Know your craft, but be flexible
Table of Contents
In the simplest way, creativity is defined as the ability to produce something both novel and useful.
That means originality is not enough for an idea to be creative: its needs to have some practical use. Where do such ideas come from? Certainly, they don’t appear out of the blue. Creative ideas build up on the previous knowledge, by joining known elements in a new way. No matter if you’re an IT manager, marketing specialist, a painter or even a musician, you can’t make a meaningful contribution to your field without knowing it well. Content knowledge builds a foundation for creative thinking. However, it is not sufficient for it. Creativity requires applying knowledge in flexible ways that go beyond the context in which the knowledge was acquired.
There are two ways in which you can “know” something. Routine expertise is based on possessing knowledge or specific information needed to perform a task according to a well defined procedure. If you’re making a table, there is a finite set of steps that you need to follow, from carving wooden parts to piecing them together. Adaptive expertise, on the other hand, requires both routine expertise as well as the understanding how these procedures work and why, how to modify them and how to invent new ones. Putting it simply, adaptive expertise is the deep understanding that allows you to find patterns in information to adapt your knowledge of the field to novel situations.
True creativity relies on knowledge and understanding: you need to both have enough know-how in your area, as well as to be able to apply the established rules in new ways. Taking an example from film-making, writing a successful movie script requires both the craft of using the well-established rules of storytelling as well as the art of making your execution feel fresh and new. Screenwriters study and analyze tons of movies to dissect the narrative patterns, and then apply them in unexpected ways.
Combine what’s known and whats new
Throughout the last decades, the concept of divergent thinking dominated the public and scientific discourse about creativity. In the most basic definition, it involves the ability to come up with innovative ways to solve the encountered problems. Whereas “convergent thinking” leads to conventional ideas and solutions following known pathways and protocols, divergent thinking explores the more original options.
A typical task used by researchers for measuring divergent thinking is the Alternative Uses Task, in which the individuals are asked to come up with as many possible ways of using an object as possible. For instance, if the target object is an umbrella, the alternative uses could range from CCTV protection for spies to storage of stuffed animals. Answers are then ranked according to the components of divergent thinking:
- fluency – number of generated answers
- flexibility – how many times the respondent switched between categories like storage, protection, decoration
- originality – how unique were the answers
Whereas convergent thinking is a good predictor of creativity, it is only one of its components. New ideas are creative just when they are both original and useful. What we need to understand is that original ideas are not always creative. Working with psychiatric patients, Hans Eysenck observed that psychotic individuals are often very original, but they are rarely creative.
That’s where good old convergent thinking comes in handy. For every original idea you create, judgment and evaluation should be employed to check whether it is not unrealistic, irrelevant or useless. The importance of evaluation in the creative process couldn’t be emphasized enough. It enables us to manage time effectively, discard trivial solutions and focus on improving the most promising ideas.
Separate the thinking processes
Both convergent and divergent thinking are needed for creativity, but they may sometimes hamper each other’s actions. The critical approach of convergent thinking may block the divergent one from unleashing its full potential to generate truly original solutions. Sometimes it’s best to treat them as two different attitudes which you can separate and use in phases.
In her revolutionary book about screenwriting, Linda Aronson proposed a useful technique for managing convergent and divergent thinking in a creative process. Although she designed it for writers, it will work perfectly well for any creative endeavor.
- Start with convergent thinking. Define your task as precisely as possible. What is the problem that you want to solve? Make a list of deliverables: what are the key criteria that an ideal solution needs to fulfill?
- Unleash your divergent thinking. Brainstorm, generating as many solutions as possible. Don’t judge them now. Suppress your internal critic, letting yourself come up with even the wildest ideas.
- Come back to convergent thinking. Evaluate your ideas and choose the one that best fits the criteria set in Step 1. Come up with new tasks. They may pertain to expanding the solutions you’ve just created or tackling the next step in solving the problem.
- Work in cycles. Convergent thinking sets the precise task and criteria, and divergent thinking comes up with lists of creative solutions, which are then again evaluated and trimmed by convergent thinking
Tap into your brain
The takeaway message is that creativity can be influenced. In the long term, you can increase it by developing adaptive expertise: understanding your individual field and the rules that govern it. In the short term, creativity levels can be boosted by exposing yourself to other people’s ideas or harnessing the power of group work.
You can also guide your brainwaves toward the patterns which are conducive to creativity. Researchers observed that when people are engaged in creative tasks, their alpha brainwaves increase. Moreover, individuals who are exceptionally creative also have more alpha activity in their brain signals. Further research revealed that stimulating the brain to produce more alpha brainwaves can temporarily increase creative potential. A group of researchers from North Carolina treated a group of patients with a low electric current in 10 Hz alpha wave frequency, making them subsequently score better on creative tasks.
If you are using a non-invasive PEMF device such as Neorhythm, you can find alpha waves in the predetermined programs like Quiet Mind Meditation, Meditation for Calming & Synchronisation or Deep relaxation. An alternative solution is manually choosing a frequency between 7 and 13 Hz in custom settings.
Gregory, Hardiman, M., Yarmolinskaya, J., Rinne, L., & Limb, C. (2013). Building creative thinking in the classroom: From research to practice. International Journal of Educational Research, 62, 43–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2013.06.003
Kleibeuker, Stevenson, C. E., van der Aar, L., Overgaauw, S., van Duijvenvoorde, A. C., & Crone, E. A. (2017). Training in the Adolescent Brain: An fMRI Training Study on Divergent Thinking. Developmental Psychology, 53(2), 353–365. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000239
Runco, & Acar, S. (2012). Divergent Thinking as an Indicator of Creative Potential. Creativity Research Journal, 24(1), 66–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2012.652929
Aronson, L. (2010). 21st Century Screenplay: A comprehensive guide to writing tomorrow’s films. Allen & Unwin.
Lustenberger, Boyle, M. R., Foulser, A. A., Mellin, J. M., & Fröhlich, F. (2015). Functional role of frontal alpha oscillations in creativity. Cortex, 67, 74–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2015.03.012
NeoRhythm has not been evaluated by the FDA. These products do not claim to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical conditions. Always consult your medical doctor regarding any health concerns.