[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximizing Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation (book review)

I love the content. But I give four stars (not five) because it's overly technical/academic in it's language. I'm all about rigorous research. But the author is at Harvard and wrote this like a long academic journal article. If you can get pat the dry, over complicated language, it's a good read. Example: she calls these thinking modes "cognitive brain sets" or "brain activation patterns".

Creativity, the author argues, is not a single mental process, not a magical gift some have and others don't. Rather, it is the ability to engage in and transition between several ways of thinking. 

The first thinking pattern she discusses is the "absorb" mode, where you are open, curious, and nonjudgmental about what's happening around you. The key here is to see with fresh eyes rather than filter the world though your assumptions. 

The "reason" mode is a deliberate problem solving mode. You systematically analyze the gaps, look for patterns, test ideas, etc. 

The "connect" mode is where you reach for associations, finding similar themes but in non-obvious ways. This is where you see how building team cohesion is like baking a cake, or how thinking of paintbrush bristles like a pump for paint opens new manufacturing options. 

The "envision" brain mode is using your imagination, vividly seeing what could be. You pose a possibility and then envision all the ways it would play out. 

The "evaluate" mode uses an explicitly judgmental process. All creative professionals know that many more ideas are generated than can be used. In fact, many of them are really bad ideas. Doing the hard work of sorting and rejecting some ideas so you can focus on good ones is at the heart of good creative work. 

The "transform" mode, she says, happens when the negative feelings about yourself and life fuel creative work. I actually totally disagree with this mode being on her list. There are a lot of creative professionals who struggle with negative feelings. But I think feeling blue doesn't in and of itself contribute to creativity. I think creativity can help alleviate or channel those feelings. But it's a separate thing. Correlation does not equal causation. 

The last mode is the "stream" mode. This is when you get so caught up in what you're doing that time fades away and you zone out. It's when the challenge matches your skill level and there is real time feedback (even if just your own feelings on how you're doing). This mental process often generates ideas and work that feels effortless and even from beyond ourselves. 

But, again, creativity requires all these modes. It's not staying in your favorite mode. It's being proficient in each. And it's being able to slide back and forth without a major loss of energy or time. When you can do this, you can be creative in any field. 

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