I recently watched a fascinating documentary in the BBC Horizon science series called: The Creative Brain: How Insight Works. This is a quick note of some key ideas I took from watching it. I have to say it is well worth watching if it gets repeated.
To positively enhance your creativity, seek unfamiliar experiences. Actively break habits and patterns. New experiences provide new concepts to mix up with your existing knowledge, which leads to new ideas.
Amazingly, it was even shown that something as mundane as deliberately putting a sandwich together in a different order than usual, contributes to this effect.
Play with things
Whenever you learn or experience something new, spend some time brainstorming things you could use it for. Be creative with it.
It was amazing watching volunteers in the experiments brainstorming things that a brick could be used for other than building a house.
In fact, I already do this sometimes with my guitar; when learning a new technique or chord I toy with it until I have several new ideas based on the original. This digestive process helps me learn and create.
Busting mental blocks
When you are “stuck in a rut” stop what you are doing, but don’t do nothing. Instead, switch to some other undemanding task. When you return to the original task later you should be in a more creative state.
The programme featured an experiment where 3 people’s creativity was tested (I think it was the brainstorming things you could do with a brick moment). Then one was told to stop and do nothing, the second was given a simple pleasurable task (arranging Lego bricks by colour), and the third was given something hard to do (can’t remember what this task was, maybe building something with the Lego). Surprisingly, the person who returned to the brick-brainstorming and had the most new ideas, was the person who had been given the simple, pleasurable and non-taxing task.
Check your assumptions
One of the biggest difficulties in problem solving is the fact that our brains sometimes make huge sweeping assumptions that may not really be a part of the problem.
On the programme this was demonstrated by an experiment where a dollar bill was pinned under a large upside-down pyramid. The participants were challenged to remove the bill without moving or lifting the pyramid. They were stumped for quite a while until someone had a flash of inspiration that there was actually no requirement to keep the bill intact; the bill could be removed by burning it. Because the item to be moved was perceived as having value, the idea of destroying it was intuitively rejected even though the problem statement didn’t require this.