Four things you need to stop believing about creativity

1. Creativity is left brain vs right brain

The human brain works in a lot of mysterious ways, but we’re learning more about it every day.

Part of what we do know is that the brain is certainly split into various regions for dealing with different types of stimulus. Part of the split is quite literal: if you were looking at a brain from above it would be split right down the middle in what’s known as the longitudinal fissure.

Though the middle split is the most evident in physical form, the other regional splits have only recently been fully graphed and are still not completely understood.

For example: language processing in dominantly right-handed people takes place in the left hemisphere of the brain. We know this from countless historical studies. The left hemisphere is typically associated with being able to visualize letters and words and having the ability to apply meaning to memories.

The right side of the brain is more likely to control emotions, muscle ability, and others.

In popular culture creativity has been commonly associated with the right side of the brain due to it’s common control of artistic-related stimulus (like drawing, or singing).

The problem is: left brain vs right brain for creativity is a myth.

While it is true that various regions of the brain do have more control of a type of action, the brain tends to work as a whole to accomplish tasks both creative and not (which means you often use the same parts of your brain to paint a picture as you do to solve a complex math equation).

To quote the wikipedia page on brain lateralization: ̶although some functions are lateralized, these are only a tendency.”

2. You’re either creative or you aren’t

One of the more common myths around creativity is that it’s something you’re born with, or not.

What this fallacy points to isn’t mis-education, it’s simply a result of not understanding creativity (which, to be fair, is a fairly complicated concept to understand).

But why is believing that only certain people are creative while other’s aren’t such a common thread? The belief stretches far across different cultures, languages, geographies, and class types. It’s something even experienced, professional, creative-types would attest to.

The reason is, more often than not, a cop-out.

People who find the act of being creative (or vice-versa: people who believe being analytical) is a trait of the other people in a room, are often believing so out of laziness. They find comfort in working the way they do, and when somebody else comes along who wants to work differently: they re-act by saying “we’ll that’s just not me.”

How do we know this?

Because creativity, at it’s base, is simply original thought. It’s the ability to encounter a new situation (like getting into a car for the first time, or going on a first date, or sitting down in front of a blank canvas) and find a solution (like getting the car into first gear, or finding the right conversation topics to cover on the date, or painting random lines until they start to form something familiar).

How many times a day do you think the average person encounters a new type of situation? At least once. I’d say many.

The result? Creativity. It’s being able to do something new or deal with a new experience. There’s nothing artistic or zany about it. Creativity is original thought.

If you day dream (even once!) you’re creative, congratulations.

You don’t have to go around telling everyone about it (that you are, or you aren’t creative), but just acknowledge that everyone, everywhere, has some working creative ability. It’s innate.

3. That creative group brainstorming works

Getting a group of people together in a room to formulate the solution to a problem sounds like magic to some. In the corporate realm brainstorming is a major player in how projects move forward.

Unfortunately group brainstorming just doesn’t work. Most of the time, anyway.

While brainstorming is commonly associated with creative projects, the results are often sub-par, even if you don’t realize it.

Why? Because of the illusion of group productivity (if the group agrees to move on one idea – even if it’s a bad idea – they feel more productive as a whole), because of fear of evaluation (often members of the group won’t speak-up for fear of their ideas being critically torn apart), because of blocking (which is due to the group approach of one person only being allowed to speak at a time), and more.

The biggest reason brainstorming doesn’t work, however, is often due to constricted focus.

Where the group is so focused on a specific outcome that they fail to see the solutions that are outside of their scope.

Brainstorming restricts thinking to a very limited scope by it’s very nature (getting people into a room to fit X into Y without realizing there are A, B, and C options even out there). You’d be better off having people randomly associate words with a project (on their own, not in a group setting), then getting them in a room to focus on one thing.

This is a direct result of how our brains work: through association. If the mentality of the entire group is to focus on one thing, you’re going to run out of associations and because those who may have “out there” ideas either won’t get the opportunity to speak up or are afraid of being criticized, you’re bound to get less than great ideas from a group brainstorming session.

Instead: have members of a team brainstorm on their own, however they see appropriate. Then come together as a group once everyone has come up with – and submitted to a pool – a certain number of possible ideas.

4. Creative people are always creative

Even the most experienced athletes have their “off” days.

Particularly when it comes to playing a different sport, you can bet the athlete is going to stumble a little. With creativity it’s the same: no two problems or projects are the same.

Sure: having an arsenal of creative thinking exercises (and a solid understanding of what works and what doesn’t when searching for creative solutions) can help a lot, but if you were to ask a creative person to do something creative on the spot you’re likely to be let down.

The reason is pretty self-explanitory: unless you’re inviting the creative expert to do something they’ve done all their life, in a similar fashion as to what they’ve always done, they’re going to be pulling on strings to come up with something great.

Photo by Christophe Kiciak.