JK Rowling had the idea for the Harry Potter books while stuck on a delayed train. But is creative thinking like that just innate or can it be learned? And if it can then how?
Whether it’s JK Rowling’s train, Archimedes’ bath, or Percy Shaw’s cat, we’ve all heard of those eureka moments. Many of us will have experienced them as well, where the answer to a problem or an idea seems to come from nowhere. But where in our brain do these ideas come from – and can we learn to produce creative ideas at will?
There’s no shortcut round the first step in learning to be more creative, and that is to build up a solid level of information and understanding. Without this your subconscious simply won’t have the material to work with. So the first step requires focus and attention, and potentially some learning as well.
That groundwork laid the next step isn’t to wait for inspiration to magically strike, but to actively put your brain into the gear where creative thinking is more likely to happen. Experiments have shown that a degree of creativity is innate, and is something that we inherit and are born with. Those brains that are pre-disposed to more creative thinking are those where the right side of the brain, that deals more with insight and emotional reasoning, has a dominant role over the left, or logical and rational side of the brain.
This can be mimicked by putting your brain into a more relaxed state. The second step after preparation then is to take your attention away entirely from the problem or subject – perhaps by reading a book, or watching a film. Be careful what you choose though – experiments have shown that humour and comedies leave people far more open to creative thinking than tension or thrillers.
The third step is to turn down the influence of the left hemisphere, and its logical and systematic approach. The easiest way to achieve this is to be a little tired. Studies have shown that those who are up with the lark are at their most creative late at night. Night owls conversely have their most creative ideas in the early morning.
Ensuring plenty of mental material to work with, taking a break and relaxing with something upbeat, and timing things right should all help you to be at your most creative. There are though two things that will undermine your best efforts if you allow them to.
The first is an impending deadline. It’s hard to relax whilst you can feel time is running out, and procrastination is normally the enemy of creative thinking. The second is any conscious filtering or editing of your ideas. Applying your rational or logical thinking can’t be done whilst you’re trying to harness your creative potential.
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