1. Are making quick decision always a bad move? When is this not the best route?
2. Why is criticism from others a barrier to creative thinking?
3. How does the fear of failure block, moving forward with creative ideas?
4. Discuss pessimistic and the creative process.
5. Why is necessary to make the time to find alternative solution ideas?
6. Why is it so difficult to be/think/act differently?
7. How can we get out of the pit of pessimism?
Examining the There can be a certain thrill associated with entering into the creative process. Just as with any new endeavor, mustering up the courage to try something different may result in heightened excitement. But though we set sail and take a few steps outside our familiar surroundings, we often find a way to take our old ways with us. Letting go of our old habits and perceptions can be daunting. Often, they have worked well in the past, and letting them go can feel as if we are jumping off of a trapeze without a net…or like running out into the street naked.* To compensate, we may vigorously defend our old methods and conceptions, convince ourselves that we have some sort of magical writers block, or simply refuse to jump into the unknown for a number of insincere reasons. Its great to have strong ideas, opinions, and beliefs. But in order to grow, firmly ingrained beliefs, paradigms, and perceptions. Dean Ornish ventured away from old, firmly ingrained beliefs and discovered that heart disease could be treated through diet, exercise, and meditation. At one point, a leading cardiologist asked Dr. Ornish why he wanted to try something so radical as lifestyle changes rather than something more conventional, such as bypass surgery. *But Im too ugly to run into the street without clothes! Ill just die from embarrassment! Most likely not true. I cant believe anybody reading this book isnt exceptionally pleasing on the eyesmetaphorically speaking. Thomas Edison even hired research assistants based on their ability to have an open mind. Edison would invite candidates to have a bowl of soup. If they seasoned it before tasting it, he refused to hire them because they had built in assumptions about the soup without trying it. It was because of firmly rooted beliefs that in 1927, Harry Warner, former president of Warner Brothers, once asked, Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? What if I dont want to leave my worldview behind forever?
We mustnt forget that we are only temporarily leaving our dominant beliefs. It is only done for this particular phase of the creative process. It is done so that we can free ourselves to explore alternatives. We need not leave an idea behind forever. We can always return to our old garments in case it gets too chilly. If you truly believe your old ideas are valid and your old patterns of behavior are optimal, then they will always be there for you when you return. When we are done investigating alternatives, we are then free to once again return to our old ideas and perceptions. However, I doubt anyone at Warner Brothers continues to believe that films should all still be silent. Though I guess that may depend on who is acting in them. Origins of Our Dominant Perceptions Where do our ingrained ideas and behaviors come from? There is this great anecdote about a pygmy (a real one, not a fictitious one masquerading as a debt collector).1 For the first time in his life, he was taken hovering about in front of him. As he and his driver continued onward, the pygmy watched in amazement as the insects began to slowly grow to enormous sizes as he approached them. What kind of magical insects are these? he asked, dumbfounded. Those arent insects, replied his driver. We are just getting closer and closer to buffalo. Though I wasnt there with the two men on their drive, I could imagine how shaken the pygmy must have been to have his perceptions misled by his dominant worldviewone that was based upon living in the midst of a dense jungle and not on a speeding motor vehicle on a vast plain. In general, our neural networks can be seen as the biological container of our worldviews. They are tied to the different stories we use to make sense of what is around us. Our neural structures are like a web of meaning that help form the conceptual space of our perceptionswhat we feel is possibleand provide boundaries and rules that shape our interaction with the world. Think back to your perception of possibilities when trying to solve the puzzle of the man who died at the age of 27 or the two men who died in the woods. These neural structures originate from a combination of genetic
inheritance and life experiences. By taking a closer look at the origins of these neural structures, we may start to understand why we feel so emotionally tied to the world-view and belief systems they correspond to. Hard-wired By Genetics Our DNA determines many of our neural networks. For example, there are many regions in our neocortex that have been pre-wired for vision, hearing, touch, and motor functions. Also, we are pre-wired for many basic emotional responses and for particularly human ways of perceiving the world. Its as if just enough basic, fundamental tasks were assigned to a small population of our mental metropolis in order to start running the city before we were even born (cook, cleaner, financier) assigned by our parents DNA, their parents before them etc. Developed and Learned All of the neural networks not pre-wired by our genes are learned as we live our lives. In other words, though some people in our mental metropolis were assigned to be cooks in the city, specifics such as how to cook, what to cook, where to cook, and who to feed, may be determined through our lived experience in the