“Creativity is the intellectual ability to make creations, inventions, and discoveries that brings novel relations, entities, and/or unexpected solutions into existence. It’s a gifted ability of humans in thinking, inference, problem-solving, and product development.”
– Yingxu Wang
Oh, please, don’t say you have any desire to be creative!
The question is, can you cultivate this quality? Or, you are doomed to remain a realistic and analytical individual with no proclivity for creativity?
First things first.
We bet most of you saw this pic.
Creative concept of the human brain with light bulb ideas
And now, forget it.
That right/left brain distinction where the left brain is practical and logical while the right brain is creative, colorful, and poetic doesn’t work anymore. (Though it will, probably, never die!) According to the latest findings from cognitive neuroscientists, such distinction doesn’t give the full picture of how creativity appears.
The fact is, it doesn’t involve a single side of our brain.
Instead, the creative process consists of many interacting cognitive processes and emotions. And depending on the task we implement, different brain regions will be responsible for that, both conscious and unconscious ones.
It means that creativity comes not only from nature but nurture as well, and it’s high time for you to stop saying “I’m not a creative person” every time you are stuck with new ideas.
Everyone can learn to be creative to some degree, though some research would disagree:
- 2009. Kenneth Heilman from Cornell University claims that the brains of artistically creative people have particular characteristics enhancing creativity.
- 2013. Researchers from the University of Helsinki find that musical creativity depends on a particular cluster of genes.
Does it mean you are not creative if those genes are absent in your organism?
Nope, it doesn’t. Far from everyone is an artist, after all. Engineers, businessmen, marketers, directors, bloggers, doctors — do those researchers want to say all these people are non creative?
Is Everyone Born Creative?
The interesting fact is, mental disorders influence creativity, too:
“Many artistically creative people suffered from traumas, whether psychological or physical ones,” says Szabolcs Keri from the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions (Budapest). “Some researchers documented that those abuses influenced the brains and affected the genes and networks participating in creativity.”
Scientists at the Karolinska Institute (Stockholm) found that individuals with bipolar disorder chose professions where creativity was crucial. Churchill, Beethoven, and Hemingway showed bipolar-like patterns, characterized by divergent thinking, never-ending energy, increased self-esteem, and motivation to create.
Also, people with ADHD tend to be creative because their low latent inhibition doesn’t let them filter seemingly irrelevant information around, allowing to interpret it in different, more creative ways. As the author of Where New Ideas Come From Steven Johnson says,
“Creativity happens when seemingly unrelated existing ideas collide to form new ideas.”
It doesn’t mean we should become mentally disordered in order to generate ideas like crazy. Having the right genetic makeup is great, but the truth is we all are born creative. The problem is, it was educated out of us at school; and now, some of us have to “learn” to be creative again.
How To Know If You’re Creative
A leading neuroscientist at the University of Iowa, Nancy Andreasen has been studying the creative mind for decades already. Examining both artists and scientists, she explains the roles of nature vs. nurture in creativity:
To make a long story short, here come her conclusions that help you understand if your brain is creative:
- Creativity level doesn’t depend on your IQ: if you are smart, it doesn’t mean you are highly creative.
- Creative people work harder than average persons: that’s because they do love their work.
- Creative people are adventurous: they take risks and are ready to explore new frontiers.
- Creative people strongly believe in what they do, so they have to confront rejections and doubts all the time, which might lead to pain, depression, or anxiety.
- Many creatives are autodidacts and polymaths.
- Creative people are persistent, even when others are skeptical of their work.
In her article at Forbes, CEO of meQuilibrium Jan Bruce refers to Cade Miles’s thoughts on why creativity matters for entrepreneurs and writes about how to find out if your creative genius doesn’t sleep:
- You are creative if you implement the right kind of structure.
- Stress and deadlines can inspire you to work.
- You work for the purpose, not just desire to win.
- You are not afraid of changes.
- You are not afraid to be a newbie.
See yourself here?
Given that we can “learn” to be creative, multiple studies suggest different ways to help us:
According to the above facts, we need to limit the logic to become creative. All they describe ways to detach from reality and defeat the force known as “the lizard brain” (Seth Godin), critical for our survival in this world.
Lull your logic, and creativity will become your shadow. As CEO at Ideasicle Will Burns says,
“Creativity is what happens when we successfully limit the logic force in our brains.”
Does it work? Let the greats talk!
Ideation Processes of Famous Creative People
How do famous people describe the creative process, and what techniques do they use to generate ideas?
Stephen King, writer
From King’s book On Writing
David Lynch, filmmaker, visual artist, musician
Salvador Dali, surrealist painter
From 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship
Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur
“If Twitter didn’t have the restriction of 140 characters, Twitter would be blogging. It would be like everything else. I’m a very big fan of restrictions and think they matter for creative processes.”
From the interview for Lolo
Seth Godin, marketer and public speaker
More thoughts from Seth: Where do ideas come from?
Bob Dylan, songwriter and singer
From Paul Zollo’s 1991 interview.
In 2010, designer and musician Alex Cornell tried to overcome creative block and asked famous thinkers to help him by sharing their thoughts on idea generation. This project turned into the book Breakthrough!: 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination, a compendium of approved insight on optimizing the creative process.
They include ideas from
Sam Potts, designer:
“Have your heart broken. It worked for Rei Kawakubo. You’ll realize the work you’d been doing wasn’t anywhere near your potential.”
Marc Johns, illustrator:
“Stop thinking like a designer or writer or whatever you are for a minute. Pretend you’re a pastry chef. Pretend you’re an elevator repair contractor. A pilot. A hot dog vendor. How do these people look at the world?”
