What Makes us Creative?

Photo: diluvi

By Mary Jaksch

Are you creative?

More creativity means more fun, more buzz, more laughter in life.

Scientists see creative innovation as the communication between regions of the brain that are not usually connected. A crucial ingredient of creativity is the ability to develop alternative solutions, known as ‘divergent thinking’.

How does this work? Let’s look at how the idea of writing a post about creativity occurred to me: I was watching an elegant tango dancer glide across the floor. She is an artist and had just told me that she enjoys reading my blog. Suddenly the idea of writing a post on creativity flashed into my brain. You can see in this example how my brain connected three different dots: ‘artist’, ‘writing a post’, and ‘creativity’.

Creativity is a natural state of mind.

It is not something that some people have and others lack. Children call being creative ‘playing’. It’s hard to find a child that can’t do that! I hang out a lot with two great friends, Anna and Mary, who are 11 and 12 years old. Every walk we do together ends up as a new episode of our ongoing fantasy game in which we are undercover ninjas on a secret mission. (My code name is ‘Sparkle’!)

Creativity then is not something far away and difficult to achieve. It is something natural that we need to re-discover within.

To be creative, judgment needs to be suspended.

Most people stifle their creativity because they don’t know how to shut up their internal editor. You don’t know who that person is? Let me introduce you to him or her: Take a piece of paper and write the first paragraph of what might become a novel, or start sketching out a painting. Now listen to the voice in your head. You’ll hear something like this: “That’s stupid!” or “You really suck!” or “You’re wasting your time!”

That voice is familiar, right?

Creating and editing are processes that happen in different parts of the brain. Creativity springs forth from the right side of the brain, whereas editing or analysing happens in the left side.

Take a look at this list of right- versus left-side brain functions:

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies

uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
risk taking

This list is from an article in the Herald Sun. There is a fascinating test on the site where you can find out whether you are thinking with the left of right side of the brain. Check it out here. Try looking at the image with different kind of thoughts. Can you make it change direction?

Now take another look at the list of right-brain and left-brain functions. Do you spend more time in the left or the right part of your brain?

From all of this you can understand how creating and editing at the same time can’t work. Because the moment you move from the right to the left side of the brain your creativity dries up.

Here are some interesting tips on creativity by cartoonist gapingvoid:

  • Ignore everybody. The more original your idea is, the less good advice people will be able to give you.
  • Put the hours in. Doing anything worthwhile takes forever.
  • You are responsible for your own experience. Nobody can tell if what you’re doing is good, meaningful or worthwhile.
  • Everyone is born creative.
  • Everyone has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.
  • Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.
  • Passion can’t be bought.
  • Sing in your own voice.
  • The best way to get approval is not to need it.

Relevant link:

‘How to be Creative through Meditation’

Left Brain or Right Brain – I’ll Take Both

The Medici Effect

Please share your experience of creativity.

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  1. You may get to this in the meditation section, but the consistent testimony of creative people is that at the creative moment they are in contact with something both “other” and “larger” than themselves. The music plays the musician. The painting paints the painter. The image captures the photographer. The dance dances the dancer. The poem writes the poet.

    The creative source speaks to the left and right sides of our brains (speaks “in” the left and right sides of our brains) at the same time (and with the same volume, if you will allow the metaphor)…thus bringing an experience of connection and unity…

    But the voice is somehow beyond us, speaking out of a perception of union and possibility that we can touch only by stretching beyond our everyday separated selves…

    or maybe it is that it takes all our voices together to make the creative voice that speaks the universe into being, and, in the creative moment, we experience the greater harmony, the full resonance, the awful power of the voice that is speaking us as we speak.

    I believe in the PERSON of that voice, and my kinship with the speaker…a kinship that is itself a gift…

    For the one sure thing about the creative moment is that, while we may prepare, while we may stretch ourselves and practice our craft, while we may meditate and try to get ourselves out of the way…the moment itself is ALWAYS experienced as a gift…as nothing we could earn, or deserve, even hope for…

    Something free…a bestowal, a pure undeserved blessing…and act of grace.

