For the first time, neuroscience is discovering how innovation is generated and it has busted several myths about creativity, and here is Myth #1: Science used to think that people were either genetically gifted with creativity or not, but this is simply not the case. The good news is that the creative process is wired into everybody’s brain, in a region called Anterior Superior Temporal Gyrus. So, you might ask, why do some people excel at creativity while others don’t? Highly creative people have intuitively figured out how to activate this part of the brain, which is something anyone can do. I will tell you how at the end of this article (which will only make sense after you’ve read the whole piece).
Myth #2 is the assumption that creativity takes an intense, sustained focus. Here research has demonstrated that intense focus is not the best approach when you need a creative insight. You can put people on a “smart drug” which increases the capacity to focus on a problem for hours, but it won’t deliver the creative insight that solves the problem. Interestingly, people with attention deficit disorder (ADD) score significantly higher on creativity tests due in large part to their difficulty in staying focused, which frees their brain to be more imaginative. People with ADD also win more prizes at art and science fairs. Their difficulty focusing turns out to be a creative blessing. A relaxed focus stimulates creativity, which why we are more likely to have an AHA moment while taking a hot shower. Just placing people in a room painted blue doubles their creative output, simply because the color blue is calming.
Myth #3 is the assumption that creativity means you have to put your nose to grindstone. Research has found that the creative insight that leads to innovation is born in the relaxation of taking a break and letting everything go for a time, freeing the brain to think out of the box. Einstein said “Creativity is the residue of time wasted,” by which he meant that it takes a routine dose of free time for the brain to facilitate the kind of creative insight that leads to breakthrough thinking.
The 3M Corporation agrees. It requires employees to use 15 percent of their time taking breaks, and employees are free to do whatever they want with the time. The practice flies in the face of standard management ideas about control, but 3M trusts that the time will lead to gold, because it has, time and again. 3M’s product line is 50,000 deep and annual sales top $30 billion. The best-known success story of the 15-Percent Rule was Dr. Art Fry’s creation of Post-its. He came up with the product on a break while using his 15 percent time musing over ways to bookmark hymns for his church choir.
And last, Myth #4 says you have to suffer in order to create. Not so. People are more creative when they’re in a good mood. Positive emotion and creativity are produced in the same brain region, and go hand in hand in delivering a novel insight. Just watching a YouTube video of a laughing baby can increase creativity by 25%.
What this tells us is that, neurologically, the three conditions that stimulate the brain’s creative network are relaxation, a light focus, and a good mood, which begs the question: what brings all three conditions together at one time? It’s not a beer or Martini. The answer is taking a walk.