Encouraging Independent Thinking

Students often don’t know why they’re learning something. Asking why is so important to kids and they deserve a better answer than “because it will be on the test.” By the time kids reach middle school, they give up asking and focus on getting a good grade. To in- crease curiosity, it is important to address the “why” questions. Why are we reading Hamlet? Why are we solving quadratic equations? When teachers answer these questions, it prompts kids to think more deeply about the implications of what they’re learning.

Parents can elicit curiosity in their children through similar methods. We don’t need to have the right answers all the time, but we need to encourage kids to ask the right questions. If we don’t know the answer, we can say, “Let’s find out. Do some research on Google, and we can go from there.”  

When we support curiosity, what we’re really developing is a child’s imagination. Which brings me to creativity, a wonderful by-product of independence and curiosity.

Esther Wojcicki, How to Raise Successful People

Do people work better when they are stressed?

It’s a dangerous fallacy to say that people perform better when they’re stressed, over-extended, or unhappy. We found just the opposite. People are more likely to come up with a creative idea or solve a tricky problem on a day when they are in a better mood than usual. In fact, they are more likely to be creative the next day, too, regardless of that next day’s mood. There’s a kind of “creativity carry-over” effect from feeling good at work. 

Teresa Amabile talking about her book Do people work better when they are stressed?

Riding the Wave of Boredom

It turns out that bliss – a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious – lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.

David Foster Wallace 

The Power of Small Wins

Try to remember the last time you – or anyone you know – had a truly enormous breakthrough in solving a problem or achieving one of those audacious goals. It’s pretty hard, because breakthroughs are very rare events. On the other hand, small wins can happen all the time. Those are the incremental steps toward meaningful (even big) goals. Our research showed that, of all the events that have the power to excite people and engage them in their work, the single most important is making progress – even if that progress is a small win. That’s the progress principle. And, because people are more creatively productive when they are excited and engaged, small wins are a very big deal for organizations.

Religiously protect at least 20 minutes – and, ideally, much more – every day, to tackle something in the work that matters most to you. Hide in an empty conference room, if you have to, or sneak out in disguise to a nearby coffee shop. Then make note of any progress you made (even if it was a small win), and decide where to pick up again the next day. The progress, and the mini-celebration of simply noting it, can lift your inner work life.

Teresa Amabile talking about her book The Progress Principle  

Diversity’s connection to Creativity

When people are exposed to a more diverse group of people, their brains are forced to process complex and unexpected information. The more people do this, the better they become at producing complex and unexpected information themselves. This trains us to look more readily look beyond the obvious - precisely the hallmark of creative thinking. 

Researchers have also found that creating and enjoying the arts can help us see things from a new perspective, by putting ourselves in a character's shoes. They can also create a feeling of connectedness and general kindness.

Opening ourselves to new experiences can seem hard to do, but it can help us cross divides and nurture new and inclusive friendships.

Julie Van de Vyver & Richard Crisp writing in BBC News 

Giving yourself time to play

Play has a positive impact on creativity because— in addition to helping us both mind-wander and diversify— it stimulates positive emotion, which research shows leads to greater insight and better problem solving. Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that positive emotions increase our cognitive resources by expanding our visual attention. When we feel good, we gain the ability to pay attention to a wider range of experiences. We see the big picture rather than getting bogged down in the details. In other words, if you feel stuck in a rut or you can’t think yourself out of a problem or don’t see a way out of a situation, play may be a way of getting “unstuck” and coming up with innovative ideas.

Just as joy and fun can make you more creative, creativity in turn enhances your well- being. The more creative you become, the more joy you invite into your life. Nikola Tesla wrote, “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

By naturally tapping into your inner creativity, you reconnect with the joy you had as a child playing. You engage in a positive feedback loop that continues to replenish you with joy and creativity. It makes for an adult life rich with delight and inventiveness.

Stanford psychologist Emma Seppälä writing in the Washington Post

The best network

Several years ago sociologist Brian Uzzi did a study of why certain Broadway musicals made between 1945 and 1989 were successful and others flopped. The explanation he arrived at had to do with the people behind the productions. For failed productions, one of two extremes was common. The first was a collaboration between creative artists and producers who tended to all know one another. When there were mostly strong ties, the production lacked the fresh, creative insights that come from diverse experience. The other type of failed production was one in which none of the artists had experience working together. When the group was made up of mostly weak ties, teamwork and group cohesion suffered.

In contrast, the social networks of the people behind successful productions had a healthy balance: There were some strong ties, some weak ties. There was some established trust, but also enough new blood in the system to generate new ideas. Think of your network of relationships in the same way: The best professional network is both narrow/deep (allies with whom you collaborate regularly) and wide/ shallow (weak-tie acquaintances who offer fresh information and ideas).

Reid Hoffman, The Start-Up of You

Your Gift to the World

If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act of a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Steven Pressfield, The Art of War

 

Don't Be a Hack

A hack, Robert McKee says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for. The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them.

The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He’s afraid it won’t sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.

In other words, the hack writes hierarchically. He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important? Instead he asks, What’s hot, what can I make a deal for?

The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders.

It can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Risk aversion kills innovation

The secret killer of innovation is shame. You can't measure it, but it is there. Every time someone holds back on a new idea, fails to give their manager must needed feedback, and is afraid to speak up in front of a client you can be sure that shame played a part. That deep fear we all have of being wrong, of being belittled and of feeling less than, is what stops us taking the very risks required to move our companies forward.

If you want a culture of creativity and innovation, where sensible risks are embraced on both a market and individual level, start by developing the ability of managers to cultivate an openness to vulnerability in their teams. And this, paradoxically perhaps, requires first that they are vulnerable themselves.

This notion that the leader needs to be “in charge” and to “know all the answers” is both dated and destructive. Its impact on others I the sense that they know less, and that they are less than. A recipe for risk aversion if ever I have heard it. Shame becomes fear. Fear leads to risk aversion . Risk aversion kills innovation.

Peter Sheaham

Risk aversion kills innovation

The secret killer of innovation is shame. You can't measure it, but it is there. Every time someone holds back on a new idea, fails to give their manager must needed feedback, and is afraid to speak up in front of a client you can be sure that shame played a part. That deep fear we all have of being wrong, of being belittled and of feeling less than, is what stops us taking the very risks required to move our companies forward.

If you want a culture of creativity and innovation, where sensible risks are embraced on both a market and individual level, start by developing the ability of managers to cultivate an openness to vulnerability in their teams. And this, paradoxically perhaps, requires first that they are vulnerable themselves.

This notion that the leader needs to be “in charge” and to “know all the answers” is both dated and destructive. Its impact on others I the sense that they know less, and that they are less than. A recipe for risk aversion if ever I have heard it. Shame becomes fear. Fear leads to risk aversion . Risk aversion kills innovation.

Peter Sheaham

Play and creativity

Play has a positive impact on creativity because— in addition to helping us both mind-wander and diversify— it stimulates positive emotion, which research shows leads to greater insight and better problem solving. Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that positive emotions increase our cognitive resources by expanding our visual attention. When we feel good, we gain the ability to pay attention to a wider range of experiences. We see the big picture rather than getting bogged down in the details. In other words, if you feel stuck in a rut or you can’t think yourself out of a problem or don’t see a way out of a situation, play may be a way of getting “unstuck” and coming up with innovative ideas.

Just as joy and fun can make you more creative, creativity in turn enhances your well- being. The more creative you become, the more joy you invite into your life. Nikola Tesla wrote, “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

By naturally tapping into your inner creativity, you reconnect with the joy you had as a child playing. You engage in a positive feedback loop that continues to replenish you with joy and creativity. It makes for an adult life rich with delight and inventiveness.

Stanford psychologist Emma Seppälä writing in the Washington Post

Openness to new Experiences Linked with Creativity

The aspect of our personality that appears to drive our creativity is called openness to experience, or openness. Among the five major personality traits, it is openness that best predicts performance on divergent thinking tasks. Openness also predicts real-world creative achievements, as well as engagement in everyday creative pursuits. 

In our research, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, we found that open people don’t just bring a different perspective to things, they genuinely see things differently to the average individual. 

Our findings suggest that the creative tendencies of open people extend all the way down to basic visual perception. Open people may have fundamentally different visual experiences to the average person.

It might seem as if open people have been dealt a better hand than the rest of us. But can people with uncreative personalities broaden their limited vistas, and would this be a good thing?

There is mounting evidence that personality is malleable, and increases in openness have been observed in cognitive training interventions and studies of the effects of psilocybin.

Luke Smillie and Anna Antinori writing in The Conversation

dull activities can spark creative thinking

What if boredom is a meaningful experience—one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness and creativity? That’s the conclusion of two fascinating recent studies. Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. A bored mind moves into a “daydreaming” state, says Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire.

The problem, the psychologists worry, is that these days we don’t wrestle with these slow moments. We eliminate them (with mobile devices). This might relieve us temporarily, but it shuts down the deeper thinking that can come from staring down the doldrums. Noolding on your phone is “like eating junk food,” she says.

So here’s an idea: Instead of always fleeing boredom, lean into it. Sometimes, anyway. When novelists talk about using Freedom, the software that shuts down one’s Internet connection, they often say it’s about avoiding distraction. But I suspect it’s also about enforcing a level of boredom in their day—useful, productive monotony.