    No artist, no person, no one who aspires to creativity, dare ever forget that!

    • Lyn says:

      Steven Ingraham, you have nailed it so to speak. Any creative work I have done that was not contrived, came spontaneously pouring out. These works are beyond the trivial or logical and not of normal everyday consciousness but of a higher consciousness. One of a non thought process and singleness of mind/spirit. Not comparable to any other experience. The creator just is and the creation happens.

  2. Brigid Lowry says:

    I loved this creative offering. Inspiring! One of the most important things I have learned recently seems so simple, but it is to Relax and Enjoy. As a professional writer and a grown-up, busy in the world, I seemed to have lost my creative way and hit a fallow patch of late. Too much sensibleness, not enough fun. I am practising playfulness, idleness, moodling, movies, drifting, dreaming, long beach walks, sitting around with collage materials, sewing, cooking, mosaics, anything that makes me feel joyous and alive. Everyone needs 10% nonsense in their life, was quoted to me, but some days maybe it should be 90%. The more we top up our own wells, the more the spirit of discovery and the winds of creativity can find us. May the muse be with you. 🙂

  3. […] I was particularly pleased to read Mary Jaksch’s latest post: What Makes us Creative? because of this one point in particular: Put the hours in. Doing anything worthwhile takes […]

  4. Sebastian says:

    Awesome post mum. Have Stumbled it.

    I think taking the time out to play ninjas on a secret mission is definitely the key to creativity!

  5. Mary Jaksch says:

    Stephen – thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’ll take up your points in my next post. I’m especially moved by your idea of creativity as grace. Thank you for reminding us that creativity can’t be grabbed or taken; it is a gift. For those of you who meet Stephen for the first time, I would like to introduce you to a photograph of his that I adore: http://www.flickr.com/photos/1stcoastdigiscoping/1591022577/
    This photo says something to me about the spiritual journey. And about creativity!

    Brigid –thank you, I love your word ‘moodling’! Your interesting post has started me wondering about the importance of lying fallow. Maybe there are natural rhythms or cycles of creativity that we have to obey? That would mean doing something else while the muse goes on holiday, and being refreshed for creative work when she arrives back.

    There is also an alternative approach. I think it was Sol Stein who said, “I only write when I am inspired. And I make sure I’m inspired at 9am each morning.”
    That’s more my approach. Maybe its my German heritage. A wellknown German saying is: “Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle is besser!” (Trust is good; control is better) 😉

    Miraz – thank you for linking to my post. I was interested to see that the sentence ‘Doing anything worthwhile takes forever’ spun your wheels. I think I’ll explore that topic in a later post. Ah – this is an interesting process happening in my mind just now: as soon as I focus on one detail (in this case a sentence from my post), my mind immediately creates new links, and ideas begin to flow. This is rather like the Visual Thesaurus: http://www.visualthesaurus.com/
    If you place any word in a mindmap of related words in the center, you immediately end up with a new configuration of ideas.

    Sebastian – thanks for chiming in. Yes, playing ninjas definitely helps. I got an email from Anna today (she read the post). She said, “You’re ninja spider !!!! U silly banana!” Well, of course I wouldn’t tell you all my true code name – after all that would endanger our missions!

    Reading your comment reminded me of the fact that creativity doesn’t happen in isolation and that it’s important to have ‘creativity buddies’ that spark each other off. Sebastian, you are definitely that buddy for me! If you hadn’t said, “Mum, you must start writing a blog!” I would never have embarked on this creative adventure.

    Actually all of you who commented turned into my ‘creativity buddies’ today! Each comment has provided me with new inspiration. This is really the first day that I’ve begun to truly understand the power of a blog: It’s a form of co-creation. We are all in this together.

  6. Anna says:

    Hay Im Anna also knowen as Ninja Sparkle!!!I was shocked to hear that MAry gave away my code name!But I must keep to the NInja code and stay loyal.When reading this blog all the meomeires of our games flooded into my mind.We always find some sort of game to play when ever or where ever wheather were cleaning watching tv or just having a drink!!!!

