Creative Brains: Maximizing Imagination and Innovation in Yourself and in Your Students
Shelley H. Carson, PhD
Imagination - the ability to conceptualize that which does not currently exist or that which is not currently experienced
Innovation - the production of a new process, product, or idea that leads to substantial positive change
Creativity - the ability to take bits of information and synthesize them into novel original ideas or products that are in some way useful or adaptive (internally generated bits and externally sensed bits). Each of us has a unique repository of knowledge. This definition encompasses both imagination and innovation - thinking about it and making it happen.
Why is creativity so important?
- Survival - ancestors weren't fast enough to run away from or fight off predators; survived through ingenuity
- Communication - across religions, time, space, etc. through poetry, art, literature, etc.
- Enrichment and Comfort - medical and scientific advancements, poetry, art, and music, as well as our own creative endeavors including gardening, cooking, and interior decorating
- Sexual Attractiveness - creativity is sexy! A way for us to advertise our fitness to desired mates. Undergraduates would prefer to have a mate who is creative over one who is wealthy. :) Kindness, sociability, creativity most desirable characteristics. Why else would anyone find Mick Jagger attractive?
- Mood regulation - "Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort." - FDR, First Inaugural Address. Art, music, drama therapy.
Why is nurturing creativity in students (and ourselves!) so important in the 21st Century?
- The rules of all of the games are changing - business, dating, parenting, teaching
- We do not know what the future is going to look like in a few years, much less in a century
- Best thing we can teach our students is to creatively adapt to the rapidly changing environment
Creativity on Three Levels
- You become more creative as a person
- You become more creative as a teacher
- You help students become more creative
Aren't some people just naturally creative?
- There are genetic contributions to creativity, but genetics influence behavior, they don't dictate it
- Each of us has the hardware we need to be creative - the marvelous creative brain! We can hijack what is there for survival and use it for creative purposes.
- Just introducing yourself to someone for the first time is a creative act! Imagine your new friend with chartreuse hair with purple streaks. You just imagined something that doesn't exist! Way to go!!!
Can you learn to be more creative?
- There is a difference between talent and creativity. Talent is technical proficiency in a given area - may be the result of motivation and drive to practice to perfect a skill. When we think of creative geniuses, most of them have a combination of talent and creativity. Many who have great talent have never made a significant creative contribution.
- Brain imaging studies indicate that highly creative people activate certain neural patterns when engaged in creative work and that they flexibly change these activation patterns during the creative process.
- By mimicking the brain activation patterns of highly creative individuals we can enhance our innate creative abilities.
- Research indicates that we can achieve certain brain activation states through training and practice. She has seen this in her work with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. We can re-generate connections between neurons. Connections between neurons is a major part of creativity.
The Creative Process
1. Preparation ("Chance favors the prepared mind." -Louis Pasteur)
- Gathering knowledge - gathering broad knowledge (she takes issue with speakers who say we need to tailor curriculum - we have no idea what knowledge students will combine and use to come up with creative solutions) and specific knowledge within a given field
- Problem-finding - the search for and definition of a problem that needs to be solved, not going out trying to find problems, but exploring new ways for things to be done
2. Creative Solution
- Trial and Error - the deliberative pathway to creativity, sequential logical thought, Thomas Edison, failure is an important part of the process
- Incubation and Insight (Aha!) - the spontaneous pathway to creativity, tends to be tougher to evaluate because people have the conviction that they are right because it came to them, Nikola Tesla, Mozart
Brain Activation Patters (Brainsets) Associated with Creativity
C - Connect
R - Reason
E - Envision
A - Absorb
T - Transform
E - Evaluate
S - Stream
Brain activation patterns change thinking, memories, and the ways we solve problems
Reason and Evaluate
- Very important for Preparation phase, trial and error, evaluation, elaboration, and step-by-step plan to implement
- Characterized by focused attention, high activation of the executive centers of the brain, esp. dorsal-lateral prefrontal cortex (particularly left), sequential reasoning, consciously-directed thought, judgment
- Focused on specific aspects of your goal
- Skills include planning (goal-setting), step-by-step problem solving, analysis, detail examination, critical thinking, convergent thinking (using memory to come to a solution) - all skills associated with the pre-frontal cortex, need to teach our students to use them)
- Help with problem-finding, incubation & insight
- Suspended judgment, response to novelty, cognitive disinhibition
- Turning down the filter on what is being allowed into the conscious brain - we tend to inhibit more as we get older, which is contrary to this brainset. De-emphasize the influence of the prefrontal cortex, slight emphasis on the right hemisphere (did you know that the corpus collosum facilitates communication between hemispheres, but also inhibits right hemisphere?) and the reward centers of the brain - reward yourself for paying attention to novelty!
- Skills include mindfulness, intellectual curiosity (reward your students for curiosity to breed more curiosity - operant conditioning for something awesome!), openness to experience (helps to try to see things from another perspective), state of receptiveness
- This state is the precursor to the moment of insight (Aha!)
- Best times - just before sleep, within two hours after physical activity!
Importance of Seeing What Others Don't See
- See the novel aspects of everyday life
- Make a list of everything that annoys you. Can you look at them non-judgmentally and come up with creative solutions?
- Associated with mental imagery, "What-if?" thinking, cognitive disinhibition
- Uses parts of the brain associated with episodic memory
- Skills include imagination, fantasy play, visualization (help students practice this skill)
- Whatever your subject matter, you can include What-if and imaginative thinking
- Activation of associational networks, goal-directed motivation, positive affect
- Creative thinking is "the forming of associative elements into new combinations...The more mutually remote the elements of the new combination, the more creative the process or solution." -Mednick (1962)
- Game: Degrees of separation. Two words from dictionary, environment, lesson, etc. See if you can come up with words to connect them in 3, 2, then 1 degrees.
- Skills include divergent thinking (using the content of memory to come up with new ideas)
The importance of flexibly moving among brainsets
- Must learn to move fluidly between convergent and divergent thinking
- Brainstorm followed by evaluation, crossword puzzle followed by story-writing using first two words they solved back-and-forth, add "What-if?" exercises to daily lessons
How can I help my students to think more creatively about my content? How can I be more creative?