And there is, of course, bad boredom. The good type motivates you to see what can come of it: “fructifying boredom,” as the philosopher Bertrand Russell called it. The bad type, in contrast, tires you, makes you feel like you can’t be bothered to do anything. (It has a name too: lethargic boredom.)

A critical part of our modern task, then, is learning to assess these different flavors of ennui—to distinguish the useful kind from the stultifying. (Glancing at your phone in an idle moment isn’t always, or even often a bad thing.) Boredom, it turns out, may be super-interesting.

Clive Thompson writing in Wired Magazine

Somewhere between boredom and anxiety

A comfortable routine can turn on us, leaving our creativity stifled, dulling us to other possibilities. We become lethargic, sleepwalking through life. Boredom soon nips at our heels.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, we have bungee-jumping thrill seekers. Tired of sexual escapades and rock climbing, they sometimes self-medicate to starve off boredom. Drugs can stimulate many feelings: euphoria, depression, anxiety, even fear. But none induce boredom (though some, like cocaine, can leave the user with a devastating boredom, after the drug has done its thing). Sex, food, drugs, and gambling each stimulate the same dopamine reward pathway in the brain.

Psychologists tell us the cure for chronic tedium is not high-sensation thrills. Somewhere between boredom and anxiety there is a sweet spot called flow. It's an optimal level of arousal. As Dr. Richard Friedman writes:

Flow happens when a person’s skills and talent perfectly match the challenge of an activity: playing in the zone, where there is total and un-self-conscious absorption in the activity. Make the task too challenging and anxiety results; make it too easy and boredom emerges.  Flow get to the heart of fun. It’s not hard to see why the enforced tranquility of a Caribbean vacation could be a dreadful bore for a workaholic but bliss for a couch potato: temperament, as well as talent, have to match the activity or there is trouble in paradise.

Stephen Goforth

Necessity’s Effect on Creativity

Abundance makes us rich in dreams, for in dreams there are no limits. But it makes us poor in reality. It makes us soft and decadent, bored with what we have and in need of constant shocks to remind us that we are alive. In life you must be a warrior, and war requires realism.

While others may find beauty in endless dreams, warriors find it in reality, in awareness of limits, in making the most of what they have. They look for the perfect economy of motion and gesture – the way to give their blows the greatest force with the least expenditure of effort. Their awareness that their days are numbered – that they could die at any time- grounds them in reality.

There are things they can never do, talents they will never have, lofty goals they will never reach; that hardly bothers them. Warriors focus on what they do have, the strengths that they do possess and that they must use creatively. Knowing when to slow down, to renews, to retrench, to outlast their opponents. They play for the long term.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

Unleashing Change

Allow a sense of pragmatism to hang over every project. This will help to make room for other possibilities besides our originally chosen path. If you fall in love with your creation and marry your effort, you may join the most frustrated of groups--people who fight the process rather than allowing their efforts to become living documents of creativity, which are always in process. You have to make room in your head for change to be a part of that process rather than seeing it as something extra, a burden beyond what is necessary. Make room for change before you start your task and then you'll be ready to adopt to shifting circumstances, new revelations, and emerging goals.

 

Stephen Goforth

What I would say to my 22-year-old self

I worked hard. I was focused, determined, and disciplined. But I did not necessarily allow myself the space and time for creativity and self-expression. I would encourage my 22-year-old self to take a moment to nurture my friendships--in person. Call them, make a plan, do something together--share experience. Laugh out loud every day. -Naomi Simson

Adopting to Change

Understand the greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present movement. That is how creativity is sparked and opportunities are seized. Knowledge, experience, and theory have limitations: no amount of thinking in advance can prepare you for the chaos of life, for the infinite possibilities of the moment. The great philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz called this “friction”: the difference between our plans and what actually happens. Since friction is inevitable, our minds have to be capable of keeping up with change and adapting to the unexpected. The better we can adapt our thoughts to changing circumstances, the more realistic our responses to them will be. The more we lose ourselves in predigested theories and past experiences, the more inappropriate and delusional our response.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

One Creative Thing Every Day

A study found participants who engaged in creative pursuits one day significantly boosted their mood for the following day. Overall, they reported feeling more energetic, enthusiastic, and excited.

These findings might not seem too surprising, but here’s the kicker: it didn’t take much creative activity for participants to reap the benefits. Just one, small creative activity a day helped. And you don’t have to be a skilled artist either. Something as simple as mindless doodling, making a joke, or even daydreaming will do.

Patrick Allan writing for LifeHacker