world. distinguish the mothers voice from other voices within the first 2-3 days after birth because they are exposed to it while in the womb.2 The malleability of neural structures is what allows children to learn languages, speech, and motor coordination. Our physical environment greatly affects our neural structures. For example, the pygmy in our earlier anecdote was unaccustomed to seeing beyond a few feet in front of him because he lived exclusively within dense forests. His capacities of perception were ill equipped to handle a situation where he needed to see far. And in general, all the cultures that we grow up in, and are exposed to, can affect our paradigms. All types of groupsfrom Western to Eastern societies, from physicists to philosophers, from armed forces to athleteswill hold certain assumptions about reality and what is possible, acceptable, and valued. A musicians world may revolve around their instrument, their music, and their upcoming gigs. A good day may revolve around the quality of their performance or in a completed composition. A long distance runners world
may be very different. It may revolve around their shoes, their running trail, and their upcoming race. A stack of pancakes after an arduous run could be enough to make their dayat least it does mine. These paradigms are stored and passed along through various cultural devices and traditions. Examples of these devices include the stories we tell one another through film, television, songs, formal education, informal education, and all other media. We participate in cultural traditions, such as birthday celebrations, funerals, wedding ceremonies, and watching Monday Night Football, just to name a few. A quick reflection on the activities that shape our lives can reveal many more. They also reveal the underlying narratives that we unconsciously use to guide our lives. Our friends, family, coworkers, classmates, teachers, and the world at large continually influence our perceptions and paradigms. By sharing similar worldviews, we can more easily communicate with one another since we have shared meaning. We can appreciate the same jokes. We can become closer communities because these shared paradigms provide us with common bonds. For instance, runners can appreciate the experience of running a marathon in a way a nonrunner cant. The same is true for the artist, businessperson, parent, and any other segment of society. And through these paradigms, we are able to learn from the shared the possibility of other perceptions, solutions, and ideas. Heart disease would only be treated with surgery and films would have always been silent if nobody had the courage to let go of established paradigms. Reflect upon your current creative endeavor or the one youre thinking of pursuing. What are the assumptions you are making about how you will do it, what you need in order to do it, what success would look like etc…. What maybe the underlying assumptions preventing you from moving on? Are you aware of where these assumptions come from? Realizing this may be your first step towards altering them. Resistance to Change Why is it hard to alter our perceptions and paradigms? Emotional Reactions One reason our perceptions and thoughts can seem so fixed is that they can be heavily influenced by our emotions.
Think back to when you were younger. Do you remember ever being in a darkened room, scared of the sound of every creek, movement of the drapes, or whisper of the wind? One moment, youre in the safe confines of your bedroom. In the next, your fears are triggered by these harmless sounds and sights. And before you know it, youre convinced that there is a three hundred pound invisible monster lurking in your closet that nobody in the house has ever seen. This type of scenario still happens to us in our adulthood. Maybe, even the exact same scenario. Our emotional reactions to circumstances and scenarios can quickly trigger a particular perception or interpretation of what we are experiencing. We see a blank canvas, then become frustrated, and before we know it, we perceive our process as hopeless. We hear somebody speaking in a different language, become angered, and then suddenly, we are convinced that we are in the midst of terrorists. Or we see somebody who is dressed a certain way, then become fearful, and without any other supporting information, we perceive ourselves to be in a dangerous situation with a hoodlum. Out of habit, we may then start fantasizing and assigning exaggerated meaning to our experience. We contextualize our emotions with assumed stories that further fuel our emotions that further enlarge our stories. As a emotional reactions, regardless of how accurate or appropriate they are to the circumstance. Damn, Im never going to get anything interesting on this canvas. Im a terrible artist…. Hey, those people are speaking that foreign gibberish. Theyre going to steal all our jobs or try to take over this plane! Oh, no! He might have a gun or a knife. He might be a gang member who assaulted his teacher when he was 12 and now walks the streets as a thug, stalking unsuspecting authors of books on creativity. The emotional response can trigger an intellectual one that further perpetuates our emotions. In the blink of an eye a quirky gesture from a politician can be misconstrued by her opposing party as a sign of ignorance, weakness, disrespect, aggression, or any number of assumed meanings. Without a seconds notice, she is labeled as a fascist, socialist, communist, racist, narcissist, hedonist, plagiarist, contortionist, and any other word ending in ist. …all because she was caught simply scratching her itchy nose or shooing away a mosquito. How do we deal with our emotional reactions?
