from the world's big
4 ways to inject more creativity into your craft (and life)
Sometimes you have to take the road less traveled.
- Creativity is not a magical force, but a discipline that's hard-won through patience and fortitude.
- Breaking free from your comfort zone is often required to live a more creative life.
- These four suggestions from psychologists and neuroscientists provide insights into injecting more creativity into your craft.
Creativity requires a high degree of patience and the emotional willingness to fail. The status quo exists for a reason: everyone can partake, while it doesn't challenge norms or exceed expectations. Stretching yourself out, regardless of discipline or craft, means putting yourself on the line. Fortunately, there are steps that can help live a more creative life.
Below are four examples offered by neuroscientists and psychologists to inject more creativity into whatever it is that you're doing. A mindset switch, the ability to turn things over and look from different angles, is often required. While imagination is necessary, so is discipline, self-control, study, and the fortitude needed to drift far from your comfort zone.
Nothing groundbreaking is achieved by sticking with what's comfortable. A path must be forged before others follow you through the dark forest. These four suggestions might just provide a guiding light.
Creativity Is The Most Logical Process There Is
Anticipate the future
For as much talk as there is about portending the future, we often default to convenience. For example, despite broad awareness of privacy issues on Facebook, the site remains the go-to portal for advertisers, with $16.6 billion in revenue generated in 2018.
Hence, a longstanding biological contradiction: we want innovation yet we'll default to the status quo. To inspire creativity, however, we need to look at where trends are heading, not where they are. There's always historical precedent to draw from; trends are not created in a vacuum. This is why studying history is so pertinent for creativity. By understanding what previously led to what, you can stare at the current landscape to predict what's next.
As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes in The Strange Order of Things, recalled images are the "essential for the construction of narratives," which in turn foster the imagination, what he terms "the playground for creativity." What we commit to memory is more about predicting the future than being simply a repository of experiences. There would be little biological utility in recalling the past for no further usage. As memory research has shown, the same neurological circuits used to remember also predict.
As Damasio writes, "It is reasonable to say that we live part of our lives in the anticipated future rather than in the present." Forecasting is not confined to science fiction. It can be stitched together for any creative purposes, provided the mind that envisions it is willing to risk the wager of prediction.
Mimicry and Play
In various traditions, students are required to mimic their teachers until the day comes when they "graduate" and become teachers. The point of mimicry is to understand the foundation until they comprehend the tradition from the inside out. Only then can they be creative with the lessons and evolve the tradition. Creativity without foundation is impossible.
As Oliver Sacks writes in The River of Consciousness, all humans and many animals mimic their forebears; that's how they learn the rules of the game. One of the most important aspects of mimicry is play, which he calls "at once repetitive and imitative and, equally, exploratory and innovative." Play is pleasurable and instructive, as it teaches boundaries and anchors children with knowledge. This lesson is not limited to children, but applicable to adults of any age.
Imitation requires patience, a quality in short supply in the digital age. Yet the benefits are enormous. Mastery of a craft is unlikely unless a requisite amount of time is devoted to it, which requires apprenticeship. When the student becomes the teacher—context is relative, as good teachers are always students in some capacity—the knowledge becomes unconscious, woven into the fabric of being.
As Sacks notes regarding his own discipline, his personality and neuroses are transcended when writing creatively, which he concludes, "It is at once not me and the innermost part of me, certainly the best part of me."
Mind Wandering is Key
All of our minds wander; it's a large part of what they do. Yet the Age of Distraction has killed this wonderful feature. Instead of sitting around letting thoughts roam freely, we stare into a screen as a means of fending off boredom. Boredom, though, can be a wonderful—some, such as professor emeritus of psychology, Michael Corballis, would say necessary—aspect of being human.
In his book, The Wandering Mind, Corballis agues that mind wandering, the brain's default mode network, is fuel for the creative imagination. By allowing your mind to wander, you open the door to randomness and novelty, both essential for breaking through the status quo and discovering new pathways forward. Corballis explains this beautifully through animal migration, which until relatively recently was an essential aspect of human navigation:
"Moving animals are disposed to wander through space. Sometimes they do so in goal-directed fashion, taking the well-trodden route to the watering hole, or the traffic-snarled road to work. But sometimes they just roam, exploring new territories, or perhaps wondering as they wander what's around the next bend. This too can lead to evolutionary change."
In her book, Mind in Motion, Stanford emeritus professor of psychology, Barbara Tversky, discusses a study she conducted with two expert and seven novice architects. Based on sketches of a museum on a hillside, she observed that novice observations relied on perceptual relations while the experts dealt with functional relations.
The key: experts see relationships between design elements even though they're not explicitly represented, while novices generally work only with what is presented on paper (or, as is popular in this cohort, cocktail napkins).
"Ambiguity turns out to be key to creative thinking because it allows, even encourages, reinterpretations," she writes. By looking at the general landmarks, creative experts can then infer a variety of possibilities.
This trait is not limited to architects or even visual artists; Tversky mentions chess, engineering, and music, though the field is limitless. Detail is important in every craft, but when the foundation is more broadly presented this allows the creative expert to insert numerous possibilities. The only limitation, as with all creative thinking, is your imagination.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.