I recently spoke on creativity at Toastmasters, and I have a few insights to share here. These are recent discoveries from the wide world of science!
As you may suspect, personality is a factor in how creative you might be. People that are easily distracted, uninhibited, or perhaps even eccentric, tend to be more creative. They likely have the open-mindedness that allows free association and creativity. They also will likely be prone to other personal shortcomings and challenges that can be discussed another time.
There are two types of creative production techniques, insight and analysis.
Insight is that light bulb that springs forth suddenly, while analysis comes with time and attention. If you’re just not quite able to recall the name of someone you meet at a party but feel you could if you tried harder, that’s your brain telling you to use analysis. Isn’t it interesting that you think you can recall something you know you forgot?
Creativity itself has been called a conceptual blending of different ideas. You take two things and bring them together in some new and inventive way. For example, you know about gold and the idea of a mountain, and you can picture a golden mountain. Kids are really good at this actually. Remember Harold and the Purple Crayon? Children can suspend reality to believe a magic crayon can create an environment, but you still have to watch out for gravity. They keep two ideas in mind at one time.
A more practical example comes from the story of Amy Baxter who was written up in the Wall Street Journal recently. Amy is an Atlanta pediatrician who noticed that her hands became numb after driving a poorly aligned car home one night. She applied frozen peas and vibration to her sons arm to demonstrate that an injection site could be quickly numbed to the pain. Now over 500 hospitals use her invention to ease the pain of children and other big babies like me.
So what can we do to improve our creativity?
A recent University of Munich study claims that light blue green surroundings induce insights, while red surrounds have been shown to improve analysis activities like proofreading. One theory is that red heightens alert while light green relaxes and opens the mind to new possibilities.
Working in your off-peak hours can help. If you’re a morning person, work in the evening, for example.
Allowing your mind to wander also helps. Get up and walk around, watch a short funny video at your desk, or have a beer. A 2012 University of Illinois at Chicago study found that students with blood alcohol levels of .075 performed better on tests than sober students. Just don’t go to far or you won’t recall your insights to make any use of them.
It also turns out that living in a big city can improve your creativity and output. Thanks to two physicists that put forth the idea ‘Superlinear Scaling’ we know that you can improve by up to 15% in your output by surrounding yourself with new experiences and people.
Conversely, working in a large business organization can dampen output by 10%, largely because of restrictive cubicles and hierarchies that discourage dissent and interaction. Some big companies like Google and Apple have recently committed to new work environments to counter this discovery.
Finally, there is an ‘outsider creativity’ that most young people enjoy. But it doesn’t have to be a state of age so much as a state of mind. If you travel, try new jobs, and surround yourself with new colleagues you can capitalize on outsider creativity with fresh eyes.
Your best route to an ‘aha’ moment may include wandering off, spacing out, and liquoring up. What every combination you choose, do try to be creative about it!