Again, these emotional responses are simply our unconscious trying to help us maintain balance, just as it does through our thoughtful playmates Bert and Ernie. They are another rule of thumb, one that gives us enough energy to run at the sight of a tiger or to fight when we are attacked. However, too often these energies are triggered by less than immediate threats. And more often than not in the modern age, these energies are triggered by circumstances that pose no mortal threat at alla writers blank computer screen, criticism from a peer, a failed product idea, or a simple gesture from a stranger. The remedy is the same. Rather than blindly follow our emotions down into the rabbit hole of exaggerated perceptions, we need to develop a more conscious relationship to them. We need to acknowledge them, see what they maybe indicating (life-threatening danger or overreaction to our circumstances), and make a more conscious decision on how to respond to them. We already know that we have a propensity for misperception and overgeneralization, so why not take a deep breath and put our circumstance in perspective. That blank canvas may in fact be your masterpiece in waiting and not an indicator that you should quit painting. Werent all masterpieces blank at their start? the emotion and consciously explain it awayits the fear of darkness that created the monster lurking in our closet. Apart from our emotions, there also seems to be a biological reason why we dislike change or things different. Reinforcing Our Old Ideas: Hebbian Learning As we have seen, neural connectivity can be strengthened through repetition. The more we are exposed to our spouse, the stronger the association is between our spouse and her/his characteristics (tall, dark haired, pudgy, distinctive odor etc.) These characteristics can become so tied to our notion of our spouse that other objects with similar traits (such as that random stranger at the grocery store who looked like a dead ringer from behind) can accidentally place us in some very uncomfortable hugging situations. Though for the most part, we have no difficulty distinguishing our spouse from the grocery clerk when we take a closer look. How does Hebbian Learning work? The strengthening of these associations is explained by a theory proposed
by psychologist Donald Hebb. The more often a group of neurons are activated at about the same time, the more efficient the signaling between them becomes, like greasing the connecting pipes in order to make them work better. As a result, their connectivity becomes stronger. For example, when we are exposed to a glass of wine, neurons are activated by the way the wine smells, tastes, looks, feels etc. The more we are exposed to the same type of wine, the stronger the neural connection between the neurons associated with each of these attributes. This is why some wine aficionados can differentiate between a 2005 South African Bored Doe and a 1985 Marilyn Merlot. It is also why we are adept at distinguishing our child Milli from the neighbors child Vanilli. Though we may be fooled by their similarities in a quick glance, we know whos who upon closer inspection. This theory helps explain the relative staying power of general and procedural memories as compared to those that are more specific and declarative in nature. For instance, exposure to specific birds, such as a Blue Jay or a ,* will each activate particular neural networks. Conversely, because both are birds, neural networks associated with the broad concept of a bird will be activated both times. Our general concept of what a bird is gains double strength. to fit new information into our old stories, we end up just firming up our old stories. Any new specific experience we have will tend to simply reinforce our general paradigm. If our dominant paradigm is the belief that being an entrepreneur is foolhardy, then well tend to see our lack of ideas and lack of progress as proof of that, further strengthening that story. On the other hand, if our dominant paradigm is the belief that entrepreneurship is the yellow brick road to happiness, then we may tend to see lack of ideas and progress as proof that were on our way to success. Because we habitually recognize patterns, we will likely organize the world into the same dominant patterns regardless of their authenticity or level of usability. We can see this with political pundits who can interpret just about anything as proof of their own point of view. Who knows what the more accurate perspectives are, but youll never find out if youre stuck on one in particular. * I didnt believe this was a real bird either when I first heard of it. Drive toward Homeostasis
Why are we sometimes uncomfortable with the unfamiliar? For the most part, we try to match the stories we tell ourselves of the world with the world itself. That way we know what to expect from our environmentwhat the dangers are, where the food is etc….We also have a drive to maintain homeostasis, which simply means we want to keep our relationship to our environment stable. Once Caveman Fred knew where saber tooth tigers were sleeping and where he could find good steak, he was set, and any change to these things was a threat to his survival. But as a result of our drive for homeostasis, it seems we have grown to favor the familiar and find displeasure in the unfamiliar. In one study, test subjects were shown a series of photographs of peoples faces. When asked which face they like more, the subjects always favored the faces that were shown more often, regardless of the specific face. A similar experiment was done with musical melodies with comparable results.3 In another experiment, subjects were shown pictures of unusual shapes for only 1msec at a time. This meant that the subjects were receiving data beneath conscious awareness, since 1msec is much too fast to consciously recognize or memorize the images they saw. The experimenters then paired each of these shapes with another that the subjects had not yet seen results seem to imply that the effects of familiarity on preference occur even if a person is not consciously aware of their stimulithat we can be influenced subconsciously. It appears then that there is a neurological basis for the tensions that can arise when people of different backgrounds and points of view interact. In our drive for survival, it seems that we strive to find stability between our environment and ourselves. When that balance is offset through exposure to different beliefs, customs, traditions, or by a change in our physical environment, we can feel uncomfortable or threatened. This is at the root of our biases and prejudices. This also helps provide an explanation for why it can be so hard to deviate from the norm. It is difficult to be creative when part of our biology dictates we stick to what we know. If we are used to a particular process, method, approach to problems, or standards for success, we can feel uneasy about new ones. The same is true of all our ideas and behaviors. When our external world no longer matches our internal one, we can have a biological reaction that requires us to either change our environment or change our internal structuresour stories of the way things are and the way things are supposed to be done. But its hard to think differently when we may have a biological propensity to stick with the familiar. No wonder it can be so hard for Old Uncle Max to change his opinion, change his lifestyle, or to remember to put the toilet seat back down after use.
Learning to Sail Naked The villagers couldnt imagine venturing out to sea without any pickles and doughnuts. I couldnt do that. Me neither. Its just not in me. If I were to throw out all my pickles and doughnuts, I might as well sail on a leaky ship. The beggar nodded his head, acknowledging the villagers concerns. I know it seems that way, but we were born to do it. We all are. Even I did it. Plus, it wasnt as if Id never have another pickle and doughnut again. As long as I made it back home, I knew I could have as many of them as I wanted. They were just waiting for me to return to the island. The villagers sat in silence. Look, how many of you thought I was a dirty, old, drunk beggar when we first met? The villagers all raised their hands. And now that some time has passed, and youve gotten to know me a little the farmer. See…you all can change your perceptions. The beggar then watched as the village drunk placed his index finger in his ear while sucking the thumb of the same hand. I still think youre a lush, replied the village drunk. The beggar laughed and continued, As unlikely as it may seem, even he can learn to think differently.