    From Anna

  7. Mary Jaksch says:

    My apologies, diluvi – I was horrified to see that I had forgotten to link your fantastic photo to your site! It’s all corrected now…phew.

    It pays to click onto the link because then you can see the photo in all its glory, not just the cropped version I am using.

  8. I find it interesting that the discussion of creativity moves rather quickly to brain functions and the like. As you point out, children call it playing and never worry (or even consider) whether they’re using the left or right sides of their brains. They just do it. Therein is the secret of creativity.

    I’ve conducted seminars on the creative process and find that it’s a delicate state that is easily overthought. Coffeehouse hypnotists regularly tell subjects that they are famous creative people only to watch those subjects perform miraculous feats of creative work. It’s always in there. Stop thinking. Start doing.

  9. daniel says:

    hi, Mary, how are you?

    I like this article, but (you’re going to be disappointed here) I think the left/right-brain image is a hoax. I can make it go either way when thinking either analytical or emotional thoughts. Try the HBDI if you’re interested in brain dominance – it’s a much more useful exercise!

    I look forward to reading more of your stuff.


  10. Mary Jaksch says:

    @ Damon Richards
    Thank you, Damon. You raise an interesting point in your comment. It’s true, creativity is a delicate state and if we think too much about it, we can lose the impetus for creation.

    Nevertheless, I’m always interested in how the mind functions. For sure we can’t control creativity. By definition nothing arising from control can be creative. However, maybe we can provide the ground for creativity to take root and flourish.

    Seen another way, creativity is a sacred accident, and we can maybe become accident prone. What do you think?

    I’ll be posting a second post on creativity tomorrow. I wonder if you would be willing to read it and maybe comment on it? I would be keen to hear more about your experience of teaching creativity.

    @ Daniel
    Thank you for your comment, Daniel. D’you really think that the image in the Herald Sun that’s supposed to be an indicator of right-or left brain function is a hoax? Ah well, I had fun with it anyway! Interestingly enough, I could only imagine the image turning one way at any one time. So, when the dancing figure seemed to be twirling clockwise, I couldn’t imagine seeing it any other way. Then I would look away, think about something else and–hey, presto–the figure would suddenly twirl anticlockwise.

    The interesting point is: I could only change the way my brain interpreted the image when I glanced at it out of the corner of my eye. That seems to be a facet of creativity: we are more likely to make new connections when we look at something obliquely.

    By the way: do you have a link to any other left/rightbrain exercises we could have fun with?

  11. How I see the image of the lady turning depends on my browser!

    I started in Firefox, and I could only see her turning clockwise, despite trying for a few minutes to see her turning counter-clockwise.

    For some reason I decided to try it in IE, and for some reason she turned _much_ more slowly, actually coming to a complete stop for a second or two every now and then. Within a few seconds I was able to see her turning counter-clockwise. However, I just got lucky that time–it’s still very hard for me to see her turning counter-clockwise, although I can do it.

    But in Firefox, she only turns clockwise for me. It’s way too fast for me to even try to reverse it.

  12. Mary Jaksch says:

    @Hunter Nuttall
    Thank you for your research on the dancer, Hunter.
    Well, I can reverse the dancer in Firefox, but I have to look out of the window in between to break the spell 🙂

  13. Trent M. says:

    Another Creativity article, yes!
    A great read. Both the article and discussions.
    I love how you brought up playing with children and how they just… Go with the flow. Not even TRY.
    Something I came across is an imagination improving technique in which you try to think of things, whether it be a general thought or problem, in a child’s perspective.
    Though an adult may be more experienced and knowledgeable, I believe children are much more imaginative and intelligent. Not to mention closer to themselves and the universe and always in the now most of the time because they don’t dwell on the past or dread the future. They are in the present and focused on achieving only one thing; HAVING FUN!

  14. […] ens han publicat questa foto a un bloc de cultura Zen. Related Posts:Are you creative?fivenin.esLa nostre foto mes vistaEstrella Damm i […]

  15. Milla says:

    love this 😉

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