative thinking does not appear to critically depend on any single mental process or brain region, and it is not especially associated with right brains, defocused attention, low arousal, or alpha synchronization, as sometimes hypothesized. To make creativity tractable in the brain, it must be further subdivided into different types that can be meaningfully associated with specific neurocognitive processes.
In other words, creativity, is proving difficult to scientifically detect and study. But, don’t let that stop you, or anyone else from embracing life and what we are as humans…
FUN! is something that all animals, to some extent engage in.
Humans have the ability to design it.
Volkswagen has recognized the innate value of fun and developed this great website. It’s dedicated to the premise that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.”
But, FUN! does more than change behavior.
“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” -Thomas A. Edison
Work = 1/(FUN!) where FUN!=Passion x Freedom.
To increase the level of FUN! and decrease the perception of work, find ways of increasing passion and/or freedom. Make sure people are playing to their strengths, and give them the responsiblity to make things happen; responsibility to make decisions.
Do this and the FUN! level will increase, the perception of work will decrease and the results will be amazing.
I’ve been hitting a block with regards to creating music lately. Rather than use a sketching exercise to get the ideas flowing, I decided to do something different.
I went on Twitter and asked for a mood board so I could compose a tune based upon it.
Interior designer, Heather Jenkinson obliged by sending me three. The first one I opened was the one I used. I looked at the other ones, but I forced myself to use the first one so I wouldn’t be bartering with myself as to which board might be easier or harder. Here’s what it looks like:
And here’s the song Sepia and Blue
So how did the song come about?
First, I sat down and looked at the image. I listened for the mood, listened for emotion, what colors came to mind, what movements, words and hence what instruments. I even started writing some lyrics. But then, it became clear that I was overcomplicating matters, overcomplicating the music and the words. There was a simplicity present and I was fighting it, trying to fill in the spaces as opposed to letting the gaps speak. Before I could come up with lyrics I just jotted down random images and feelings. Eventually, one line became the inspiration and the basic pattern for the song’s sparse lyrics. It was distillation to the max:
(It says: Sit with me, we’ll watch while sunlight floods fills dance across the room. A filigree in sepia and blue.”)
It’s interesting how this developed for me. Certain instruments needed to express their voices – there needed to be some guitar, piano, some female voices, some introspection and reflection. Sepia and blue came out naturally. They were actually the first thing that came out of process. BING! And the words/concepts were there.
Things that weren’t in the picture popped into my mind as well: lilacs and Port wine to name a couple. Ultimately, I backed off, trimmed and combined. There needed to be space – space to move, to breathe.
Ultimately, constraints provided impetus and direction. Since I had never done this before, I was forced to go down an entirely new road, enjoy the scenery, and above all, listen to myself – or more precisely, my response to the mood board.
Interpretation held Experience’s hand and on occasion they wrote together, at other times independent of each other. It was a combination of play, sketching (musically and verbally) and design; trying to see what worked and what didn’t.
For example, the female harmonies originally were just after the intro synthesizer sound. There were no lyrics at that time. There were also two other orchestral string tracks that hung around for a while but were eventually cut. The lyrics started with that one distilled phrase above. I didn’t even have a second verse for a long time and was seriously considering not even having one…then it came:
“Look with me,
through leaded glass and memories,
Sit with me,
in sepia and blue.”
I liked the fact that ‘sit’ appeared here like it did in the first verse – a kind of closing out of the thought from the first verse – coming full circle. But, even though sitting was part of the first verse, so was dancing light. In addition, the filigree theme needed to stay and a filigree is, visually speaking, a dance of sorts. So, “sit with me,” became “dance with me,” and that was that.
Finally, I felt like there needed to be a crescendo of sorts after the last sung verse. Everything I tried was too complicated and instrumentalized so I used a short track of a string section with some syncopation.
Even though my goal was a song, there were some other ideas that popped up. One of them was to make a digital mood board and assign an instrument or instruments to various regions. They would play when you hover over them with the mouse pointer so the song and mood board would be an interactive experience. This could be a cool future project.
The key take away from this is that designing music (or anything for that matter) is an iterative, recursive process. The depth and breadth of the act of creating increases with the novelty of stimulus. In addition, different stimuli cause new connections in the subconscious and that helps with creating new ideas long after the exercise is complete.
