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Are some people born creative and others not? Can you foster creativity in yourself if you feel it is lacking? Research gives us thought that this may be possible – but how?

What does it mean to be creative?
According to Tina Seelig, author of inGENIUS: A Crash Course on Creativity, “creativity is easily defined — it is the process of generating new ideas” (Smith, 2012). Tina goes on to say creativity is important in industry in a rapidly changing world.  She suggests creativity is important to stay competitive.

The generation of new ideas is important for finding new solutions to problems. She suggests that “true creativity requires the ability to break new ground, which requires significant effort. ”

Is it just effort or an innate ability?

The neuroscience of creativity
Neuroscientists have found people who produce more creative ideas use different parts of their brains differently. According to Roger Beaty, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience at Harvard University, there are three different parts of our brains engaged in the creative process: the default, salience, and executive networks.

Three different brain systems

  • Default network
    This is the part of the brain engaged in spontaneous thinking. That is the daydreaming, imagining and general mind-wandering activity. This is what we use when generating new ideas and brainstorming to come up with possible solutions to problems.
  • Executive network
    This is the part of the brain that focuses thoughts and controls them. It is suggested it is where ideas are evaluated and their utility assessed and amended to fit the goal.
  • Salience network
    This acts as a switching mechanism. It enables the brain to alternate between the default network generating ideas and the executive network evaluating them.
    (Briggs, 2018)

These three brain systems don’t get activated at the same time. The default network and executive network are usually asynchronous. That is, unless you are a more creative person. Creative people are better able to “co-activate” these systems. That means people who are able to manage these dual networks functioning simultaneously ie the ability to let the mind wander and reign it in may be the key to creativity.

Can this be learned?
Seelig suggests that creativity can be facilitated. People can learn tools and techniques for looking at problems from different angles. Combining this with the awareness for the different ways of thinking would suggest that learning to be flexible in the way we think is critical. 

These ideas are not new. Edward De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats is one approach to developing thinking flexibility and adopting different perspectives or angles on problems. What these sorts of approaches do is help bring a consciousness to the process.

It will be interesting to see what further research reveals about the “switching” mechanism of the salience network and how this can facilitate the creative process.




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