- Creativity is in all of us. It is the most powerful force in the universe. Only you can create your own success.
- You can creatively tell a story, create sentences as if out of thin air, this is how creativity works. It is a language.
- As you learn a skill, it becomes a language, once you can perform that skill without thinking it allows room to be creative.
- Novel creations arise from the combination of different skills.
- There is a connection between the creative process and happiness.
- The structure in the brain related to creative thought.
Creativity, a force of nature that resides in all of us. You have it, I have it. I am using it right now to construct this sentence out of thin air. I didn’t copy these sentences, I came up with them creatively.. It is the single most powerful force in the universe. It can move mountains and divide oceans. Via creative thought humans have changed this world and is still doing so today. Humans are the only beings capable of this power, the power to create, the power to create their own destiny, their own world. You design your life. You alone have the ability to realize your dreams, to think, to plan and to work towards your goals. Creativity has led to scientific breakthroughs, billion dollar business enterprises, cures for diseases and more. Galileo Galilei used it to create the first telescope to observe the stars and conclude that the earth was not the center of the universe. Michael Angelo used to create the famous smile of the Mona Lisa. Anne Frank used it to endure suffering as she created her famous diary. Today, it is the most sought after skill in business and entertainment.
If you harness this force you can harness your future.
Creativity is not just reserved for the select few, but resides in every human being. It is what makes you human. The sad truth is that most people have lost touch with their creative side. Why is that? Why do so many forgo on the opportunity to create their own lives, their own fortunes? Some of the greatest companies have spent millions in what could possibly be the next big idea, the next new innovation. Some succeed and some do not. Why the difference? Those who succeed seem to have supernatural creative talent to invent the most innovative ideas yet. How did they do it? These are the questions that have plagued people for many centuries. How did Mozart write such sweet symphonies? How did Steve Jobs create the iPhone? How did McDonalds create the greatest franchise in history? It has caused much envy in those that strive for creative genius. What is creativity and how can we find it in ourselves again?
Many view creativity as a gift, a talent, but that is a common misconception. Every single human possess the ability to be creative. It is a unique difference between us and animals. It is the force that has lead to art, science, philosophy, innovation, the industrial age, the space age. It is the one force that leads to a successful life.
Here is the proof. Most people learn a language at some point in their life, usually during the toddler stage. As we age and practice our language we become more proficient. Initially a toddler will say just one word at a time. They will point and say; “Dada, Mama.” At around two years of age they can say two word sentences. “Dog woof, I want, Kick ball” and so on. This is the first creative ability we see, to take the words they have learned and creatively add them in different order to give new meaning.
This is my Definition of Creativity: to use the tools that you have learned and create something new.
Maybe a toddler speaking two word sentences is simply prompted by their parents. As time goes by and they expand their vocabulary. Soon they will be able to put together three word sentences and so on. At 15 Anne Frank wrote an ageless diary. At age 34 they might write a blog post. This is truly the first time they exhibit creativity and that is just the beginning. Soon they start telling imaginary stories to their parents with great ambition. Have you ever seen a toddler tell you about something they saw, or something that happened. They are full of emotion, very animated. It is truly a sight to see. They are so happy in that moment.
You do this on a daily basis. You string together words as if out of thin air to convey an idea or a story. By your teenage years you know thousands of words and possess endless possibilities of expressive ability. You can string together any combination of words, you can give a touch of tone, metaphor and syntax. These deeper forms of expressive ability comes with practicing the skill of language. We have become so skilled at speaking that we take for granted the creative power of language. We can even communicate with body language.
