Society decrees that there are two types of thinkers in this world: the analytical and the creative. At a very early age, we were led to believe that we are either one or the other, instructed to base our most important life decisions on this outcome alone. In truth, we as human beings are born with the innate capacity for both. Still, it appears that some people in particular are more creative than others, able to quickly generate innovative ideas and think outside the box. Be that as it may, creativity does not depend on the type of brain we have. It is simply a matter of how we use it.
At the 16th edition of CreativeMornings Utrecht, neuropsychologist Sabine van Linden (Ph.D.) shed some light on the intricacies of the creative mind and how it can be improved. As clinical psychology lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, she is deeply fascinated by the inner workings of the brain, delivering lectures and workshops on this three-pound gem through her organization Talks to Mind. As the power of creativity is a valued human resource that often remains untapped, using the brain more efficiently can unleash its full potential.
“Creativity is mysterious. Also, our brain is very mysterious,” Van Linden says. “Our brains enable us to perceive the world.” Though this delicate organ is responsible for the operation our bodily functions, it also enables us to think and feel, to be self-aware, to communicate and interact with one another, and to understand both language and emotion. Furthermore, what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to “imagine a future that is not [yet] there.” In fact, “Humans are social beings,” the neuropsychologist claims. “We are programmed to work together. We can combine our ideas [and] competencies to create this imagined future.”
From a scientific point of view, creativity is a product of the brain’s physiology. It goes without saying that each of its individual parts serves a specific purpose. “The two sides of the brain look at the world in different ways,” declares Van Linden. While the analytical left permits us to examine phenomena in varying detail, processing these bits and bytes into a logical, sequential order, the holistic right allows us to see the bigger picture, to grasp problems, theories and concepts in their totality. Nevertheless, creativity is not the sole dominion of the intuitive right. According to Van Linden, “Creative people use both hemispheres more efficiently than other people.”
Contrary to popular belief, human beings utilize 100% of their brains. “If you don’t use [a] part of the brain, it will probably die out,” the neuropsychologist explains. “To be creative, you have to see the details, to analyse the problem but to also see it as a whole and to combine these activities. That’s what makes solutions creative.” Indeed, creativity is associated with what psychologists refer to as divergent thinking – the spontaneous, free-flowing process of coming up with creative ideas by exploring a multitude of solutions. Simply put, it is the ability to think outside the box, to be able to see things from different perspectives and to conceive original ideas. Even so, the fact remains that society puts a premium on the exact opposite.
“Schools are making children less creative,” Van Linden proclaims. The current models of education emphasize the dominant use of the left side of the brain or what is known as convergent thinking. This involves a logical, step-by-step process in order to arrive at a single, “correct” solution. As a matter of fact, a common question frequently asked in schools is, “How did you come up with that answer?” presupposing that there is only one correct response to every question and that it is a product of an exact, sequential method.
Although convergent thinking may be applicable to math and science, it falls short in dealing with more abstract problems and limits our capacity to use our brains more efficiently. “I think more attention should be given to right-brain activities,” Van Linden maintains, “more music education, more emphasis on how to work together, on emotions, talking about experiences, on daydreaming or writing stories or doing theatre – more creative stuff. Now, a lot of time is consumed with learning mathematics, the alphabet, learning the capital cities of countries; these are all very left-side brain activities. There could be more of a balance for right-side activities. I think this is very necessary.”
Since creativity is inherent to every human being, it can most certainly be developed despite the repressive years of formal education. “There are some things that you have a talent for or you are gifted for, some kind of property, but creativity and intelligence can all be trained if you use your brain effectively, if you train your brain, if you keep your brain fit,” the neuropsychologist says. More precisely, being creative is a matter of regulating brain activity: turning down self-monitoring and self-control and increasing flexibility and self-expression.
To improve our creativity, Van Linden suggests that we should read poems aloud in a dramatic fashion. This triggers both the language centre of the brain and the areas in charge of emotion. Learning to read music and playing an instrument also stimulates balanced brain activity. The same goes for creating visual illustrations when thinking about a specific problem.
Brainstorming sessions, on the other hand, are considered to be counterproductive. These activities foster an element of performance and competition, which increases self-monitoring and discourages creativity. While a certain amount of competition is deemed healthy, it encourages people to come up with the “best” solution, rather than a pool of creative ideas from multiple perspectives. “The fact is, if you are busy monitoring your own performance, this will inhibit creativity,” Van Linden claims. “But being able to hear the solutions of other people does stimulate creativity. So if you can let people think about it individually at first, then let them know the answers of other people and afterwards have a brainstorm session, maybe that’s a good solution.”
In the end, creativity can be nurtured by simply being open. “The more things in your head, the more creative you become,” Van Linden declares. “Try new stuff, go to new places, take new routes to work […] Do as many things new things as you can to keep an open mind.” Needless to say, creativity is nothing short of being courageous. To overcome the inevitable trauma of making mistakes or being wrong, of doing something new and braving new experiences is undeniably easier said than done. Nevertheless, fortune favours the brave and endless possibilities await for those who dare to create. ✌
☞ For more information on Sabine van Linden, Talks to Mind, CreativeMornings Utrecht and CreativeMornings™, visit the websites listed below: