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Tapping Into Your Neuropsychology Of Creativity: Can You Increase Your Creativity Quotient?

The working world is changing, and the skills employers prize is becoming more apparent. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report suggests what they are. By 2025, will your creativity command a premium in the job market?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Do you believe that creativity is innate and immovable? But what if it is a skill that you can develop?

What is creativity? Your ability to generate novel and valuable ideas and products. Creativity expresses in different forms. Art, writing, music, design, and science are but some of these forms. What about in business or on project teams?

It’s fair to say that creativity is a process. This process involves two ways of thinking — divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking? Where you generate many possible solutions to a problem or idea. Great — you now have a diversity of views. Now it is time to narrow down these options, improve their practicality and even link some together. This narrowing, improvement or linkage is convergent thinking.

Emerging in-demand jobs need creative, conceptual thinking, resilience and adaptability. Tapping into your creative faculties can help your career prospects. While the below image speaks to the current jobs landscape, will in-demand roles expect even more in the coming years?

Source: World Economic Forum

… the entire creative process– from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification — consists of many interacting cognitive processes (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions. Depending on the stage of the creative process, and what you’re actually attempting to create, different brain regions are recruited to handle the task.

- Scott Barry Kaufman, ‘The Real Neuroscience of Creativity’, Scientific American

But how do you quantify your creative prowess? Researchers have developed tests examining the neuropsychology of creativity. One such test helps determine your creativity quotient (CQ).

Can you improve your creativity quotient (CQ)? Yes. Understand the mechanics of divergent and convergent thinking.

Big ‘C’ and little ‘c’ creativity

Creativity involves not only big, groundbreaking ideas but also minor pragmatic improvements. Or big ‘C’ versus little ‘c’ creativity. Such creative solutions are often the result of “generative learning”. You might start with the idea that doesn’t work, then iteratively improve it until you arrive at something novel. At each step along the way, the solution becomes more creative because it builds on previous iterations of itself.

What is a good example of this type of iterative creativity? Scientific research — where scientists try variations in their experiments. They iterate until they find a variation that works well enough to be publishable (generally considered an acceptance rate of 10%). Iteration requires “permission to fail” — or experiment. Iteration also requires persistence or tolerance of rejection. Intelligence followed by personality factors (including rejection tolerance) are significant predictors of creative aptitude.

Developing clever solutions to practical problems is an integral part of creative thought. Creative thinking is not only about coming up with big ideas. Sometimes, it can be about finding a clever way to improve something which already exists.

Developing clever solutions to practical problems is an essential part of creative thought. For example, coming up with new ways to use ordinary objects in your daily life.

Could boredom or solitude spark your creativity?

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Could isolation and boredom be more valuable than a constant flood of external stimuli?

To be creative, you need to process information to allow for new ideas and associations. This requires time to think about the information you’ve received. The key here is that boredom forces you to focus on your thoughts. We don’t always realise how much we rely on external stimuli. Constant music or TV shows playing in the background may numb or distract.

Yet often, distractions like these prevent us from deep thought. Or the space to allow an unexpected insight. Or to experience a feeling to its fullest intensity. So why wouldn’t we sit alone more often? Could we be so unsettled by being alone that we would prefer an electric shock instead?

Boredom makes us think about new things. Boredom may even force us into an internal state. This powerful state leads us to focus on processing deep thoughts and feelings. It leaves us uninterested in what’s happening around us. It’s during these moments that we find ourselves at our most creative.

Could your intuition serve as your muse?

Intuition is a kind of unconscious cognitive processing—a pattern recognition of sorts. In contrast to the logic and rationality you may be accustomed to, intuition can be a quick and effective way of making decisions. It can also sometimes lead us astray, though it’s important to note that there are different kinds of intuition. For example:

  • Your ‘gut feeling’ type of intuition refers to an unconscious judgment or decision. Your ‘gut feeling’ interprets internal cues rather than external data.
  • Seeing things in patterns and connections;
  • Making images out of words;
  • Finding analogies between different experiences (such as comparing apples with oranges).

The former kind of intuition won’t always result in good decisions. Yet it isn’t necessarily bad either — it only means relying on your internal resources rather than rational ones.

You may remark about how your senses open up new ways of solving problems. Some of your insights may somehow unlock difficult-to-retrieve information from your memory. The latter types of insight can help us solve problems creatively.

Different ways of ‘nudging’ your brain may yield exciting fruit. Why? One nudge may enable you to activate connected brain networks. For instance, when trying to think up song lyrics or poetry!