CHAPTER NINE Scientific Evidence for the Possibility of Thinking Differently I know too many people who are stuck in their beliefs, stuck to their old ways of doing things. Is there proof that we can make significant change to our thinking patterns? Our beliefs and perceptions, our dominant neural networks, provide an anchor when we can easily be driven by the erratic winds and drift off to sea. But only by lifting the anchor can we hope to explore the rich breadth of the ocean. Fortunately, though we have a neurological urge to dislike change, neuroscience also tells us that our brain has the ability to rewire itself. We can form new neural networks (an ability which is called neuroplasticity). What is more, our right and left hemispheres are so organized as to learn and the miraculous. He has given the sense of sight to the blind. 1 Well sort of. At the departments of rehabilitation medicine and biomedical engineering, a mechanism has been developed that allows a blind person to see through the sense of touch. They are able to gain spatial awareness that includes both perspective and depth through the use of this specialized mechanism. It has a camera used to capture visual information commonly associated with the eye and translates the images captured into tactile information that can be sensed through the skin of a hand or through the tongue. Though the user may not experience the sense of sight in the same way others do, this finding is miraculous nonetheless. Remember, the third layer of our brain known as the neocortex, or new brain, is comprised of different lobes that are thought to specialize in different functions (processing sight, sound, touch etc…). What the researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have shown is that these specialized lobes can be rewired to process other types of information. The brain is able to re-wire itself and adapt to change. In this case, the areas of the brain that specialized in dealing with information from touch actually changed to also deal with spatial awareness.* Referring back to our mental metropolis, its as if the folks at the financial district have also learned how to run a restaurant. At least now, if they ever lose their jobs because of a neurological market collapse, they can be useful at the next potluck. A slightly less dramatic but equally relevant example is that of Japanese speakers. Japanese adults have difficulty discriminating between R and L sounds, such as in rip and lip because the Japanese language does not include the sound of the letter L. Studies demonstrate that though Japanese infants are not born with this difficulty, they develop it after new neural networks are formed as they learn the language.2 However, does that preclude Japanese adults from ever producing and discriminating these sounds? On the contrary, there is evidence that different groups of neural connections are made and strengthened as adults rehearse and begin discriminating between R and L. But how can I experience a change of my habitual thought patterns? Though we are creatures of habitual pattern recognitionyou were able to access new perspectives every time you got the punchline to a joke or understood the answer to any of the various puzzles encountered throughout can restructure themselves in order to process visual information. Sur was able to reroute visual signals from the eye to auditory centers in the brains of newborn ferrets. Within a matter of weeks, visual processing was occurring in these auditory centersthough this may have really confused the ferrets at first. We also experienced new perspectives through the various images we encountered thus far. Look at Figure 17. Its called a Necker cube. Where do you see the front face of the cube?
The front face of this cube can be viewed in a couple different ways. It can be seen with the front face protruding out toward the bottom left, or out toward the top right. Though it is rather difficult to view the cube differently after youve seen it in one way, it is not impossible. And if you were able to accomplish this, you have just experienced a new perspective first hand. The Story of the Right and Left Hemispheres Over the years, the relationship between our two cerebral hemispheres and their roles has been interpreted in various ways. Here are a couple of the most popular notions: with interpreting visual and spatial information. The right hemisphere is more holistic and the left is only concerned with perceiving the world in discrete parts. Though the two hemispheres of our brains are not perfectly symmetrical, the popular interpretations are a bit of an overgeneralization. We also know that they dont operate like completely separate cities, as several roads connect the twothe largest being the superhighway known as the corpus callosum. Still, there seem to be at least two other ways to interpret the data that not only sheds light on this distinction, but also demonstrates how our brain has built-in mechanisms to think differently. Literal and Meaning-full Hemispheres When I was younger, I remember being told numerous times by some authority figure what I could or couldnt do. You cant run across the street. You cant play ball in the house. You cant eat dessert before supper. On my more mischievous days, Id do my best to find some clever way to
get around these restrictions. So you say I cant eat dessert before my supper? Fine, then I just wont eat supper. Or you say I cant run across the street? Fine, then Ill just run to its center and back home again. Thats not running across it. I followed the rules. I followed their exact wordsjust maybe not their intent. It was a technique I think I learned from an episode of the Brady Bunch. In many studies, patients with damage to their right hemisphere display an inability to understand anything other than the literal meaning of words.3 They have problems correctly in terpreting figurative and indirect language, such as metaphors, sarcasm, and irony. For instance, imagine asking a coworker if he could have the reports done tomorrow. Those with left hemisphere damage are able to understand this as an indirect request. On the other hand, those with right hemisphere damage are only able to access a literal meaning (Yes, I can have them done tomorrow), and cannot figure out that this question is a request in disguisenot that you were trying to be su bversive. Such re-evaluation requires multiple perspectives and meanings that are not accessible to them.* *In another study, Ellen Winner and Howard Gardner gave patients pictures a tendency to select images that represented a literal interpretation of the phrase than did people without any brain damage. According to psychologist Robert Ornstein, these studies indicate that the left hemisphere is critical for making literal interpretations of the world. Conversely, it seems that our ability for re-interpretation stems from the right hemispheres role in maintaining multiple perspectives and holding multiple meanings.4 Studies also reveal that patients with right hemisphere damage are often unable to imagine parts as existing within a whole or, in other words, the whole as built up of parts. So for example, a person with right hemisphere damage may have difficulty envisioning arcs as being parts of circles, or envisioning what an entire room looks like while standing in the middle of it.5 Though this could be interpreted as supporting a holistic-discrete distinction, it could be better interpreted as a distinction between singular and multiple perspectives in light of Ornsteins description of the hemispheres. The patient in the room has difficulty envisioning the entire room because she can only see from one perspective at a time. Without the right hemispheres ability to maintain multiple meanings and viewpoints, the left hemisphere seems unable to build a larger context for interpreting stimuli. It is stuck with the literal, dominant perspective. Under this understanding of the hemispheres, I should have known that I wasnt allowed to play in the street under any circumstances, even though I was told specifically, You cant run across the street. And I probably did know the intent of those instructions. I just didnt care.
