Monday, May 10, 2010

Charting Creativity

On a recent plane trip to Philly I had the chance to catch up on some reading. As usual, FastCompany Magazine provided great fuel and possible fodder for an upcoming blog. But it was an article in the New York Times (love the crossword puzzle) that caught my eye and inspires this edition.

Charting Creativity: Signposts of a Hazy Territory by Patricia Cohen tells about a group of scientists who are researching 'the neurology of inspiration'. The lead lines caught my ADD brain and curiosity...

'Grab a timer and set it for one minute. Now list as many creative uses for a brick as you can imagine. Go. '

If ever there was a throw down I was built for, this was it. Creativity...? One minute? I am so there! I took my crossword pen (of course) and started making my list. I didn't care how long I went, the ideas just kept coming. It turns out this little exercise is part of a classic test that scientists are using to attempt to track creativity and inspiration in the brain.

I loved the standard definition of creativity that the scientists begin from:
'the ability to combine novelty and usefulness in a particular social context'. But some argue that this standard has outlived its usefulness.

Most people agree that no single measure for creativity exists. While I.Q. tests are still considered reliable at least for certain kinds of intelligence, there is no equivalent when it comes to creativity — no Creativity Quotient, or C.Q.

The 'brick' example actually comes from a test for “divergent thinking,” where a person is asked to come up with “new and useful” functions for a familiar object, like a pencil or a sheet of paper.

But Dr. Jung’s team goes a bit further and presents his subjects with weird situations. For example, what would be the implications if clouds had strings? Can you draw the taste of chocolate? Or, write a caption for a humorous cartoon. 'Humor is an important part of creativity,' Dr. Jung said. And his research has produced some surprising results. One study of 65 subjects suggests that creativity prefers to take a slower, more meandering path than intelligence.

“The brain appears to be an efficient superhighway that gets you from Point A to Point B” when it comes to intelligence, Dr. Jung explained. “But in the regions of the brain related to creativity, there appears to be lots of little side roads with interesting detours, and meandering little byways.”

Ah yes, those wonderful, meandering side roads. Jolly good fun they are. Take a break and read the entire article here. Then go be creative!