Innovation for all.

The Brain Innovation Project

One Brain. Infinite Possibilities.

If you say “To be, or not to be, that is the question”, are you being creative? Almost certainly not.

If your 5 year old daughter suddenly says “To be, or not to be, that is the question”, is she being creative? Very, even though Shakespeare got there a few hundred years before her.

The distinction here is between Shakespeare’s ‘Historical Creativity’ (original, ground-breaking) and your daughter’s ‘Psychological Creativity’ (original for that person), to paraphrase the neuroscientist Margaret Boden.

This difference is crucial to understanding, respecting and developing our own creativity, because if you tell yourself you are not creative, your endlessly innovative mind will almost certainly find an infinite number of ways to ensure you are not!

So what does this mean for our own creativity?

The image of the iconic genius – Einstein, Marie Curie, Mozart, Frida Kahlo, Leonardo da Vinci – with extraordinary historical creative achievements remains powerful in the popular imagination. Rightly so. As well as transforming our cultures and understanding of the world, they provide us with a compelling vision of human potential. In doing so, they also hint at our own possibilities. But they can also serve to intimidate and make our own creative efforts seem trivial and pedestrian in comparison.

While we may or may not be the next Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs or JK Rowling, historical creativity is simply the wrong measuring stick to use, as it dooms 99.99% of us to failure before we’ve even begun. Rather, the question is: How can we cultivate and maximise our own psychological creativity and innovation in our own lives and in our own particular circumstance? Or, put another way: how can we develop a creative mindset and habits which naturally permeate every aspect of our personal and professional lives, whether it be in the role of scientist, parent, politician, DJ, manager, programmer or community activist?

After all, both the ‘iconic genius’ and ourselves have access to the same basic underlying cognitive processes and brain structure. And far from being a ‘passive receiver’ and ‘objective interpreter’ of external sensory data, the human brain is constantly (during both waking and sleeping) developing, testing and refining rich, dynamic, generative mental models of the world around us. Discerning patterns. Making associations. Determining what is important. Dismissing what can be ignored. Running scenarios. Developing new possibilities for action. Reframing. Creating. Innovating. All this without us even being aware of it most of the time.

Of course, to make the most of them, these natural creative skills need to be cultivated and used. But too many of us carry around a false and damaging belief that we are simply not creative.

In a rare humble moment, Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” If you insist on measuring yourself next to these giants instead, you might well find yourself coming up short. But most important of all, avoid letting them stand on YOUR shoulders, as the crushing weight of their legacy will likely squeeze out any remaining creative juices that you might once have had.

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