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The Science of Creativity

It’s only recently that the science of creativity has made any real inroads into developing our understanding of creativity.

For centuries, creativity has been considered taboo and it has been actively avoided as a field of study.

Surprisingly, advances in the understanding of creativity have only been made in the last 100 years, with most progress being made in recent decades.

While creativity is considered the highest human cognitive capability, a major driver of innovation and a competitive imperative, there is much that remains to be understood.

Despite the incomplete knowledge of creativity, developing innovation as a core business competency requires an understanding of the science of creativity and its key findings.

The Science of Creativity – Key Findings

The science of creativity has established a number of essential drivers of creativity. Some of the major drivers include:

  • Personality traits
  • Ordinary cognitive processes (the tension between the ego and superego)
  • Positive affect

The Science of Creativity and Personality Traits

The science of creativity has established that there are certain personality traits associated with increased creativity. These traits include:

  • A tendency to take risks
  • Having high levels of energy
  • Having high levels of self- confidence
  • Having high levels of intrinsic motivation

While these personality traits are associated with increased creativity (and therefore, some individuals may be naturally more creative) there are two important caveats:

  • A tendency to take risks
  • Having high levels of energy
  • Having high levels of self- confidence
  • Having high levels of intrinsic motivation

While these personality traits are associated with increased creativity (and therefore, some individuals may be naturally more creative) there are two important caveats:

  1. Personality traits are not set in stone
  2. Personality traits are only one of the factors that influence your creativity

When it comes to personality traits, the reality is they:

  • Don’t stabilise until your 30’s
  • Can be shaped through your environment
  • Are only one part of your creativity

Accordingly, the science of creativity places an emphasis on consciously influencing the development of your personality through your social system, your mindset and the people you surround yourself with. In this way, you can influence your creative disposition.

The Science of Creativity and Ordinary Cognitive Processes

The first significant steps in the science of creativity were made about 100 years ago when Sigmund Freud proposed that creativity resulted from ordinary cognitive functions (in particular, the tension between the ego and superego).

The significance of this realisation is that the extraordinary is created from ordinary cognitive processes and that everyone can be creative. This led to a more systematic study of creativity that began in the 1950s with serious efforts commencing in the 1990s.

As a result, science has established that your creativity is defined by shaping your social environment and engaging in the cognitive processes associated with creative undertakings.

Engaging in and developing your creative cognitive skills is a matter of overcoming some of the key impediments to creativity and learning and applying the creative thinking processes (which is most easily done by developing, learning and applying your creative thinking toolkit – the subject of another blog coming soon).

The Science and Positive Affect

Positive affect is the extent that someone subjectively experiences positive moods such as joy, interest and alertness.

The science of creativity has established a clear and strong connection between positive affect and creativity, that is, positive affect enhances creativity.

The significance of this is highlighted by the fact that we are hardwired to focus on negative feelings such as fear, anxiety and sadness.

Accordingly, to do your best work and maximise your creativity, you need to find reliable ways of creating positive affect!

This can be done by:

  • Writing about what makes you happy
  • Focusing on positive emotions and activities
  • Ritualising moments of positive affect into your routine so that you can savour them

If you’re predisposed for positive affect, you have a creative advantage. If not, the key steps to boosting creativity are to:

  1. Know yourself and the things that make you happy
  2. Create opportunities to savour those moments and build these into your daily routine

Based on the science of creativity, to improve your innovation capability, you need to understand the patterns of your enjoyment and build them into your daily routine so that you can savour them. In this way, you can reliably trigger positive affect, increase creativity, and get more original and useful ideas sooner.

When and How Does Positive Affect Boost Creativity?

Positive affect does not boost creativity in all circumstances; however, positive affect can reliably boost creativity when:

  • You’re intrinsically motivated by a creative task
  • The creative task needs to be done

In both these cases, creativity is enhanced because you enjoy greater cognitive flexibility, allowing you to more easily:

  • Combine things that aren’t typically easily combined
  • Overcome the barriers of functional fixedness

How to Create Better Ideas, Faster

Understanding the science of creativity helps create the cognitive flexibility that’s key to boosting creativity and generating the original and useful ideas needed to fuel your innovation activities.

The science of creativity emphasises the need to:

  • Proactively shape the development of your personality traits through your environment
  • Engage in the creative cognitive activities that promote cognitive flexibility (to learn and use appropriate creative thinking tools)
  • Focus on feeling good!

The reality is that everyone can be creative; it can be taught, practiced and honed into a skill that can be effectively used to power your innovation activities.

If you would like to learn more about how to apply the science of creativity to the development of your innovation capability, give the team at Fortitude Business Consulting a call on 1300 551 040.

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