How to use neuroscience to help build the perfect creative team

Creativity has been part of my professional life for over twenty years working in PR and then as a trainer and consultant.

I’ve always been fascinated by what’s actually playing out on the hills and valleys of our 3lbs of grey matter whilst we’re generating creative ideas.

People often ask what the secret is to getting into ‘the creative zone.’ Is there a way to switch your creativity on and off? There are three strategies that I’ve found to help if I’m feeling stuck on a problem. Getting physical works for me – taking a walk or playing music (something bouncy for 5 minutes of home office disco). Sometimes I take a power nap. Talking it through with someone totally uninvolved can help too. But why does this help?

To help me understand more I teamed up with neuroscientist Ben Martynoga for my new book In Your Creative Element to learn more about how different brain states affect our creative thinking. Below is a whistle-stop tour of what we explore further in the book about how our brains work in relation to creativity.

The book is based the framework of the Periodic Table (that you might remember from your science lessons) and as part of my ‘Periodic Table of Creative Elements’ I’ve identified 62 ‘creative elements’. Based on a review of many studies into creativity from neuroscience and psychology we’ve identified 10 creative elements below as a way to think about our mental toolkit.

Creative Element Key take-out for creative thinking
Unconscious mind (Um) So easy to forget, but crucial: make time, lots of it, for unconscious incubation.
Relaxed mind (Re) When the mind unwinds, tentative ideas and growing hunches bubble up to the surface.
Wandering mind (W) Be distracted. Sometimes daydreams throw up sticks of creative dynamite.
Associating mind (As) Frame questions in unexpected ways to connect the seemingly unconnectable.
Emotion (E) Mood matters. Feeling good helps you to explore the outer reaches of the possible.
Logic (L) When the time comes to plan, evaluate and plot: be serious, challenge yourself and others. That way you focus like a laser and make the right calls.
Analytical mind (Am) Play with your mental Lego and build something new and dazzling, block-by-block.
Prolific mind (Pm) Don’t worry about having good ideas, just have lots of ideas. Some will fly.
Improvising mind (Ir) Once you’ve put in the hours of practice, you can learn to put your inner critic on ice and get into the creative flow.
Insightful mind (In) Do the legwork first, cement your problem, then back off and wait for the lightning strike of sudden inspiration.
10 Creative Elements relating to the brain, extract from In Your Creative Element, copyright Claire Bridges 2017

So when you’re thinking about building creative teams, or making the most of your existing set up, a simple thing to do is an informal assessment of your mental preferences. You can do this for yourself (and ask of your team to do the same).

  1. Next time you have a creative problem, try to keep tabs on the mental processes you used in solving it. Does your workflow tap into any of the elements we’ve identified above?
  2. Do you have a natural preference for any particular mode of thinking over another?
  3. If you find yourself always drawn to a particular style of thinking, try to shake things up. If you’re usually very focused and logical, try loosening your grip. If, on the other hand, your mind wanders too readily, see if it helps to force yourself to put in a bit more analytical graft first.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific Director of the Imagination Institute, suggests is that creative minds are messy minds. The idea of a creative brain or even a single creative brain state is an illusion – so there is no one type of person that makes the perfect creative. We can all try to be more creative by exploring every corner and crevice of our brain. To try to switch smoothly between completely different, often contradictory modes of thought. Creativity is knowing when to put in conscious, effortful mental work. Creativity is also changing tack, letting the mind perambulate and giving in to the powerful workings of the unconscious mind.

Written by Claire Bridges, Chief Spark at Now Go Create and author of In Your Creative Element

This article first appeared on www.minutehack.com in January 2017

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