The Novel and Familiar Hemispheres Brain researcher Elkhonon Goldberg proposes another, yet related theory on hemisphere functions. For fun, lets name the two hemispheresLeft Hemisphere Lawrence and Right Hemisphere Ralph. According to Goldberg, when learning a new task (learning a new instrument, a new language) Ralph does most of the work, but gradually hands it over to Lawrence as the task becomes more familiar.6 Regardless of the task, Ralph appears to learn new neural connections and firing patterns, and then, these are stored in Lawrences apartment. Visual: In one experiment, patients were shown several pictures of faces. Though the language-visuospatial theorists would have predicted more that displayed more neural activity.7 Language: With respect to language processing, adults with left hemisphere damage often seem to have impaired linguistic and , while adults with right hemisphere damage do not. This observation is what has led many to the conclusion that the left hemisphere is responsible for language processing. However, studies also show that children with right hemisphere damage have difficulty with language development. This seems to indicate that the right hemisphere is critical in learning a language initially and only transfers the language processing activity to the left over time. Misc: Further research has shown through neuroimaging that the right hemisphere is not just crucial in verbal and visiospatial development, but also in the development of all cognitive tasks regardless of timeframewhether something is being learned within a matter of hours or years. For example, studies with student musicians demonstrate that the more skilled one becomes, the more the neural activity shifts from the right to left hemisphere.8 Evidence also suggests that this interplay between Ralph and Lawrence isnt a consistent division of labor. As we go from childhood to old age, we gradually rely more on Lawrence than we do on Ralph.9 Poor Ralph doesnt get to exercise his learning chops, while Lawrence stays busy managing our pile of learnt ideas and behaviors. With neuroplasticity and the relationship between the two hemispheres, it looks like our brains are built for thinking differently. Thats kind of encouraging. The brain can restructure neural networks so that new neural connections can be formed. It also has evolved a specific division of labor between the hemispheres that enables it to grow, learn, adapt, carry multiple meanings, and hold various perspectives. So it definitely appears that we have the inherent capability to think differently. But the findings also show that over time we tend to rely more on what weve already learned rather than on exercising our faculties for thinking differently. We tend to become more reliant on whats stored in our left hemisphere and disengage the novel perspectives accessible to us through our right. The more we activate particular neural networks, the more ingrained they become. So because we often operate based on learnt habits and perceptions, we end up reinforcing them, making it even more difficult to create new ones. a propensity for a limited, literal interpretation of the world.
So how do we make use of Ralphs capabilities? What are the actual nuts and bolts of finding new ideas and solutions?
Well get to that soon. Lots of books and creativity coaches jump right into that discussion, but most of us dont ever get that far in our lives. Too often, were stuck on the shore, just wanting things to be different. Being well versed in all the idea generating strategies and tricks known to man is no good unless we are able to overcome our self-doubt and accept that creative possibilities exist.
These first issues are also what need to be addressed to lay the groundwork for creativity in group settings. A lack of understanding of what the first two stages entail can undermine successful cooperative creativity. If some of the participants are unwilling to accept that alternatives are possible or lack the hope to think they are worth pursuing, other members will either feel reluctant to explore or unmotivated to participate, and tension may arise that slows down the process and creates unnecessary animosity. These early stages are important to describe so that we can recognize and prevent them from sabotaging our efforts.