Creativity doesn’t stop there. As we age and develop new skills we also develop new languages pertaining to those skills. Have you ever heard doctors speak in medical terms. They have their own language, incomprehensible to the patient or their family. When talking to the patient they have to switch over to layman’s terms. Their language is based on scientific concepts, of the knowledge they have accumulated over thousands of hours of study. Same with plumbers and musicians, mathematicians and movie directors. You name it, any craft has its own language. An apprentice will struggle with the terminology and understanding, but in time they can join the creative discussion with the masters. With study and practice in each discipline you inherently adopt that unique language. The language of music involves understanding rhythm, tone, octaves, chords and more. It depends on how you apply this knowledge creatively to produce new music. Many musicians simply rehearse known songs, but a select few use these songs to create their own.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Steve Jobs.
By studying the current art and the individual genres one can creatively combine these and build on previous knowledge, stand on shoulders of giants to create the future.
Knowing the language is crucial to performing any job adequately. You cannot walk into a courtroom and expect to speak to lawyers on their level without prior study and knowledge of the language of law.
What does science say?
Through scientific studies they have shown that expression and generation of language can be contributed to a particular part of the brain namely the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. They are small collections of millions of neurons, one in the frontal cortex and the other in the temporal cortex. They are located in right brain lobe, the Wernicke’s area sits slightly behind your right eye and Broca’s reside slightly above your right ear. The Broca’s area is famous for a disease named Broca’s Aphasia. People with this problem can not generate speech, they are very capable of understanding language using the Wernicke’s area or even reading and writing, but when it comes to speaking and formulating the words they sound like a broken record.
Brain Imaging has been used to see what happens when Jazz musicians play music to each other. Jazz is largely made of hundreds of individual licks or “words” which enable a Jazz musician to creatively mesh together these licks as they feel comfortable. Another Jazz musician can pick up on the key that is played, the tempo etc to “speak back” with their own set of licks. They create new music on the spot, one musician plays a few phrases and then the other picks up and plays a few more and so on. A study was done by placing one Jazz keyboard player in the fMRI machine and the other outside with a guitar. To no surprise the fMRI machine revealed a massive amount of brain activity in the Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas. The conclusion? Music is a form of communication!
Side note, an fMRI is a machine that works by picking up an increased amount of oxygen in the body. This implies an increased blood flow meaning increased neuronal activity . The theory is that when the brain uses neurons more in a specific region it will need more oxygen to fuel those cells, therefore it requires an increase in blood flow to deliver more oxygen. Therefore in areas of high activity, one will see a flare on the fMRI scanner.
Every artistic expression is a form of communication. Movies convey an idea, music a feeling, paintings a visual representation of a thought. True artists combine all these emotions and language to convey an idea. So how does a skill become a language or a creative expression of the skill?
How does one go from simple skill acquisition to creative ability?
It takes a little while and a lot of practice for a skill to become a creative language. When a verbal language is first learned (specifically a second language) an fMRI will show activation throughout the entire brain, your brain has to work hard to string words together in a new language. On the other hand, when native speakers or fluent adopters of that language gets brain scanned it shows mostly concentrated activity around the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas.
At this point we have established that we all possess creativity. Creativity is also what arises from practicing tools that make up a skill. Becoming fluent in using those tools is likened to speaking the language of that skill. Once you can perform these tools flawlessly you are ready for the final step. The exciting step of creative play.
Here is another example illustrating the above. Remember the first time you learned how to type, it was a struggle, it went slow, you had to deliberately think of where to place each finger for every single letter. This period is known as the skill acquisition phase. It is very taxing on your brain, you engage with full concentration to guide your fingers. Once you have acquired the knowledge of how to strike each letter with your different fingers you enter the next step. The step of practicing those tools. This is the transition phase where you build muscle memory so to speak in your brain. By practicing those movements your brain makes millions of new neuronal connections. I imagine the brain devotes new real estate to that one skill you are learning. After lots of practice, once you have reached the point of typing fluently, you can almost do it as fast as you think, your fingers simply just glide along the keyboard as you think of the ideas in your head.
How do you know you have reached the creative point?
It’s easy, with the speak-as-you-do test.
