Creative Thinking: Making Diamonds from Coal

In the October edition of Fast Company Magazine, Gregory Berns wrote an article entitled "Neuroscience Sheds New Light on Creativity", which I think is fascinating.  Read it here.

The article essentially explains that our brains, beautiful and complex as they may be, are fundamentally lazy. Or rather, they are efficient streamliners. When our brains process new information for the first time, it may take an entire section of the brain to process all of the incoming stimuli, but by the 5th or 6th time the brain reacts to that same set of stimuli, only a small set of neurons are needed to process the incoming information. The more we experience the same information, the more facile the connection becomes in our brain, the less the brain works, and the harder it becomes for us to experience spontaneity or creativity.

Berns tells us that creativity and innovation happen when the brain has a hard time predicting what is going to happen next; new experience and new stimuli require new ways of thinking, literally, and as such call for neural adaptation and improvisation in order to sort out and understand. This "sorting out" is, by nature, the biological and procedural root of that ineffable thing called creativity: "Novel experiences are so effective at unleashing the imagination because they force the perceptual system out of categorization, the tendency of the brain to take shortcuts," Berns says.

So what do we do to encourage creative and innovative thinking? Change our surroundings, talk to new people, do things we might normally do in a different place or different environment. Besides being mind-meltingly interesting, Berns’s suggestion is a fairly simple yet genius prescription for fostering innovative thought. "Innovation" itself is nothing more than the process of inventing or introducing something new, right? So it makes perfect sense that in order to innovate, we must encourage innovative patterns in our behavior and in our thought-processes…and doing this is no more complicated than taking your team for a brainstorming session at Dunkin Donuts, or in the park, or if you’re feeling charitable, to laser tag.

We are now living in a time when some of the greats of innovation (like Bill Gates) are talking about an innovation gap between America and the rest of the world, and we’ve been told that the U.S. seems to be losing the motivation necessary to foster the next innovative workforce of the future. To have a culture of innovation, one needs leadership, policy, funding, and a culture that embraces creativity and novel thinking. Many argue that the forecast, at present, is grim. Perhaps we’ve gotten lazy. Perhaps we don’t care enough.

Governmental funding for scientific research is paltry, corporate research is dwindling, and students are opting out of engineering or programming degrees for other avenues.  Clearly, innovation is not aided at all by the current financial crisis and credit squeeze. Innovative organizations rely on financial institutions for funding, and clearly in this economic climate, it’s hard to borrow a buck, let alone stir up the kind of funding that will lead to an innovative revolution.

We know that the current economic decline is precipitous and may last well into the future, so we need to take novel ideas like those proposed by Berns and turn them into innovative capital. Green building, renewable energy, and sustainable solutions could be areas with potential for a whole mess of innovating even in the midst of this financial hullabaloo. We need to combat the problem with creative solutions. And I think that economic depression can provide the stimulus for creative thought. Credit is tight, budgets are tight, so your business is going to have to find creative solutions to actualize that next project. So take the team to laser tag, get out of a psychology of humbuggery, of anxiety, and get that brain to cough up the creativity that you know is in there. But I’m still working on finding a new way to put on my pants, so I’m looking to you for help. Any suggestions — pants or otherwise?

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  • Eve Lopez

    I think combining creativity with enthusiasm for your company/product is the best way to beat a recession. In an uncertain economy, the only way to stay afloat is through innovation. just launched a contest for small business, and is giving away cash prizes to people who have found unique, creative ways of solving tough business challenges. The grand prize is $10,000.

  • Andreiko van Koeverden

    Dear Rip ,
    Sorry hate computers got some f Hug King virus that did now wanted to listen to me digilooser....
    i am a mechanical engineer and see a computer like a car with 12 sterring wheels 500 buttons and 8 shifting gear handles...

    Thanks again 4 smart article and any serious problems u or Donna have clearly described in single minded thoughts , i with great pleasure will eat and beat @-!)

    Andreiko Vincent Mad Donitska

  • Andreiko van Koeverden

    Rip h! ,
    i am happy i found on Fast Company Com . com . com some smart people in the internet , which feels for me like a second hand mc Donnals mixed with garbage ...

    If u want to stimualte creativity i think it goes like this :
    1 be sure u built huge amount of wanting to be really creative
    2 select 1 or 2 real creative persons that love and or respect u and ur soul. 99 % of peopple kill flow and creration since they never had one real level idea in their life , let alone inclusive succesfull implementation
    3 dream with them ur embryos into babies , not like all normals murdering and raiping it by saying why it is not possible , a debil that can say 10 words can also do that... no find its weakest points and add ina sweet and caring way solutions for that without naming the problem. One negative remark can kill any genius idea !!
    After 3 weeks land the idea on a creative team positive and elegant and guide it further.
    If in 3 weeks the ideababy dies forget her , its natural and especially do not hurt urself for not being better then Leonardo Davinci who finished only 5 % of his projects ...

    change ur home and life continuously , power ur processor dayly not ur memory. A memory is a cell phone or diary or secretary or laptop , a processor should be stimulated in a playfull way. So forget all ur HABBITS ! except for bodyfun off CoUrse , butt even there variation and learning and playing is the best there is

    eat FINANCIAL economical magazines that show why a comapny or technology went to the top and why it died....

    have enough stimualting bodyfun , Kennedy John F had two girlies per week and if not maybe Russia would have used nuclear bombs on the USA and Fidel castro recently admitted !!

    Find Davinci's children and not medicate their souls to dead , and let thenm work and learn form Masters , not prof engineers that built a bridge that dropped ...
    Every thing u learn early u doi 2 - 5 times better. So not put a telphone book of knowledge in ur head , better calculate where and how a coca cola can drops after 1 sec and 10 newton force in a certain diretcion and how it will look after dropping and after half a year with 100 gram cola in it...

    - try a wife
    - put it in a special flexible holding device and jump in it from the second floor
    - put the back at the front
    - put them on ur head , very cool with the office girls !