Where Do the 'Big Ideas' Come From?

Can You Make Yourself More Creative?

Since those conditions showed up before the problem was even presented, the researchers concluded that it is likely that the human brain may be pre-programmed to be either creative or analytical at any given moment.

But if that's so, is there anything we can do to make our brains more creative, or more methodical?

Kounios says their research doesn't completely answer that, but "we have some good reason to believe that some of these aspects are under a person's control."

The work "suggests," he adds, that such things as cognitive exercises, like yoga, might help make a person more creative, since they direct the attention inward, which appears to be tightly linked to creativity. But much more research is necessary to fully answer that, he says.

But how much tinkering do we want to do with the human brain? Kounios points out that some problems are better solved with methodical, analytical reasoning, and some lend themselves better to waiting for the "aha" moment.

"If you are balancing your checkbook, you don't want to be creative," he says. "You want to be methodical and analytical."

So sometimes, it isn't desirable to be creative.

"You don't want a surgeon who improvises," Kounios says. "You want a surgeon who operates according to established procedures that are known to work."

Creativity can sometimes be a bit of a drag, he points out, because "people who tend to be creative tend not to be very focused on their day-to-day business. Their attention seems to be more diffused, spread out. And they tend to be easily distracted.

"People who are more analytical seem to have more focused attention," he says.

But those "aha" moments can be a blast, even if they come rarely.

One of the first characters to recognize that was Archimedes, who is said to have shouted "Eureka" just as he stepped into his bath. Not because the water was too cold, but because he had suddenly solved a problem that he really needed to solve.

Archimedes had been ordered to find out if his king's crown was really pure gold. As he stepped into the tub, so the legend goes, he noticed the water rising as it was displaced by his foot. "Aha," he undoubtedly thought, water displacement could be used to calculate density.

Thus in a flash he solved a problem that more methodical types might not have been able to resolve.

By the way, neither the creative types, nor the methodical types, scored better in the Drexel-Northwestern project.

"For certain types of problems it's likely that using an insight strategy may give you an advantage," Kounios says. "For other types of problems, using an analytical method may be beneficial."

So Archimedes, if you're reading this, don't feel too smug.

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