It is when you can think of something other than how to perform the activity while you are actually engaged in that activity. It is like a musician playing their instrument or a driver in command of a vehicle who is able to speak at the same time. Have you ever driven a car and spoke at the same time. This is proof that the skill of driving is programmed into your automatic memory, you can perform the skill flawlessly and engage in a secondary activity at the same time. A more complicated example is a musician who is playing their instrument and talking at the same time.
To take the driving example a little further. When driving to a specific place for the first time, you have to concentrate, you have the music turned down, you are engaged in looking at the street names, estimating distance, if you are using GPS, you hang on to every word the voice says. With time you will be able to drive to that location with less effort. With each subsequent time you have to concentrate less and less. There comes a point when you are so used to the route that you can guide your car there without a single thought. Have you ever arrived at your destination and not even remember anything about the trip home? “Did I even stop at that that red light?”
Creativity has been historically crucial to the development of the human race. Every innovation, every scientific discovery was the result of creative thought. Why do we engage in creative thought? Many scientists have tried to get to the bottom of this. They have tried to figure out what it takes to be more creative, to achieve greater creative success.
The key driving force behind creativity is curiosity, and the resultant effect is happiness.
Let us discuss the driving force behind creativity first. Children have a propensity to be very curious about the world around them. As toddlers, they see a multitude of foreign objects and experiences that spark their curiosity. Have you ever watched a toddler in a new setting. They walk around in constant amazement. They push on things, pick up, pull, throw, bounce, observe. Their curiosity captivates them. They ignore the rest of the world and go to work on discovering their new foreign land. This curiosity is what leads them to ask why things are the way they are. They strive, seek and do not yield (Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson) until they discover an answer to their curiosity. This curiosity is what has led scientists to ask the same question and make marvelous discoveries.
But, Humanity frowns.
Unfortunately there comes a time when a child’s curiosity gets lost. We get older and we get distracted. It may have to do with getting oversaturated and desensitised by new phenomena or it may just be that “responsibility” gets in the way. A kid goes to school and suddenly they have more on their plate. They have deadlines and tests and are subject to failure. The biggest destroyer of creativity is the fear of failure. They age and go to college, the requirements are enhanced. They get a job and by that time, by their thirties they have completely forgotten the amazement of discovery. Their curiosity is replaced with mundane television shows and repetitive activities.
There is a small group of people who retain their sense of curiosity. They are called scientists, inventors and renaissance men.
A scientist is merely someone who asks the question. “Why?” The same question in the child’s mind. “Why does this happen, why is that the way it is?” They get to the familiar why-state. They ask “what will happen if I did this?” It’s an exciting time of rapid learning. Their little mind questions everything around them. Unfortunately we have two different types of parents. There are the ones who try to answer their child’s questions, they draw from their previous knowledge and give the best answer they come up with. This can be exhausting though, and they get to a point where they can no longer give an answer. Then there is the pivotal point where they dismiss their child’s answer. They say the dreaded words. “I don’t know, you will learn it in school one day.” The child agrees and forgets the question all together. They get used to this response. Whenever another question creeps up they dismiss it, hoping now that someone will teach it to them at a later stage. Then there are the parents who try to teach their child. They have some success but when that pivotal point comes, they do something different. They take the time to show their child how to figure out the answer. They set up an experiment or they open a book or search for a video online. They teach the child how to learn, instead of wait to learn. These are the kids who will create their own world.
The sad part is that we lose this sense of experimentation. We stop asking what would happen? We stop trying to experiment with our lives. There comes a point where we feel we have figured out most of life’s mysteries, we get set in our beliefs and stop to question them, we stop entertaining the other argument.
I was once told that the day we stop asking why is the day our inner child dies.
A child is naive to the world, they do not know their limitations, they don’t even understand the concept. They do not understand failure. These are the roadblocks to inhibiting our curiosity. The internal struggle. What if I sound dumb by asking why? I don’t think I am capable of learning how to do that. I’m not cut out for this. I wasn’t born with that talent. Does this sound familiar?