So challenge yourself; throw yourself a curve and flex those creativity muscles. Sure there’s some pain and frustration associated with bringing together disparate ideas and thoughts.
Just like your physical muscles, if you flex and use your creative muscles you get more effective and efficient at coming up with ideas. One way to do this is by doodling and sketching.
How do you start?
You can always grab a blank sheet of paper, but the blankness often stares back at you mockingly and the result is more frustration which in turn inhibits creative thought.
Use something as a catalyst to get the creative juices flowing.
To that end I’ve put together a couple of templates for you so you can practice being creative.
Click to Download PDF Template
Print the template and make a point of sketching using these patterns at least once a day. If the above template isn’t your cup of tea then I’ve also create a spreadsheet that allows you to build your own sketching template based upon letters or shapes in the various fonts. The Excel version is here and the Open Office version is here. I used an obscure font in the sketch-sheet below. If you find yourself still struggling in your doodling, here’s a sheet with the letter “o” reproduced multiple times. Sometimes a common shape is easier to use for this purpose.
Click For Full Size
The drawings don’t have to be perfect, artistically or otherwise. The goal here is to simply start sketching. Whether it’s writer’s block, problem solving or composing music, drawing has an amazing capability to stimulate additional ideas and insights, breaking down those insidious barriers to creativity.
Give these to your team before meetings requiring critical thinking/brainstorming and more importantly, encourage each other to use these tools once a day.
I was recently in a discussion about a do-it-yourself digital camera called the “Big Shot“.
The main point of contention was whether or not this device actually helped kids learn about photography.
Make no bones about it, the Big Shot definitely has an impact on kids – especially the inner city children that were able to try this out. The Big Shot is a great tool for getting children together, for giving them pride in what they build, for getting them to socialize, to share their creativity. Rock On, Big Shot!!
However, with regards to actually teaching about photography, I’m not sure it hits the mark.
To have a powerful impact teaching anyone anything, the teaching should inspire:
R-Respect for the past
A– Awe of the present experience
D – Dreams for the future
Teaching should be R.A.D. !
Following the R.A.D. model I would propose the following kits and curriculum:
Respect for the past – A do-it-yourself single shot camera kit that lets kids see film developing; A pinhole camera; A contact photograph of a leaf would all be instructive about light and how people took and still take pictures.
Awe for the present experience – Build the Big Shot.
Dreams for the future – This actually happens naturally when ‘R’ and ‘A’ occur. Ask them to dream based upon what they’ve experienced.
When the R.A.D. process is followed, people (adults and children alike) see themselves as part of a continuum, not just techno-consumers.
In today’s day, it’s too easy to see technology as a stand alone solution to our problems. Sure, technology can be helpful, but real solutions start in the locus between the ears and behind the eyes, the place where we bow respectfully to the past, get excited with awe about the present, and realize there is so much more that the future holds, and we’re all a part of it.
When trying to increase creative output and come up with ideas to solve sticky problems we often look for a cool tool or app that will help us make that obtuse connection, or spur an amazing insight. What may be more helpful is finding a video of your favorite comedy, kicking back and laughing your way to success!
There is an increasingly robust body of research that highlights the fact that laughter is not only good for the body and soul but good for business. People who laugh more are, in general, happier people as well. The benefits are astounding.
Courtesy of Helpguide.org
(It’s worth reading the entire article from which the above clip was taken.)
In fact, according to this article from Paul McGhee, PhD of LaughterRemedy.com,
“There has been research since the 1950s documenting the close relationship between humor/fun and creativity. For example, simply listening to a humorous recording increases scores on a subsequently given creativity test. People also perform more creatively on a task when it is framed as “play” than when it is framed as “work.” Simply watching comedy films is enough to improve creative problem solving, and the amount of improvement is greater than after watching a serious movie.”
This is illustrated in this tidbit from FastCompany in which it was noted that the founders of DNA, “… spent a lot of time lollygagging and goofing off, going to parties and (b.s.-ing) over coffee.”
So next time someone says that you’re spending too much time laughing and you need to get serious, point them to the above resources and this amazing paper from the American Psychological Association, and tell them that seriousness won’t necessarily solve problems – but happy, laughing people will.
In the realm of music there is an ongoing discussion about the value of analog over digital, or vice-versa.
