Saturday, November 17, 2012

Imagine - How Creativity Works - Part 2: Unconcealing the Working Memory

In his book Johan Lehrer explains about the second essential tool of the creative process - the working memory. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is where the working memory is located - this is where it connects all the ideas, experiences that we have had. It allows us to unconceal their connections and allow us to reject or choose the ones we want to express. The more things and experiences you are exposed to, the more unconcealing there is to do and the more you will have to choose from.

Once you have an insight, you need lots of work to refine it. You need persistence to fine tune that flash of insight. This is where the unconcealing of the working memory comes in. You need to be focused and you need to persevere in examining the problem - trying this and that to get the best possible outcome. This is where caffeine or amphetamines can be of use - they allow you to stay alert and to concentrate on unconcealing all those connections in the working memory. Also if you are unhappy, though you are less likely to have an insight, unhappiness can act like a small dose of amphetamines and you become more observant and persistent - so it helps in refining an idea. Severe sadness if often associated with creativity.

There is a third aspect to the creative process that Lehrer talks about - letting go. It means that we need to be able to make mistakes, we do not need to be perfect. The area of the brain called DLPFC  is associated with impulse control. It is the last area of the brain to fully develop in children and it stops us doing things like stealing, grabbing at food, etc. It acts like mental handcuffs. When we worry about making mistakes, about what people will think when we make art - those are the DLPFC handcuffs. Jazz musicians - once they start improv, their DLPFC becomes deactivated. Improve comedians at Second City are taught to do the same. Once you are free - so to speak - you now need to have something to say - art, song, jokes etc. - you need to start creating.

When do you know what kind of creativity you need - insight or unconcealing?
If you feel you are getting closer to the solution, then unconcealing is needed - so go get a coffee and mope over your bad luck as you work on the problem. If you feel you have hit a brick wall, then you need an insight so go do something different like take a stroll on the beach, listening to you favorite relaxing music.

So analyze your problem - insight or unconcealing and let go!  And do not worry about what people will think!

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