Being creative isn’t the same as being smart. The process our brains go through to generate new insights is quite different from when we’re solving analytical problems. You’re not just “born with it” either—the fascinating science behind creativity suggests very specific conditions can enliven your imagination.
In particular, research shows creativity spurs from three things:
- A lot of dopamine—Activities like taking a warm shower, listening to music, cooking and exercising releases dopamine in the brain.
- Relaxation—The dopamine triggers calmness and relaxation.
- Distraction—The relaxation disrupts the commotion in your head. As your subconscious is allowed to meander, it touches on new ideas and plants them into your conscious mind—the “light bulb” moment.
This creative cycle can be cultivated in the workplace. In the video below, columnist Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal suggests lifting your spirits up and out of the cubicle by daydreaming or watching a funny video. The down time will pay off—especially during off-peak hours—because when you stop pushing your brain so hard, it has more freedom to explore new possibilities.
Consider these tips from Tor Myhren, President and Chief Creative Officer of the advertising firm that conceived the E*TRADE talking babies campaign. As someone who encourages creativity for a living, Myhren claims the trick to imaginative thinking is to prime your brain with a massive stimulus followed by solitary confinement.
“[Take] in as much information as possible throughout the day—reading magazines, watching films, etc.,” he says. “So you have all that information in your brain, sort of an information or inspiration overload, and then take that, spend some time by yourself, and really let it all come together.”
In a world so inundated with schedules and assignments, Myhren’s biggest advice for managers is to “give your people some time and nurture the creative environment around them.” Myhren does this by enforcing a no-meeting zone every Thursday from nine to noon. Everyone in the agency (including clients) abide by the rule, giving employees down time to brainstorm and recharge.
“You to have to let your mind wander a bit, like we did when we were children,” Myhren said. “We didn’t have all these other things on our mind, we didn’t have email to look at, we didn’t have social media to bring up every two seconds, and we just had time to think.”
Myhren’s workers are also rewarded for creative effort, whether or not their ideas take off or hit the wall.
“We actually have something called the “Heroic Failure” award,” Myhren says. “Whereas, I think a lot of places punish risk-taking, we actually reward it . . . So I think people feel much more comfortable in taking some chances and thinking differently.”