Tag Archives: creative thinking

The Brain: Our Creative Powerhouse

Our brain is an amazing organ.

Located in our skull, at the top of our body, this relatively small structure is our own central processing unit (CPU).  Much more intricate and infinitely more powerful than any computer, our brain works silently 24 hours-a-day, 365/366 days-a-year, from before we are born until we die, controlling organ function, thought, emotions, movement, hormone levels … the list goes on.

To help put its complexity into context, there are estimated to be more connections/junctions in our brain than there are stars in the universe; that is more than 100 billion!

But even with our extensive knowledge and intense research efforts, many areas of the brain remain a mystery.  From what we do know and without getting into too much detail, our brain is divided into different anatomical areas with different structures and functions.  A significant part is dedicated to the processing of information fed in by nerves connected to our senses (e.g., touch, sight, smell & hearing), through the detection of changes in levels of hormones and other ‘body chemicals’.  Interaction of the different areas provides our thoughts, deductions, analyses, feeling and emotions.

And different areas provide specific types of thoughts and responses: emotional; rational; sexual.

It follows that what we feed into our brain influences what we get out.  Benefits of a healthy diet, exercise regimens and work/rest balance have all been demonstrated to one degree or another.  The way in which we ‘train’ our brain influences how much information we retain, how we process the information we receive and how we arrive at the conclusions we draw.  Our life experiences also greatly influence how we process information.  All of these factors add up to a very complex series of interactions and influences.

One thing we know is that the brain responds well and adapts, even changes when we repeat actions (we call this practice).  New skills are learnt, information retained and brain processes modified.  Think of learning a new skill … very rarely do we start off an expert.  Athletes train their bodies and brains for the physical and mental battles on the track and field.  Musicians train their fingers, hands, feet and minds as they master tunes and rhythms, read music and improve dexterity.  Actors learn their parts through the repetition of words and actions.

And in our school and colleges, we repeatedly stimulate our logical, deductive faculties through repetition and the exercising of our ‘left brain’.

But if we wish to be creative it is important that we understand the need to exercise our whole brain.  The right side is important in engaging our emotions, non-logical or deductive thinking and artistic skills.  When we hook this up with our logical thinking, we arrive at creativity.

Creativity is not a gift of the few it is a talent we ALL possess.  Neither is creativity something that just happens.  Just like any other skill, we need to work at it, exercising the different faculties of our mind and intelligence, honing the skills that make creativity part of our life.

Whatever area of life we find ourselves in, creativity has a place and application.  In one of my earlier articles, 5 Simple Steps to Creative Thinking and Idea Generation, I listed some time-proven steps which help us to train our brains to think creatively and come up with new ideas.  These steps were identified by a master of the advertising industry from the 1940’s, but they are equally applicable today across a broad range of disciplines.

Our brain IS an amazing organ and the potential IS almost infinite.  How we tap into that potential often lies with the way in which engage our faculties, however good or bad we think they are.  When we engage these effectively, we are repeatedly amazed by our own creative potential.

So let’s learn how to use our whole brain, our whole intelligence, rather than just our intellect, and benefit ourselves and others from the creativity that emerges.

5 Simple Steps to Creative Thinking and Idea Generation

Every so often I read a really practical book.  Today’s feast was written back in the 1940’s by James Webb Young, an advertising guru.  The great thing about a great book is that it is timeless.  Much has changed in the world since Mr Young first wrote this short work, but the human mind still works in the same way and the need for creative ideas is ever more important.

Thankfully, this time-proven formula still works with great effect … as long as we don’t do our favourite ‘cutting the corners’!

The following process has a track record of success for creating new ideas across a wide sphere of disciplines, from poetry to painting, engineering to science, from advertising to legal.

The aim is to make new connections between existing events or subjects, completing a new picture, analogous to making a jigsaw for the first time.

It is essential to understand that this is a sequence and not just a list of tasks.  Therefore, each step should be completed in the sequence listed.  Each individual step is the foundation for success at the next stage.

1. Collect Raw Materials
This step is often skipped or only partly completed but is a key to the overall success of the process.  The quality of ideas generated depends on the quality of the preparation and assimilation of the raw materials.  Raw materials can include paper and magazine cuttings, photographs, advertisements, original observations. 

Two types of raw materials should be collected:

  • Specific –  Those relating directly to the area of interest, customer group, proposed product etc.
  • General – Those relating to the broad subject of life events and current affairs.  The more widely we spread our net for general materials, the greater our chance of generating creative ideas.  This is an ongoing process on which we can build each day.

It is a good idea to assemble these into some kind of order or pattern.  Scrapbooks are a great way to collect general materials.  Specific materials can be catalogued in some way to make retrieval easier.

Do not short-cut step 1.

2. Digest the Materials
This step involves taking each piece of information and studying it from as many angles and in as many different ways as you can.  Really try to ‘get inside’ what it is about, what it is saying, how it looks etc.  Continue this process with each piece of specific and general information, looking at the facts and trying to bring them together to see how they fit.  A ‘fit’ may be found for some pieces of information without too looking too deeply.  As bits of ideas come to mind, write these down, no matter how wild or part-formed they are.  This process will help cement them in the mind and is a precursor to generation of complete ideas.

It is hard work and at some stage the mind will become tired, but keep going at this stage as you will develop a second burst of mental energy.  Only when everything becomes a complete jumble with no clear solution anywhere should you stop this process.

3. Drop the Subject
A common trait in the creative process and idea generation is that these ideas come to us when we are least expecting them to, and often when we are doing something that is totally unrelated to the area in which we have been seeking to generate ideas.

So, this third step is quite simple; get as far away as possible from the thinking process on our chosen area.  Do something different, preferably something where you can relax and something that you really enjoy.  Typically, this will be a topic or activity in which you feel most creative, such as, listening to music, reading poetry, playing a sport.

This allows our subconscious to mull over the information we have input in steps one and two.

4. The Idea from Nowhere
At some stage an idea will ‘appear as from nowhere’ and usually during a pretty mundane activity such as eating breakfast, having a bath or shave, going for a walk.  This is the point at which you must write it down to capture it (having a pencil and notebook in the pocket at all times is a very useful exercise) and then …

5. Test the Idea
Once ideas have been generated it may be apparent that they are not the complete picture or not as great as first thought.  However, the best way to test these is to expose them to a trusted judicious few.  This may seem a bit of a threat.  After all, we may not feel like sharing ideas with others (hence the word ‘trusted’) and we may be afraid of them being shot down in flames (hence the word ‘trusted’).

What is most interesting is that a good seed of an idea will generate more flesh from those who encounter it.  So, our idea will benefit from the wisdom and experience of others and grow as they add their ideas to it.  The idea expands into opportunities and possibilities that we may have overlooked.

What we end up with is a creative solution, shaped and developed from an idea into a practical solution.

You can download your own free copy of these 5 steps, in PDF format, using the following link … 5 Steps to Creating Ideas, either by clicking on the link which will open the document in Adobe Acrobat Reader (or whatever PDF software you have on your computer) and then saving the file to your computer, or by right clicking on the link and using the ‘Save Target As‘ (Internet Explorer) or equivalent for other browsers (such as Firefox).

Until next time …

My Zimbio
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