Practical jokes can involve a lot of creative thinking on the part of the prankster.

I’m not a fan of practical jokes. Yet can playing practical jokes make you more creative? Practical jokes are a vital part of the creative thinking process. They also show how creativity links to lateral thinking. This linkage is one of the ways that a practical joke comes to life.

These jokes use creative problem solving to come up with solutions to problems. Lateral thinking involves thinking outside of the box. This approach allows you to look at situations differently and ideate novel solutions.

Good memories are essential for creativity and lateral thinking.

It’s important to remember that there are many techniques for improving your memory. For example, when you meet someone new and want to retain their name, repeat it over and over in your head until you can’t hear them anymore. Then, repeat their name silently as you shake their hand or hug them. This helps form a strong association between the person’s name, how they look or other memorable parts of your interaction.

Memory is a skill that can be improved by training — and this applies just as much to creative thinking as any other type of mental activity!

What fires together, wires together

“What fires together, wires together is a terrific quote. I learned this from an executive coach I bumped into years ago.

Creativity draws from so many parts of our brain. Memory, attention and the neuroanatomy governing emotions are a few. Our limbic system drives our feelings of fear or frustration. Strong feelings trigger hormones, which may sharpen our attention. Speech comprehension and production and our visuospatial processing capabilities are others.

What creative superpowers do you want to draw on today?

Need laser-like focus on one thing? The Executive Attention Network comes to your rescue. Zen-like focus is a blessing — especially for your career. Also, how well do you direct your attention at work? The Executive Attention Network involves two parts of your brain:

  • Your prefrontal cortex serves as your “executive” — a calm, sober judge of nuances.
  • Your parietal lobe handles the input of sensory data. In effect, it helps you make sense of your world.

Your “executive” can work on spontaneous creativity with your emotions and body. Active work on your creativity helps make your “executive” shine. This includes getting a good night’s sleep. Being relaxed, losing track of time and getting into a flow state is another. Jazz or comedy improvisation, anyone?

Do you want to imagine another’s perspective or project thinking back in time or into the future? The Default Network is the constellation of brain anatomy involved. This network also helps you with social cognitions and remembering ideas. While this network might have many interwoven networks, it draws upon three parts of your brain:

  • Your prefrontal cortex;
  • Your temporal lobe (medial regions), which govern your auditory processing;
  • Communication with various outer and inner regions of the parietal cortex.

Are you seeking to solve a people or communication problem? Or need to discriminate between outside stimuli and your current thoughts? Your brain’s Salience Network is there for you. This network comprises:

Your Salience Network helps your communication, social behaviour and self-awareness. It processes sensory data, emotions and thoughts.

It’s possible to develop your creativity with mindful practice.

Developing your creativity is a lifelong process.

The good news is that anyone can become more creative; all it takes is some dedication and mindful practice. You don’t have to be born with it — you can learn to be more creative at any age. This can help you get ahead in school and the workplace and enrich your personal life.

Some ways you can get started:

  • Be aware of your mental processes. Pay attention to how you think, feel, and behave, especially while solving problems or working on something new. Try asking yourself questions like “Is there another way I could look at this problem?” or “How could I change my approach?”
  • Permit yourself to think outside the box! Ask yourself questions like “What if there was no box?” or “How would things change if there were no rules?” These exercises will help loosen your mind to be open to new ideas and concepts.*
  • Encourage creative thinking in others. How? Identify and encourage their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.
  • Use creative techniques (like lateral thinking) when solving problems.
  • Aim to develop your intuition. This means developing trust in your intuition and insights. For some people, this may be unsettling. Many of us prefer to lean on deductive reasoning (the process of using logic).

Apart from the above suggestions, what is the best way to optimise your CQ?

  • Get enough sleep. By sleeping 7–9 hours a night, your brain continues replaying your stored memories.
  • Build your brain’s neuroplasticity by doing creative things. The following day, when you think back, you’ll find that your creative muse can better recall those memories more easily.

Creativity stimulation enhances one’s CQ, which is an acquired skill and not a natural talent. This can be effective by using techniques, tools or inspirational design.

My book — The Change Manager’s Companion — is available now. You can also check out my online course on Change Management.




All aspects of organisational analysis: business analysis | enterprise architecture | quality

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Allan Owens

Allan Owens

Australian Change Lead: 8 years experience. Author of The Change Manager’s Companion.

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