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The Art of Creativity
When the creative spirit stirs, it animates a style of being: a lifetime filled with the desire to innovate, to explore new ways of doing things, to bring dreams of reality.
Has this ever happened to you? You're out for a jog, completely relaxed, your mind a pleasant blank. Then all of a sudden the solution to a problem you've been mulling over for weeks pops into your head. You can't help but wonder why you didn't think of it before.
In such moments you've made contact with the creative spirit, that elusive muse of good—and sometimes great—ideas. Yet it is more than an occasional insight. When the creative spirit stirs, it animates a style of being: a lifetime filled with the desire to innovate, to explore new ways of doing things, to bring dreams of reality.
That flash of inspiration is the final moment of a process marked by distinctive stages—the basic steps in creative problem-solving. The first stage is preparation, when you search out any information that might be relevant. It's when you let your imagination roam free. Being receptive, being able to listen openly and well, is a crucial skill here.
That's easier said than done. We are used to our mundane way of thinking about solutions. Psychologists call this "functional fixedness." We see only the obvious way of looking at a problem—the same comfortable way we always think about it. Another barrier is self-censorship, that inner voice of judgment that confines our creative spirit within the boundaries of what we deem acceptable. It's the voice that whispers to you, "They'll think I'm foolish," or "That will never work." But we can learn to recognize this voice or judgment and have the courage to discount its destructive advice.
Once you have mulled over all the relevant pieces and pushed your rational mind to the limits, you can let the problem simmer. This is the incubation stage, when you digest all you have gathered. It's a stage when much of what goes on occurs outside your focused awareness, in the unconscious. As the saying goes, "You sleep on it."
The unconscious mind is far more suited to creative insight than the conscious mind. Ideas are free to recombine with other ideas in novel patterns and unpredictable associations. It is also the storehouse of everything you know, including things you can't readily call into awareness. Further, the unconscious speaks to us in ways that go beyond words, including the rich feelings and deep imagery of the senses.
We are more open to insights from the unconscious mind when we are not thinking of anything in particular. That is why daydreams are so useful in the quest for creativity. Anytime you can just daydream and relax is useful in the creative process: a shower, long drives, a quiet walk. For example, Nolan Bushnell, the founder of the Atari company, got the inspiration for what became a best-selling video game while idly flicking sand on a beach.