Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creativity Tidbits

I've been reading Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer, which explains what's going on in the brain when we create. Here are some interesting tidbits from that book. Some are intuitive, but at least one is counterintuitive, which I always find fascinating. And naturally I can't resist a bit of my own commentary.
  • A relaxed state of mind is important for creativity, more important than relentless focus. Trying to force insight can actually prevent it. Directed daydreaming -- musing on the thing you want a creative solution to, while walking or showering, say -- works better. Though classroom teachers and sometimes parents may go half crazy dealing with daydreamers, these are the folks who are going to invent things and solve problems. We need them, and we need them not to change! 
  • Stimulants such as caffeine, Adderall, and Ritalin make creative epiphanies less likely.
  • However, these drugs make tedious details more interesting, and increase short-term memory. This is why writers, mathematicians, and scientists have taken amphetimines while revising, or when trying to fit diverse ideas together. They see more trees, but tend to lose the forest.
  • Undergrads with ADHD, in fields such as drama, art, and science, were found to be more creative than people without the disorder, both in creativity tests and practical applications, such as having won science fairs or ribbons at juried art shows.
  • Being surrounded by blue walls makes us more creative. (I knew there was a reason all the rooms in our house are blue. :)) Scientists say that we associate blue with sky, sea, and horizons, and alpha waves in our brains increase.
  • Travel increases creativity, because when you're in a place where you're the outsider, you don't have your surroundings in their usual boxes. "Our thoughts are shackled by the familiar."
  • Cities increase creativity for much the same reason. We think in new ways when we're exposed to variety.
  • Brainstorming doesn't work! Studies have shown that a group comes up with more and better ideas if they work alone and later pool their results. Brainstorming groups are normally directed to throw ideas out there without criticizing them. But studies have shown that including debate and criticism in a group discussion produces better results. This seems counter-intuitive; for so long we've been sold on the idea that everybody is "right." However, say the scientists, if everyone is right then there's no real incentive to embrace the other guy's thoughts. The absence of criticism keeps everybody in the same place -- where they were when the meeting started. Example: John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They were competitive and prickly together, and it drove them both to produce better music.
Must be why critique groups work. :)


Andrea Mack said...

Marcia, I'm on a hold list for that book at the library!

I love that part about the relaxed mind. So many times I sit at the computer, struggling to get going or to write a certain part, and make very little progress. But then later on, when I'm doing something completely different, that's when I get the insights into how to make it work.

Bish Denham said...

My room was blue as a teen and I think I was quite creative during those years. So now, I think I'll put blue curtains up in the room where I do most of my writing. The light will shine through them and give the room a sense of blue.

Faith E. Hough said...

Fascinating! I think I need to get some blue paint, for one thing. :) I've been going back and forth between colors for my writing room, but now I'll keep to the blue hues.
I definitely understand the last point. My husband and I have been co-plotting a story for a while that we will co-write once all the wrinkles are worked out. We're pretty ruthless--we trust each other enough that we can accept honesty without feeling betrayed. I can't imagine a better creative collaboration.

Vijaya said...

How interesting. I guess some painting is in order!

And that last point is spot-on. I see this is classrooms. Kids do so much better on their own instead of brainstorming together. But many teachers promote it because they think it's a good idea. I do think it can work when there is complete trust (as Faith points out writing with her husband) ... my writing partner Jen and I often brainstormed together when I was stuck.

Thanks for sharing.

Marcia said...

Andrea -- Yes, I've had that too. The shower really works for me. Walking works, but not as reliably as the running water. :)

Bish -- I went from a blue room to a blue house, and now we're about to paint the OUTSIDE blue and I'm so excited. :) But you know what? MY OFFICE ISN'T BLUE. It has paneling put up by the original owner, and plain basement walls. Oh well.

Faith -- Yes, one can never go wrong with blue, or have too much of it! :) How exciting to hear about your project with your husband.

Vijaya -- Oooh, will you join the Blue Community too?? And yes, brainstorming requires trust. It always rather puzzled me that no one caught on to this. Must be all those extroverts using it. :D

Christine Sarmel said...

Love, love loved - IMAGINE - and how it made me "imagine" new ways to be creative.

Unknown said...

