Training This Brain Muscle will Make You More Creative
Is it being boxed in, or given absolutely no rules in which your creativity truly flourishes?
We don’t mind a bit of rule-breaking in the first place. But rules should be bendy. That’s just how we work. But we also must learn that creativity’s oxygen is constraint. Lucky we like experiments. After we understand the rules, we undermine the framework to create something that works better.
Some people aren’t about that, and that’s okay. The world needs a bit of both.
What would you do in a world where the only rules are that there are no rules?
Much of my time talking to people that don’t work in a conventially “creative” role respond with “I don’t know, I’m not creative”, if they feel they’ve failed to think unconventionally. Are you aware of your creative thinking, or comparing yourself to others? The acceptance of what simply “is”, or what things “could” be?
We’re always going to have unique perspectives. Many of them catch us saying “I wish I thought of that” with a sliver of envy and impostor syndrome.
I’m here to teach you a thing or two about how to improve creativity, if you want to try.
Your brain and creativity
What constitutes your ability to be resourceful? To me, it’s the ability to connect unrelated things to create something new. There’s a cognitive term for that, and you may use it more or less than others. We call it extraverted intuition.
A lot of articles prescribe tactics that you do in your external world. “Look at something differently” or “Set a timer” may help to a degree, but it needs to boil down to your cognitive behaviour to help with that.
The great tree of Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Imagine a solid, fully-grown tree with many branches, some stronger or longer than others. The branches and the trunk are different functions of the brain. The trunk of the tree is a singular idea. Let’s call extraverted intuition “Annie”. Rolls off the tongue better.
What Annie does is climb up this tree, but doesn’t stop when they reach the top of the trunk. They explore more possibilities that can grow from that one, single idea. Annie chases the novel, diverges and tends to be restless… so let’s climb some branches!
Blindsided to Annie is how strong or weak these branches are. They’ll climb a few, but most will snap beneath them. Oh dear Annie. But is that enough to stop them? It depends. It depends on whether that branch over there can support them. How will they find out if they don’t try?
You may know some folk in your life who are restless, a little indecisive, a little twisted, but hone a creative knack that catches many saying “I wish I thought of that.” That’s extraverted intuition at play.
Here’s what you should try
If you traverse a steady, rigid train of thought, let me throw a few curveballs that will make you nervous.
- Don’t make a plan for every single thing.
- Brainstorm, on your own.
- Take up an improvisation class.
- Consciously identify assumptions you make, and ask yourself “what if I’m wrong?”
A 1958 study at Yale University proved that students thought of twice as many ideas on their own compared to group brainstorming sessions. Since it’s easier to do nothing in a group, isolate yourself and perhaps stare at a wall to see where your mind takes you.
Don’t get me wrong, creativity is not strictly linked to thinking on your feet or spontaneity. These exercises just might get you climbing a little bit further up the tree and seeing what lies on the end of a branch.
There are still some myths around how creativity is only limited to certain types of people, jobs or moments.
Creativity doesn’t always come from eureka moments.
When you generate ideas for a living, it’s your job to hunt them down to where they live, not wait for inspiration to strike you at a moment’s notice. Particularly if you rely on fresh ideas for a living.
I’ll share a tool that helps me with idea generation.
Deck of Brilliance is a toolbox you need to keep with you if you wish to survive in the wild world of creative work. Combine it with the exercises listed before, and you’re a force to be reckoned with.
Go forth, don’t overthink, and create. Before the perfectionist eats you alive.