Is the mind of a creative genius different from yours or mine, or is there some trick that they employ when considering ideas which makes all the difference?
There have been a great many ideas over time which we now think of as normal or even obvious. Once though, they were absent. Some of these grew little by little, like the electronic toothbrush. Here we look back and see incremental changes along the way. Others like the 3D printer may seem obvious when we had the 2D printer as a primer, just challenging to crack as a technology.
Perhaps every step forward in knowledge and technology can be seen in the light of some previous knowledge, however some are highly unlikely to occur without what we call a special kind of thinking or genius. Put the search term 'inventions of Leonardo da Vinci' into an internet search engine and you may be amazed at what this guy thought up. Arthur C. Clark is another of the visionaries, a science fiction writer who proposed geostationary communication satellites back in 1945. It took a while but twenty years later we had these. Then there is the theory of special relativity which came from the mind of Einstein.
But are the minds of these people different from everyone else? An answer may lie in how using the mind reshapes the brain, which leaves physical evidence behind.
When the famous Albert Einstein died at the age of 76 his brain was considered something of a prize. It was pickled and later sliced to see if some structural correlation existed for his special kind of mind. Analysis showed left and right parietal lobes 15% wider than the average, similarly-aged person. Now, activity in the parietal regions of the brain correlates with spatial, creative and insight-based thinking approaches, especially when the electric waves in the brain, in this area, get into the gamma wave frequency of around 40 Hertz. And the brain region is also implicated in intention: Intriguingly, Max Wertheimer's discussion with Einstein (in his 1959 book titled Productive Thinking) about his thinking process hints at a destination captured in a glimpse, a glittering solution, towards which he progressed; solution driven by intention.
There are other differences too, with Einstein's brain, such as the slightly thicker connective tissue between brain hemispheres (the corpus callosum). Which suggests a lot of cross talk between the two sides of the brain. However, neither of these structural findings provide the solution to encouraging so-called creative genius in our own minds.
So how can we apply creative thinking to make us more innovative? The key appears to be making links between concepts that other people miss, not because the links are hard to achieve, but because we are taught to think in ways that lead us to the same conclusion (convergent thinking) and to take small, safe steps (derivative thinking).
Divergent thinking is different. This floats us away from the safe harbour on an ocean of ideas rather than have us circle back around and swim for shore. Adults worry about failure and focus on the likelihood of appearing foolish and then suffering shame. The trick for overcoming the fear factor is to have fun. To play, just as children mess around with things, thoughts and concepts, intent on enjoyment, unquestioning in their faith that they can, not that they cannot!
A simple demonstration of divergent thinking is word play that brings together ideas that would not normally sit together: duck and quack go together, just as duck and rubber may, however duck and overhead may not spring to mind so easily, let alone duck and necked (for a database to assist with and trigger the linking of ideas see here).
A simple task that aids in the development of divergent thinking, towards developing creative and innovative ideas, is to come up with unusual uses for everyday objects. Look around and pick something, then consider how many different ways it might be used.
Both approaches train the mind, however for ideas that can be applied, it appears best to start with a task or mission in mind - a problem to be solved. The genius mind takes a challenge or problem, works towards an unusual solution using divergent and insight thinking (explained in more detail in my book, Design Your Mind) and then puts in one more ingredient. This ingredient is called socio-affective processing. This deals with taking an idea beyond personal importance and seeing it in terms of the wider viewpoint of relevance to others. In other words, to be a genius creative thinker we need to consider others.
Why is this important? Because the difference between an unrecognised and a widely recognised solution or discovery is that many people see it as relevant in their lives. In my working career I have aided a little in or seen the development of a number of these; one is the Vaxxas Nanopatch.
Till next time – B.W. Cribb