As a participant in the music industry, when digital came on the scene, I too was caught up in the hysteria – the quest for ever cleaner recordings, the quest for the ultimate music experience brought to us courtesy of the digital revolution.
In this realm I was a slow adopter. My first CD was mastered in analog but released digitally. To some extent I still think of analog as warm and inviting, and digital as cold and truncated. Nevertheless, I record now in digital because it enables me to have the freedom to record, experiment and release my music quicker and easier than before.
But the argument rages on -what is superior, digital or analog?
It was recorded by The Regents and made it to #13 on the charts in 1961. You probably haven’t even heard that version.
The Beach Boys recorded it 4 years later and it rose to #2 in the US.
The song is catchy, annoying, fun and definitely lo-fi. It was recorded in analog, in the middle of a party. It’s not tight musically speaking, it’s loose yet wonderfully so. Barbara Ann is not digital.
Creativity can be analog or digital. It can be fun or it can be truncated. It can be the wonderful result of people doing what they do best and enjoying it or it can be mechanical and contrived – bits of dispassionate information stacked together to create something new.
Creativity doesn’t need iPhone Apps to be able to be done effectively.
Creativity can be done without web-based mind maps.
Creativity can be lo-fi; it can be filled with chatter, with laughter, with cooperation and brilliant spontaneous, improvisational insights.
Mindblowing ideas and staying power in the market, comes not from ultimate technical productions but from passionate people who create in the midst of their humanness and in so doing, connect with others souls.
We’re confronted with a problem so we work with what we have to a create a solution – we innovate.
Innovation is especially fertile in those situations where existing solutions are too complicated or expensive to utilize on a regular basis.
Here are some great examples of solutions to everyday problems. Whether it’s dog walking, electrical sockets, ice cube trays, windmills, spices, or easier ways to de-shell hardboiled eggs, someone saw a problem and thought of novel ways to fix it.
However, we all know that there are times we get stuck.
To get unstuck try the following:
Phrase your problem as, ‘In what ways can I… (deshell an egg, etc.)’
Learn all you can about the physical principles governing your problem
Go do something fun and relaxing or meditate
Brainstorm ideas (If you need help here, try these creative thinking techniques)
After you think you have a great set of ideas – go back to Step 3 and try again without duplicating (Do this once or twice)
If you follow the above process and still can’t solve your problem in a cheaper/easier way, then you either:
Didn’t phrase your problem properly
Didn’t detach from your problem for a while
What? I didn’t relax and that is why I can’t solve my problem?
The short answer?
Long Answer: The Sub-conscious needs time to crank through your problem, look for relationships, connect dots, remember that toy you made in 5th grade, etc. We need to relax, we need to actually disconnect from the problem for a while to get great ideas.
That’s why people have ideas in showers – they’re relaxed, and often the shower follows a night of sleep.
And what happened while you were sleeping?
Your brain was cranking away solving your problem while you dreamt you and your pet frog were flying over a field of singing poppies looking for Carl Sagan.
For another perspective on how quick fixes can lead to innovation read this.
Suggest and Explore Direction – Initiate conversations
It dawned on me the other day that in some way, shape or form, the animated show, South Park , meets all the above criteria for being a “sketch”.
Why is this important?
Because as a sketch, it is saying, “Here’s a problem and a possible solution; what do you think? Don’t like that answer? What about this one?”
Because these sketches are actually animated stories, they also contain a “formula” for bringing about resolution of problems contained therein.
So, what I’ve done is look at the South Park ‘sketch’ formula and find 9 lessons we can apply to our own quests to creatively solve problems, generate ideas, and innovate.
Frame your problems/solutions in the context of a sketch. Remember, a sketch can take multiple forms.
Don’t pre-judge what you put into the sketch. Let it be fodder for discussion.
Always ask “What if?” What if we killed a character every episode and brought him back (i.e. What if we made some aspect of our device reusable?)? What if a mechanical larynx could be programmed with an Irish accent? What if ground up cash was anti-viral? What if human excrement could talk? Again, DON’T judge the ideas – play them through to their logical conclusion!
Look at problems through childrens’ eyes and minds; children usually provide common sense answers.
Don’t let political correctness be the automatic solution to a problem.
Culturally diverse personalities/perspectives are a good thing.
Ask questions. (See #4)
Make the most of the resources you have on hand
Always learn something from a process/problem/solution/situation.