Do your employees, kids and even you know how to think creatively?

 In a recent Newsweek article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman,  it was reported America is in a Creativity Crisis and that test scores have steadily declined since 1990. The reasons are not quite understood yet, but the suspect is a shift in engaging in TV and video games versus creative activities.  We all know that our school systems are reporting record low scores and that the school day is filled with “must do” subjects. 

What struck me in reading the article was neuroscience that is known on how to learn to be creative thinkers and solve problems creatively. (Something this world needs).

“ The lore of pop psychology is that creativity occurs on the right side of the brain. But we now know that if you tried to be creative using only the right side of your brain, it’d be like living with ideas perpetually at the tip of your tongue, just beyond reach.”   And all this time I have been trying to draw only on the right side of the brain.

Quoting the article, here is what really happens when we think creatively.

“When you try to solve a problem, you begin by concentrating on obvious facts and familiar solutions, to see if the answer lies there. This is a mostly left-brain stage of attack. If the answer doesn’t come, the right and left hemispheres of the brain activate together. Neural networks on the right side scan remote memories that could be vaguely relevant. A wide range of distant information that is normally tuned out becomes available to the left hemisphere, which searches for unseen patterns, alternative meanings, and high-level abstractions.

Having glimpsed such a connection, the left brain must quickly lock in on it before it escapes. The attention system must radically reverse gears, going from defocused attention to extremely focused attention. In a flash, the brain pulls together these disparate shreds of thought and binds them into a new single idea that enters consciousness. This is the “aha!” moment of insight, often followed by a spark of pleasure as the brain recognizes the novelty of what it’s come up with.

Now the brain must evaluate the idea it just generated. Is it worth pursuing? Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate.”

The question then becomes is this learnable and teachable. Like leadership, sure some of us have special innate characteristics that speed the process or make it easier, but we can all learn divergent and convergent thinking. It just takes practice and someone who shows us the way. 

University of New Mexico neuroscientist Rex Jung has concluded, “ that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better. A lifetime of consistent habits gradually changes the neurological pattern.”


Watching this in action.

This week our daughter attended a special writing camp in which she spent 20 hours learning the process of creative writing. Divergent and convergent thinking were slipped into the day in various forms and voila in one week she had learned the process of creative writing and written a fantastic story that was truly amazing. Granted they spent 20 hours on one subject intensely and will do so for another 2 weeks. This type of focused attention on creative problem solving and creative thinking may be just what we need to solve the future problems of the world. 

Our hope is that our schools will see the research and include such thinking in the curriculum, but if not, it is up to us parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to provide opportunities and show the way to creatively solve problems for fun and for our future survival.