I don't know about the last one. We had a brainstorming session at our recent RWA chapter meeting. It worked out well for those participating. I prefer, though, to brainstorm on my own.

I have ADHD, and I'm afraid to take ritalin in case it affects my creativity. It hasn't affected my son's, and he struggles without it. He can tell when he's forgotten to take it.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Fascinating. A writer friend was just talking about that issue with Adderal.

Emily R. King said...

No more caffeine and time to move to New York. Check and check. :)

Anonymous said...

There's caffeine, and then there's caffeine. I've never gone in for coffee, but a cup of tea and a Snickers bar...

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

At one point nearly my whole house was BLUE. Now it's almost all green. Although just yesterday I bought curtains, bed spread etc in the loveliest shade of silvery BLUE. Guess I'll have to write in my bedroom more. I do have my treadmill desk in there and I do write on it regularly.

I am fascinated with brain activity and really loved this post. Thanks for all the great info.

Marcia said...

Christine -- I think information about how the brain functions is fascinating.

Stina -- Since the extroverts tend to run things, maybe it's just that THEY prefer to brainstorm in a group. I'm with you on doing it alone.

Jaye -- I read about Adderal too recently, maybe in the newspaper or online. I mean, somewhere other than in this book. Its connection to perfomance must be under scrutiny now.

Emily -- LOL. I've found that any caffeine I take in has to be through tea or chocolate. Any coffee I drink, which is very little, has to be decaf or I get almost too jittery to function.

Anne -- Aha! We shall have to have tea and chocolate together sometime.

Joyce -- I'm fascinated with brain activity, too. And that silvery blue sounds gorgeous. Oh, and now I'm suddenly hearing about treadmill desks everywhere! I don't own a treadmill at this point, but it sounds tempting to try it.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

These are wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing them. Particularly disappointing to learn is the bit about blue walls. I have always had a "no blue" rule for our house. Little did I know I was sabotaging my own creativity ;)

Mirka Breen said...

I should try writing sans-caffeine... Seems daunting.

Thank you, Marcia, for always giving value in your posts.

cleemckenzie said...

Oh dear, I'm not wild about these findings. No caffeine? How will I see the screen? Blue walls? Would blue sky work as well? I'm not partial to cool colors inside.

Loved the information, but hate to think of the changes in my lifestyle if I take these to heart. :-)

Marcia said...

Ruth and Lee -- LOL, you mean there is life without blue? Seriously, I think people should surround themselves with the colors that are "them." If anybody told me I could increase my creativity by changing my decor to tan, camel, and goldenrod, I'd skip it and take my chances with "my" colors. :)

Mirka -- I know; it seems so many writers need coffee. But so many people period need coffee, and I've always wondered about that and never quite trusted it.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow, what a great book! It had lots of really interesting points. I was surprised that caffeine etc stiffened creativity. My writing routine includes a nap, then taking a flask of half caf coffee up to my office to write. My office walls are brown, but I have loads of art, posterboards and bits and pieces in there that are an array of colors.

Critique groups are so wonderful because it brings so many different people with different experiences into your work. Each different journey allows the critiquer bring something new to the table.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

This is fascinating! Blue walls? Wow. I'm on my way out to buy some paint and brushes.

Angela Ackerman said...

How cool! Sounds like a great read, especially for people who are struggling with writers block!

Ruth Donnelly said...

What intriguing information. I'm putting in a request on that book. Thanks for telling us about it!

Anonymous said...

I was nodding throughout this.

I love visiting major cities. I feel more alert and hungry for stimulation, since I'm getting more of it, and I return home with new ideas.

People have always ragged on me about daydreaming, yet those same people ask me for solutions to problems.

Sara Hill said...

I'm adding Imagine to my list. Thanks.

Marcia said...

Sharon -- I know; I think the caffeine thing surprises a lot of people. My office walls, unlike the rest of my blue house, are brown (paneling) and cream. Sigh.

Cynthia -- Oooh! Will you post pictures of your blue office when you're done?

Angela -- I think so, too; it should help people get to the root of creativity issues, or at least suggest several good things they can try.

Ruth -- I think you'll find it fascinating.

Medeia -- I like visiting major cities, too, and maybe now I understand why.

Sara -- Enjoy it!

Christina Farley said...

Very interesting. I love all of this information. Thanks for sharing.