Monday, November 14th, 2016
A blank canvas. An empty music score. A newly opened Word document or electric circuit simulation. Trying to harness creativity at will haunts artists, scientists, technologists, and even bureaucrats.
How can we open our minds and wander into new, innovative territory?
Our thought process relies on pattern recognition, categorization and prediction, and, like water flowing into streams and tributaries, tends to search for pathways where it has flowed in the past. What starts out as a trickle eventually forms a rut — an efficient rut, to be sure — but one that makes us set in our ways and can limit our creativity.
Once the canyons of our thought processes form, how can we scale the rock walls to look across the horizon for new ideas and better ways?
Cultivate a resilience to failure. Put yourself in new situations where you have to struggle to understand or find solid ground. Balance the stress of facing new challenges with the confidence that you can succeed. The stress of possible failure plus the confidence that you have a good chance puts you in the zone, a state of concentration that optimizes your ability to focus without constraining your ability to defocus. This is where you excite new pathways in your brain and create new networks to accommodate new perceptions.
When you fail, instead of incriminating yourself, understand that failures occur because something doesn’t work the way we expect, but our expectations can adapt. Take what works forward in the direction that the failure points and make failures a step toward success.
Learn to recognize your prejudices. When you face a challenge, your brain first seeks solutions that have worked in the past. It also suppresses angles on the problem that, for whatever reason, you’re prejudiced against. Suppression of ideas is the antithesis of creativity. Expand your creativity by entertaining wild, unconventional thoughts — as though you let the fool in your court put forth outlandish ideas.
Summing-up: Let your ideas flow, even if they end up unworkable or off target. Don’t disregard that instant when awareness of something out of the ordinary boils up that could be key to a whole new discovery. Absurd ideas in one context may turn out to be pure genius in another.