Monday, June 25, 2012

Creating creativity

Thomas Edison said: “Creativity is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”. I had to think of it, when I read an article in Scientific American about how to increase your creativity ( Edison’s saying implies that creativity is not just a trait of some persons. Everybody can be creative, even if s/he does not have a special talent for it. I do not want to deny that some persons do have such a talent for creativity in certain fields, a kind of creativity gene by way of speaking, but fundamentally everybody can produce something intrinsically new and something intrinsically special: simply work hard.
There are more factors that stimulate it, however. In my last blog, we saw already one of them: to relax. And if it is hard to do that spontaneously, organise your relaxation: take a holiday or spend a weekend in a totally different setting. But that is not the only thing you can do. The article in Scientific American just mentioned points out that creativity is to a large extent dependent on the situation and the context, and that is something you can influence, too. The question then is, of course, what those situations are. When and where are we more creative?
It sounds a bit contradictory, but sometimes it can be good not to go too much into your subject and not to try to master all details and aspects hoping to be able to combine them to something new. Do just the opposite: take distance. This needs not to be physical distance from the problem solving activity, as in my last blog. You can also try to look at your theme from another perspective, such as by taking another person’s perspective of. Or it can be a matter of doing mentally a few steps back. Try to see the wood and not only the tree. Or just change your physical situation for a while. When I am working on a problem like writing this blog and my mind has become blocked and I don’t know how to go on, I often just leave the room for a moment, for instance for taking a cup of coffee or walking a few minutes in my garden. When I am back, usually the blockade has gone. I do not need to stop thinking about my activity. Just the physical change helps. The psychological theory behind it is that by taking some physical distance, your problem becomes more abstract for you and your more abstract thoughts might make you contemplate other, less striking sides of it. The distance you take doesn’t need to be physical, however. It can also be a virtual distance in time. Studies show that thinking how you would approach the question next year can help as well.
So being creative is not just being a special person. Everyone is intrinsically creative; it is only a matter of how to take it out. In the past I have written several blogs on the zombie (our unconscious part) in us and on the free will. In a certain sense, creativity seems contradictory to our free will. Creativity is a kind of “Aha Erlebnis”, an “aha” moment. It looks as if it happens to us and that we can’t help that it happens. The creativity “theory” as exposed above says something different. Maybe, we are not completely free to be creative. Maybe it is not something we can literally choose to be. But we are free to “create” the circumstances that enhance the chance that we get creative results. Creativity may be an unconscious process, executed by our zombie while we do not have a real say in it, but we can steer our zombie by pampering it and making itself feel comfortable so that it finds something splendid. And isn’t that already quite a lot? For if we could produce creativity at will, we could ask whether it exists, and whether we weren’t more than complicated machines, just executing what has already been programmed, albeit a program as yet unknown to us.
Source: see the link above and the one in my last blog.

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