There are four types of creative thinking,
Reframing opens up creative possibilities by changing our interpretation of an event, situation, behaviour, person or object.
Think about a time when we changed our opinion of somebody. Maybe we saw them as ‘difficult’ or ‘unpleasant’ because of the way they behaved towards us only to discover a reason for that behaviour that made we feel sympathetic towards them. So we ended up with an image of them as ‘struggling’ or ‘dealing with problems’ rather than bad.
Or what about a time when you experienced a big disappointment, only to discover an opportunity which emerged from it. As the old saying goes, ‘when one door closes, another opens’.
Reframes, the essential nature of the person, object or event didn’t change — only our perception of them. When we exchanged an old frame for a new one, things looked very different.
Creative frames of reference
Here are some frames to help us generate creative solutions. Meaning — what else could this mean?
· Context — where else could this be useful?
· Learning — what can I learn from this?
· Humour — what’s the funny side of this?
· Solution — what would I be doing if I’d solved the problem? Can I start doing any of that right now?
· Silver lining — what opportunities are lurking inside this problem?
· Points of view — how does this look to the other people involved?
· Creative heroes — how would one of my creative heroes approach this problem?
2. Mind Mapping
When we make notes or draft ideas in conventional linear form, using sentences or bullet points that follow on from each other in a sequence, it’s easy to get stuck because we are trying to do two things at once: (1) get the ideas down on paper and (2) arrange them into a logical sequence.
Mind mapping sidesteps this problem by allowing you to write ideas down in an associative, organic pattern, starting with a key concept in the centre of the page, and radiating out in all directions, using lines to connect related ideas. It’s easier to ‘splurge’ ideas onto the page without having to arrange them all neatly in sequence. And yet an order or pattern does emerge, in the lines connecting related ideas together in clusters.
Because it involves both words and a visual layout, it has been claimed that mind mapping engages both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, leading to a more holistic and imaginative style of thinking. A mind map can also aid learning by showing the relationships between different concepts and making them easier to memorize.
Visual approaches to generating and organising ideas have been used for centuries, and some pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks are often cited as the inspiration for modern mind maps. Tony Buzan is the leading authority on mind mapping. Among his tips for getting the most out of the technique are:
· Start in the centre of the page
· The lines should be connected and radiate out from the central concept
· Use different colours for different branches of the mind map
· Use images and symbols to bring the concepts to life and make them easier to remember
The word insight has several different meanings, but in the context of creative thinking it means an idea that appears in the mind as if from nowhere, with no immediately preceding conscious thought or effort. It’s the proverbial ‘Aha!’ or ‘Eureka!’ moment, when an idea pops into your mind out of the blue.
There are many accounts of creative breakthroughs made through insight, from Archimedes in the bath tub onwards. All of them follow the same basic pattern:
1. Working hard to solve a problem.
2. Getting stuck and/or taking a break.
3. A flash of insight bringing the solution to the problem.
The neuroscience of insight
Recent research by neuroscientists has validated the subjective descriptions given by creators. It has also thrown up some interesting discoveries.
Although it may look (and even feel) as though you are doing nothing in the moments before an insight emerges, brain scans have shown that your brain is actually working harder than when you are trying to reason through a problem with ‘hard’ thinking:
So if anyone accuses you of being idle next time they see you staring out the window or strolling in the park, point them to the research!
Neuroscience has also revealed that the right hemisphere of the brain — long associated with holistic thinking, as opposed to the more logical left hemisphere) — is strongly involved in the production of insights. Another finding is that you are more likely to have an insight when you feel happier than when you feel anxious. So maybe suffering for your art isn’t such a good idea after all!
According to David Rock, self-awareness is a key to unlock insight. It’s important to recognise when you get stuck on a problem and instead of trying to push through it by working harder, deliberately slow down, calm your mind and allow your thoughts to wander. Rock also points out that every insight comes with a burst of energy and enthusiasm that helps you put it into action.
How to Have an Insight
In a book published over fifty years ago, advertising copywriter James Webb Young outlined A Technique for Producing Ideas which dovetails neatly with the accounts of creators and the discoveries of modern neuroscience. He describes his own practice in coming up with ideas for advertisements, which he distils into a four step sequence:
1. Gathering knowledge — through both constant effort to expand your general knowledge and also specific research for each project.
2. Hard thinking about the problem — doing your best to combine the different elements into a workable solution. Young emphasises the importance of working yourself to a standstill, when you are ready to give up out of sheer exhaustion.
3. Incubation — taking a break and allowing the unconscious mind to work its magic. Rather than simply doing nothing,
4. Creative Flow
creative flow — and concluded that it is very highly correlated with outstanding creative performance. In other words, it doesn’t just feel good — it’s a sign that you’re working at your best, producing high-quality work.
nine essential characteristics of flow:
1. There are clear goals every step of the way. Knowing what you are trying to achieve gives your actions a sense of purpose and meaning.
2. There is immediate feedback to your actions. Not only do you know what you are trying to achieve, you are also clear about how well you are doing it. This makes it easier to adjust for optimum performance. It also means that by definition flow only occurs when you are performing well.
3. There is a balance between challenges and skills. If the challenge is too difficult we get frustrated; if it is too easy, we get bored. Flow occurs when we reach an optimum balance between our abilities and the task in hand, keeping us alert, focused and effective.
4. Action and awareness are merged. We have all had experiences of being in one place physically, but with our minds elsewhere — often out of boredom or frustration. In flow, we are completely focused on what we are doing in the moment. Our thoughts and actions become automatic and merged together — creative thinking and creative doing are one and the same.
5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness. When we are not distracted by worries or conflicting priorities, we are free to become fully absorbed in the task.
6. There is no worry of failure. A single-minded focus of attention means that we are not simultaneously judging our performance or worrying about things going wrong.
7. Self-consciousness disappears. When we are fully absorbed in the activity itself, we are not concerned with our self-image, or how we look to others. While flow lasts, we can even identify with something outside or larger than our sense of self — such as the painting or writing we are engaged in, or the team we are playing in.
8. The sense of time becomes distorted. Several hours can fly by in what feels like a few minutes, or a few moments can seem to last for ages.
9. The activity becomes ‘autotelic’ – meaning it is an end in itself. Whenever most of the elements of flow are occurring, the activity becomes enjoyable and rewarding for its own sake. This is why so many artists and creators report that their greatest satisfaction comes through their work. As Noel Coward put it, “Work is more fun than fun”.