Daniel Dennett, philosopher:
“My strategy for getting myself out of a rut is to sit at my desk reminding myself of what the problem is, reviewing my notes, generally filling my head with the issues and terms, and then I just get up and go do something relatively mindless and repetitive.”
Camm Rowland, executive creative director:
“Drink coffee before going to bed.”
Many famous writers have a habit of drinking coffee, by the way: it encourages positive thinking and stimulates memory, boosting spirits and motivating us to create.
We decided to follow the lead of Alex and asked two questions to several educators and creative professionals: “How would you define creativity? Do you have any tips for students on generating ideas?”
That’s what they think.
- Olly Richards, a tutor at I Will Teach You a Language:
“For me, creativity is about using your imagination to find unique and original ways of doing things. For me, the best way to spark creativity is to put away all electronics, and get out a blank piece of paper and a pen. Works every time!”
- Oliver Antosch, a tutor at Learn With Oliver, agrees:
“Creative thoughts happen at the most unexpected times. Always keep a pen or smartphone with you to take note!”
- Hannah Son, a head of content and social media marketing at ProSky, defines creativity as follows:
“I would define creativity in 2 parts: the ability to generate and/or recognize ideas and the ability to produce results from these ideas. In 2017, it is almost impossible to have a unique idea. A creative individual is a copycat…but an innovative and motivated one.
For idea generation, my number one tip is to be open to any and all ideas. Ideas are formed by making a connection between unexpected concepts. And although it can be random, the more ideas, the more connections.”
- Bryan Collins, a writing coach at Become a Writer Today, says:
“Creativity is the combination of old and new ideas in a way that readers, viewers, and listeners don’t expect. But how to find these ideas? Well look through the works of past creative masters like Seneca, Mozart and Steve Jobs and ask yourself where did they get their ideas from? Then combine what you find with your voice. Tell brave and honest stories about these ideas and share your perspective in a way that your readers, listeners or fans love.”
- Helen Williams, a community director at Holstee.com, adds:
“Creativity is pay attention. It’s that simple. It’s watching the world and stepping in when something catches your eye, when it grabs you so much that you can’t help but dive in. It’s a dance and an urge and a tide. As for generating ideas, I think you have to do a lot of work on a lot of bad and so-so ideas to find one good one. It can take years of digging and uncovering, but it’s the only way in.”
That’s all well and fine but…
How You Can Generate Ideas
All above mentioned and cited guys are awesome, experienced, and mature. They have examined all possible idea generation techniques and chosen those working best. It’s easy for them to discuss and give advice on the topic.
But what can you, a student in college or newbie in industry, do to become more creative? What tips and tricks can you try for generating great ideas that would help you succeed in studies, career, and life?
First of all, try to understand that idea generation is a process.
As A Technique for Producing Ideas‘ author James Webb Young writes,
“The production of ideas 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.”
With that said, three idea generation models exist today:
- IR3 model from the University of Illinois, consisting of three stages such as Research, Represent, and Refine.
- Borrowing Brilliance model from David Kord Murray, outlining six stages of idea generation, which are Defining, Borrowing, Combining, Incubating, Judging, and Enhancing.
- The technique from above cited James Webb Young describing idea generation as simple to state but hard to follow because it requires a hard intellectual work.
The third one appears to be the best fit for students. Its five steps to producing ideas will strike a blow for writing essays that work, writing for critical thinking, and reading for better knowledge, analysis, and grades.
Your college life presupposes work with high volume of information, which doesn’t seem creative, right? However, brilliant ideas have to come from somewhere.
To generate them, you need to perform research, collect information, look for relationships between resources, and analyze. Also, you can borrow ideas from resources with similar problems and generate fresh ideas based on them.
So, your first step to idea generation: do research and gain resources.
Now it’s time to work with the material you’ve collected. To help an idea form, do the following:
- narrow down the best resources from what you’ve found;
- specify connections between them;
- think of new connections;
So, your second step to idea generation: look for relationships between the material you have.
Reveal the Subconscious
Here come the most creative part of your idea generation process: while brainstorming, forget about the subject and let your subconsciousness work.
Techniques to try:
- brainstorming in a group with your peers;
- mind mapping: use graphics to draw connections between ideas and pieces of information you have;
- free writing: just pick up a pen and write the streamline of thoughts, that helps to express your subconscious ideas.
So, your third step to idea generation: step away from the subject and let your subconscious genius work.
Reach Your A-Ha Moment
“Just think about it, deeply, and then forget it. An idea will…jump up in your face.” – Don Draper
That’s what James Webb Young calls the a-ha moment when your brilliant idea appears out of nowhere. Once you forget about the core subject and change perspective, you might be surprised.
How to change perspective?
- Imagine yourself an opossum. Or pencil. Or Madonna. What would they say on the topic?
- Run in the park, take a shower, take a seat in front of some picture and stare at it for a while, whatever.
- Enjoy the process, don’t be in a hurry. (Now you understand why you should plan your academic writing well in advance, don’t you?)
So, your fourth step to idea generation: don’t miss your a-ha moment!
Once the idea strikes you, work on its evaluation and improvement.
Make sure that:
- its raw concepts fit your core subject;
- your presentation of the idea won’t look like a plagiarism;
- it fits your academic performance. (But no one forbids to improve it, after all.)
So, your final step to idea generation: evaluate and improve it.
More great stuff to read and start generating great ideas right now:
These come from your humble narrators of Bid4Papers. We hope they’ll boost your spirits and motivate you to not be afraid of challenges, learn new things, and be creative in college, work, and personal life.
Written by Lesley Vos.