“Only talented people are creative.” “You’re either born with talent or you’re not.” “The first idea is usually the best.”
What do all those statements have in common? They are preconceived notions about creativity.
But when it comes to creativity, there is no such thing as a linear path. In fact, as it turns out, recent studies have shown that some of our most common preconceptions about creativity are wrong.
There’s a prevailing myth that ideas are like lightning. That a person blessed with God given talent sits down on the mountaintop, (or gets out of the shower), and is struck by a brilliant eureka moment. In the cartoon, a lightbulb appears over their head, and they burst forth with their world changing idea.
Sure, sometimes it might happen that way. There are all sorts of great stories about how people like Einstein or Edison changed the world after a flash of inspiration. But remember, it took Edison hundreds of failures before the light bulb finally worked.
I especially like the intentionally interrupted nap trick. That’s where you sit in a chair and doze off while holding a coin or a bell in one hand. As you fall into the dream state, your hand relaxes and jolts you awake when the coin or bell drops to the ground. if you’re lucky, your subconscious has landed on the solution to the problem you were meditating upon and it surfaces in that moment of surprise.
But for most ordinary mortals like you and me, what is proven to work is something that I called priming the pump. According to Adam Alter whose book Anatomy of a Breakthrough was recently featured in The Atlantic, science shows that the more ideas we generate, the better they get.
When we are lazy and simply settle for the first few things that pop into our head, we land upon conventional wisdom, and clichés. But when we push on to squeeze as much inspiration that our brain will give, we land on the real gold.
As Alter puts it, “breakthroughs are the product of persistence, not magic.” The best way to get at the real creative solutions is to push your way past the early easy ones.
In brainstorming sessions, we call this throwing spaghetti at the wall until you see what sticks. If you’re doing this in a group, there’s a format you can use. Set a timer and give each person a few minutes to generate ideas, and the only responses allowed are “Yes, and…”.
Save the “No’s” and the “But’s” for later. The idea is to milk every drop of inspiration out of your group before any editing or naysaying starts to happen. it doesn’t matter what the ideas are, the more outlandish the better.
In Alter‘s book, he describes an interesting phenomenon. After generating a list of ideas for a Thanksgiving dinner, participants were asked if they thought they would come up with more on the next round. Human nature being what it is, people expected less. But in fact, their second set of suggestions was not only longer, but showed more creativity as well.
Creativity is an everyday practice. Next time you’re digging deep for a good idea, remember to prime the pump and keep on digging. Persistence pays off in the pursuit of inspiration so press on until your lightbulb shines on your eureka moment!
Yours in creativity! Much love till next week,
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine