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5 steps to disrupting your comfort zone and embracing creativity
In her new book, Creative Change, social psychologist Jennifer Mueller says everyone loves the idea of creativity even while we prefer the status quo.
Communism can stifle creativity. At least that’s the sentiment among a certain population in China, where the younger generation is rebelling against the social norms of their parents. Their main weapon to combat the boring ravages of collectivism is the smartphone app, Meitu, in which social media hopefuls attempt to digitally construct the perfect wang hong lian—“Internet celebrity face.”
No one spends less than 40 minutes doctoring each selfie, reports Jiayang Fan in The New Yorker. Meitu, the word, is thrown around as frequently as Google in America; it has become a function, a sort of public utility owned by a private corporation (value: $6 billion US). This, according to some, is China’s youth culture response to the stifling restraints of conformity: to break free of the mold and doctor themselves in any way they’d like. Which just happens to be the same exact way everyone else is doctoring themselves.
In her book, Creative Change: Why We Resist It… How We Can Embrace It, social psychologist Jennifer Mueller notices that everyone pays lip service to creativity, yet few people actually have faith in it. Its power resides more as an invocation than in its implementation. While many people like to believe they’re all about creative solutions, they’ll usually join the status quo out of fear of truly thinking differently.
Mueller’s focus in this short book is executives and business owners, and it grew out of a 2010 paper that she says has been downloaded over 65,000 times. The book itself is really a long essay, repetitive at times to fulfill a word count, though her point is substantial: we’re biased against creativity.
“Could it be that our ability to embrace creative ideas is not a purely rational process of calculating the odds, but instead a psychological process of simply managing our feelings of uncertainty?”
To fight against that bias we have to first recognize when we’re feeling queasy about battling the status quo, then transform those biased feelings to embrace creative solutions that, while uncomfortable at first, “may ultimately enrich our lives.”
Toeing the tech line, Mueller constantly asks her clients to “self-disrupt.” She uses two mindsets to argue her point: how/best, leaders that recognize the most feasible option now and are intolerant of uncertainty, and why/potential, leaders that focus on potential future value and are more open to an uncertain future.
Mueller presents a four-step protocol for self-disrupting, throwing in a fifth “lifeline” option should the prior steps fail. While her book is predominantly written for business owners and executives, her general guidelines can be parsed for personal use as the status quo affects us all.
Step 1: Identify whether you are evaluating familiar ideas, creative ideas, or both.
Mueller recommends a take on the Wisdom of Crowds (WOC) approach by assigning ideas with a creative value between 1-4, with the higher end being more creative. Employ at least 20 independent judges to evaluate each idea to decide if they are truly radical or fall in line with the status quo. Each idea should be rated on both creativity and quality—being creative does not mean it will be quality. You want to end up with two piles of high-quality ideas: low creativity and high creativity.
If you end up with only one pile, proceed to step two. But if your piles are split, Mueller suggests investigating the high-creativity ideas first, while everyone is fresh. Your team might move on to more familiar ground, but she advises to reserve judgment until the end of the session, “to let their thoughts incubate.”
Step 2: Prepare to self-disrupt.
We look for patterns we understand so often that we sometimes miss blatant outliers. Mueller suggests behavioral priming: bringing to mind an image of a person or story you admire. She fancies inventors, for they rarely bring an idea into being fully formed. Remember that failures along the way are essential steps in the process of creative growth.
Next, she recommends invoking a problem you’re trying to solve. Since you don’t have an answer at the moment, it leaves your mind open to the possibility of creative problem-solving. You’re then ready for the next step.
Step 3. Self-disrupt—accept the unknowable.
“Decades of research have shown that the number-one way to increase your feelings of anxiety and negative emotion is to actively think about areas in your life where you lack control.” By focusing on what is not—and cannot—be known, you only increase the likelihood of falling back on what’s comfortable, even if in the long run that’s the worst decision.
Mueller follows up with “go with your gut,” which, though cliched, holds merit. “Gut feel is the positive impression you have of the person pitching the idea.” Intuition is not mysticism but rooted in our unconscious ability to stitch together the past, what psychiatrist Peter C Whybrow calls “a primary component of tuning your brain.” Mueller does not suggest abandoning metrics, but by accepting that the value of the potential metric is unknown, letting go of anxiety helps you listen to your intuition better.
Step 4. Self-disrupt—shift from problem finding to problem solving.
Mueller employs an example from Toy Story. When Pixar was creating that landmark film, the cost of showing human faces was well beyond budget—Steve Jobs was not in top form at this point in his career. Instead of showing Andy’s face throughout the movie, they chose to show it sparingly, instead focusing on the toys' faces and Andy’s hands playing with them. Instead of a “human playing with toys" movie, you had “toys being played with.”
It’s easy to spot problems first—that’s human nature. Viewing problems as obstacles to be solved, and not seeking further irrelevant problems, is the mindset switch Mueller advocates. And if that fails…
Step 5. Partner with your opposite.
A little mental jujitsu here. Mueller suggests structuring the decision-making tasks to two people with completely opposite views. This will (hopefully) invoke collaboration. In this case, you can’t end up with a how/best leader that leaves no room for uncertainty or a why/potential leader who throws caution to the wind. As she concludes, “this step will require both partners to adopt a firm problem-solving approach in order to resolve the inevitable conflicts that will arise.”