Get out of that funk. Stop believing there is no more to life. Walk up to the cliff and jump. Start today, experiment with your life, push your limits, ask why. Be naive like a child and instead, rekindle the belief that anything is possible.
If curiosity is the driving force behind creativity then why is happiness the result? Have you ever seen a child during creative play, they are in a zone of complete happiness. They appear to be in constant awe, a perpetual state of amazement. The same occurs in adults who have creative success. When you have mastered the tools of an art and engage in creative play it brings a good deal of happiness. The discovery of creative play is a moment to moment discovery of true joy.
Let’s get scientific again.
Are you familiar with the term Dope? It’s slang for something is exciting or good or even spectacular. It’s also slang for a street drug that causes feeling good. I’ve never tried it but it must be incredibly good if people are willing to lose their lives to it, but that’s another story.
The word Dope is closely related to the word Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in our body. A neurotransmitter is science slang for a molecule that acts on another cell to provoke a response. In the brain dopamine causes euphoria or happiness. Dopamine is most widely present in the caudate nucleus and the frontal cortex. These regions of the brain are thought to be greatly involved with creative thought. The frontal cortex can perform a number of activities that are unique to humans. These include computation, abstract thought, time awareness and creativity.
For example, using our frontal cortex we can predict future events based on our current actions. Animals cannot predict or envision a possible outcome, they only learn via experience. Animals may seem like they know the consequences of their actions. Dogs don’t poop in the house because they were told the adverse outcome of such an action. This behavior is based on classical conditioning. They associate an adverse outcome with a learned behavior, they avoid A because it results in B, they avoid pooping in the house because it results in a beating. Humans on the other hand can learn by conditioning AND observation. A toddler sees their friend get in trouble for A and receive punishment B, therefore will not perform A. A toddler will also avoid performing action A if they have already received punishment B. You also know it’s not wise to run across a freeway, you might get hit by a car, it’s not wise to touch hot stove, you might get burned.
The frontal cortex aids in computation, mathematics and logic. It is able to derive possible future outcomes based on current experience. By using abstract thought we use our frontal lobe to deduce what may happen in the future if we act a certain way right now.
The frontal cortex also allows us to think creatively, it helps us to combine our current skills to create something brand new. The fact that the frontal cortex uses a lot of dopamine which gives pleasure explains why when we think creatively and produce something new with satisfying results we get a surge of dopamine i.e. a feeling of pleasure. Once you get motivated to start producing something new after learning a few new skills you will see what I mean. When I write a new paragraph, play a new guitar song, taste the bread I baked from scratch, I get this ecstatic feeling of joy. For that moment I feel on top of the world. For that moment I feel capable of anything. Are you catching my drift?
So how does creative play lead to happiness? There are 3 types of happiness. The first, instant happiness. This is the person who achieves happiness in the short run, eating a tasty burger, laughing at a joke, having sex or doing drugs can provide a quick burst of dopamine. The quick onset of a dopamine rush quickly fades. They look to the present to provide happiness. Then there is the person who tries to achieve happiness in the future, they go out to the club to try and find a mate, they work towards a promotion meaning more money with possibly more happiness. They look to the future for happiness. Then the third type is the one who engages in a creative task that provides enjoyment. This is also instant happiness but it is built on years of practice. As mentioned before when you practice a skill to the point of creative play you will find this happiness. This is the type of happiness that drives you to continue practicing that skill, each session is a pleasure in itself. Eventually you will get so good at it that you achieve both happiness in the present and in the future. This type of happiness is self driven, it feeds into itself by making you better at the skill you are trying to acquire and as you get better you derive more happiness from it. It’s an intrinsic reward. (Drugs, paychecks and a start on the forehead are extrinsic rewards). This is the difference between the three types. The immediate and future happiness only lasts for a short while, they are subject to desensitization. This means that when you take a drug for example you slowly get used to the effects. You eventually require more and more of the drug to get the same effect. Getting a promotion is only rewarding the day off the promotion. Creative happiness fuels itself, it provides intrinsic pleasure that perpetuates it’s own motivation.
What do the philosophers say, or what gave them happiness?
Aristotle loved to argue. He argued that because man is a rational animal, having the ability to reason is what makes man different from animals. He believed the ultimate happiness is the man who exercises this virtue, to Reason. To reason gave him the greatest happiness which makes sense because he practiced philosophy which is comprised of making arguments and solving problems. I’m sure whenever he engaged in reasoning and debating he was using all the tools he built to creatively come up with new arguments. His ultimate happiness was in his ability to create philosophical arguments.
What does my dog say?
Whenever I play fetch with my Labrador Shaka, it is no surprize that he is at his happiest when chasing after his ball. It is in his genes, it’s his instinct to hunt, because that is what ensures his survival. He drops the ball by my feet, wags his tail and barks until I throw it again. He loves the chase. Most of the time he is already running by the time I throw it. Just as a dog is in his happiest moment of exercising his instinct to hunt, humans are the happiest when we engage in our unique instinct. To create.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Do not simply copy others but create something new. Every artist commits copyright fraud. That is how creativity works. You take little bits and pieces from all the artists who influence you. You study them, you practice them, you make them your own, you steal them. Then the creative part happens. You take all these things you’ve learned and you string them together in your mind in a way that makes sense to you and you create something new. I am guilty of this crime, but unlike a common thief I stand up and I thank all the great philosophers who have influenced me. My theories are not my own but a conglomerate of great theories which are already out there waiting to be rediscovered. I am simply trying to forge connections between ideas, to make sense of my own actions. I try to find a pattern in the abstract. This is why artists can feel irrelevant. They feel as if it has already been done by someone else. I want to tell you today, it’s okay to steal, please take my theories and apply them, mull them over, mould them to fit your belief structure and make them your own.
Sam Walton, the founder of Wal Mart said it himself, he stole the best ideas from the most successful businessman.
The mastery of two or more different disciplines will inevitably give birth to something new. Music is a great example. There are artists we get to know and love in a certain genre. After some success and many albums and songs later suddenly they will disappear for a while. What happened? They are studying a new genre. Not long, you see this, artist-x featuring artist-y. That’s it, two separate different genres of music, suddenly combined. This is the creative process. Artists will often take melodies from the oldies or classical music and merge them with elements of modern music. This happens in every field. It’s very evident in medicine. With so many sciences combined you often see a mechanical device borrowed from a totally different discipline implemented in medicine to perform something better. Our gut resembles the plumbing and piping we find in our homes. The tools that surgeons and gastroenterologists use just so happen to resemble the tools plumbers use.
It doesn’t take talent to be creative, it simply arises from hard work and practicing different disciplines. In the next chapter I will discuss the fallacy of believing in talent.
The Importance of Play
Do you play music or do you play with music? What is the difference? We were always taught, don’t play with your food… but isn’t being a Chef really just playing with food, playing with flavors and colors and combinations? Almost anyone can play music. Just take two pencils and start tapping a beat, that’s music. The fun part comes when you get to play WITH music. You can learn to play a famous song on the guitar, note by note, chord by chord, congrats, you know one song. On the other hand you can learn a few chords, arrange them to a new strumming pattern, new order and viola you can create tens of hundreds of new songs. Which would make you happier? Playing one famous song or playing endless you-songs?
A relationship between two people is so much more fun when play is involved. Do you play with your spouse, do you try new combinations of chords and licks to get a rise out of her, to make her smile or cringe or jump for joy?
It is only when at play can one can be creative!!!
Think of telling a story. If I met you face to face and have you tell me how your morning was. There are two ways of telling the story. One is simply recalling the facts. The second is playing with those facts. What can you add to make them more fun for yourself? Maybe use emotions and see how they affect your lister, or large hand motions and see how engaged your listener can become.