The Science of Creative Thinking

Creative Thought Has a Pattern of its Own, Brain Activity Scans Reveal  – According to a recent study, highly creative thinkers have a distinctive combination of brain activity – areas which are associated with wandering thought, and with focused thought are active simultaneously.  Usually these processes work against each other in less creative brains.  It’s clear just how undervalued creativity is in our modern world – one scientist suggested further research would be necessary to determine whether creativity was a transferable skill (*eyeroll*).  Best quote: “One of the barriers to creative thinking is the ease with which common, unoriginal thoughts swamp the mind.” Too true.

Another recent study suggests that suppressing areas of the brain responsible for planning and abstract reasoning results in a greater aptitude for original thinking.

Nick Davis, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Manchester Metropolitan University, who was not involved in the study, welcomed the research. “When the [dorsolateral prefrontal cortex] was ‘cooled down’, the brain seems to have stopped applying old rules, and been more successful at finding new rules – this is the essence of creativity in problem-solving,” he said of the study.

In a way – it seems like creativity requires us to ‘turn off’ what we’ve learned.  This makes sense when we consider divergent (“blue sky”) thinking.  We generate ideas without considering the barriers, without judgement.  So much of the design process is the interplay between divergent and convergent thinking – is the first study essentially saying that creative thinkers are better at doing these simultaneously?  Continue reading


Tearing down walls

If you haven’t heard Heavyweight yet, why not start with episode 5, Galit?  In this episode, our hero Jonathan meets with his first love, and examines the impact of his first broken heart.

“‘We all get hurt,’ she writes.  ‘And we all build walls to protect ourselves… and then spend the rest of our lives trying to take down those walls. […] the ability to fully give and receive love seems to get more complicated as we get older.'”

In love, isn’t it all about painstakingly deconstructing walls that seemed to go up in an instant?  Now that I know that the hurt won’t kill me, I feel like most of adulthood is an attempt to retrain my heart and brain to be as pure and open as it once was.

The same goes for education.  Somebody tells us, once, that we’re not good at something, and we veer so sharply.  In my creative program area, we have implemented curriculum that encourages risk-taking, and turns failure into learning opportunities.  It’s a step in the right direction, but my students are already so damaged by the time they arrive.

A fellow learner in an online teaching MOOC shared this Ted Talk with me, and I’m grateful for the reminder – this is why I’m here.  I work to provide safe environments for students to tear down their own walls, and mend the broken children inside.

Makes me think of Kintsugi – the Japanese art of repairing broken china with gold.  It is the scars that make us beautiful.




Caring for Creatives

I’ve been thinking about what makes creative people the magical and impossible beings that they are.  It makes sense – I’m a creative person, many of my friends are creative people, my students are creative people, I’m attracted to creative people.

On a personal level, I’m more concerned with protecting myself from artistic narcissists (relationships).  My friends are great.  My students are… complicated.  I have a delicate balance to manage – guiding and nurturing them, without taking on too much of their weird shit.

It’s so wonderful to find The Creative Independent – coincidentally, on their 1st birthday!  The Creative Independent is “a resource of practical and emotional guidance for artists/creators”.  I can’t think of anything we need more.


I work in design… in more than one way.  It’s kinda meta.  Basically I work as an educator and curriculum designer in a design field of study.

I’m not sure how I missed this, but I recently came across some random mention of empathy and design in the same sentence.  Zing!  Lightning strikes!  I have so many ideas and thoughts tumbling out…

I’ve been fascinated with artists and narcissism, creativity and dysfunction, roadblocks and self-defeating behaviours.  I’m designing a course on personal and professional development for designers; I’m examining my own preferences for creative companions, while maintaining a commitment to self-care; I’m questioning with a friend why we chose design rather than art.

A few things to add to the nebulous cloud of ideas:

Ambidextrous thinking – implies thinking with ‘right’ and ‘left’ brains together, as well as thinking with the whole body (in other words, kinesthetic thinking)

Scientific vs. Design thinking – How do we approach problems similarly?  Differently?

Wicked problems – problems that are not only difficult to solve, but difficult to define.  Has me thinking about the Ingenuity Gap.

Characteristics of the designer – Empathetic, curious, creative, left+right brained, optimistic, collaborative

I’m also interested to explore applying design thinking to societal and business problems – truly creative problem solving .  Design thinking leaves room for the muckiness of a wicked problem… and we’ve certainly got a lot of those.

I feel like I need to do some flow-charting….