Here's how partnering with his opposite helped Christopher Loose create his first startup, and sell it for $80 million:
Derek Beres is the author of Whole Motion and creator of Clarity: Anxiety Reduction for Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
How can we promote the creation of new neurons - and why is it so important?
- Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth.
- After birth, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain: the olfactory bulb (which is responsible for our sense of smell) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and emotional processing).
- Research from the 1960s proves creating new neurons as adults is possible, and modern-day research explains how (and why) we should promote new neuron growth.
Two parts of the brain can continue growing through neurogenesis<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTAwODc1MH0.4GDLlZmkwuD0-pJ0s0UWcUoYXMy95a-AM61a_QAlAeA/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e77e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e23499fdf3b2185533979083fd02db7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="brain made of twigs and plants concept of neurogenesis" />
Neurogenesis is still possible well into adulthood in two very important parts of the human brain.
Image by EtiAmmos on Shutterstock<p>Although most people are aware that aging or bad habits such as heavy alcohol use can contribute to the deterioration of our brains, not many of us give thought to how we can generate new brain cells.</p><p>Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth. </p><p><strong>After birth, however, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain:</strong></p><ul><li>The olfactory bulb, which is a structure of the forebrain that's responsible for our sense of smell. </li><li>The hippocampus, which is a structure of the brain located within the temporal lobe (just above your ears) - this area is important for learning, memory, regulation, of emotions and spatial navigation. </li></ul><p>Of course, when this information first came to light <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13860748" target="_blank">back in the 1960s</a>, the next natural question was: How do we promote neurogenesis in those areas where it's still possible? </p><p>Researchers today believe there are activities you can do (some of them may be things you already do on a daily basis) that can promote neurogenesis in your brain. </p><p><strong>Why is it important to promote the growth of new neurons in adulthood?</strong></p><p>We produce an estimated 700 million neurons per day in the hippocampus - this means by the time we reach the age of 50, we will have exchanged the neurons we were born within that area of the brain with new (adult-generated) neurons. </p><p>If we don't promote this exchange with the growth of new neurons, we may block certain abilities these new neurons help us with (such as keeping our memory sharp, for example). </p>
4 ways to promote neurogenesis in your brain<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTE3NjczNH0.qyzh_AIUPKfaQIa1QEq4yTNCAAK9nYkH3HFV9vWXwww/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C104&height=700" id="64a68" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee1307fe2dd61ae425552da56db3c5ff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="child playing trumpet concept of learning a new instrument neurogenesis" />
Learning a new instrument helps promote neurogenesis.
Photo by DenisProduction.com on Shutterstock<p><strong>Intermittent fasting</strong></p><p><a href="https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/" target="_blank">A 2015 Stanford study</a> examined the link between <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting#section1" target="_blank">intermittent fasting</a> and neurogenesis. Calorie restriction and fasting can not only increase synaptic plasticity and promote neuron growth but it can also decrease your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and boost cognitive function. </p><p><u>Two of the most common ways you can intermittently fast are: </u></p><ul><li>16 hours per day every day - this is a method where you are able to eat for an 8 hour period of the day and fast for 16 hours of the day. Many people begin their "fast" after dinner, pushing their morning meal far enough towards lunch that most of their "off" eating time happens while they are asleep anyways. </li></ul><ul><li>24 hours every week - this is a method where once a week you fast for an entire day. Some people prefer this method because the rest of the week can resume as normal - but for many, this is a difficult way to fast. </li></ul><p><strong>Traveling to new places</strong></p><p>While traveling is something many of us enjoy — scenic routes and new fun experiences — these things also promote neurogenesis while we're on vacation. <a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/ct-xpm-2014-01-28-sc-trav-0128-travel-mechanic-20140128-story.html" target="_blank">Paul Nussbaum</a>, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, explains that the mental benefits of traveling are very clear.<br></p><p><em>"When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts. Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites (dangling extensions) which grow the brain's capacity." </em></p><p><strong>Learning a new instrument</strong></p><p>The mental health benefits of music have long been studied, but did you know that learning a new instrument can promote new neuron growth? </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996135/" target="_blank">this 2010 study</a>, learning to play a new musical instrument is an intense, multisensory motor experience that requires that acquisition and maintenance of skills over your entire lifetime - which of course, promotes the new formation of new neural networks. </p><p>When is the best time to begin learning a new instrument? Childhood, of course. </p><p><em>"Learning to play a new musical instrument in childhood can result in long-lasting changes in brain organization," </em>according to the study mentioned above. </p><p>While learning an instrument in adulthood will also promote neurogenesis, children who began training with a musical instrument before the age of 7 have shown that they have a significantly larger corpus callosum (the area of the brain the allows communication between the two hemispheres of the brain) than many adults. </p><p><strong>Reading novels</strong></p><p>A study from <a href="http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html" target="_blank">Emory University</a> showed there was an increase in ongoing connectivity in the brains of participants after reading the same (fiction) novel. </p><p>In this study, enhanced brain activity was observed in the region that control physical sensations and movement. Reading a novel, according to lead researcher Gregory Berns, can transport you into the body of the protagonist. </p><p>This ability to shift into another mental state is a vital skill that promotes healthy neurogenesis in those areas of the brain. </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
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