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Creativity takes time, risk - not magical inspiration

Posted Nov 29 2008 10:22am

Ed Harris in Pollock Washington University psychologist R. Keith Sawyer says of one of the myths of creativity: “Many people believe creativity comes in a sudden moment of insight and that this ‘magical’ burst of an idea is a different mental process from our everyday thinking.

“But extensive research has shown that when you’re creative, your brain is using the same mental building blocks you use every day—like when you figure out a way around a traffic jam.

“In creativity research, we refer to the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged. When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain.”

[From article The Hidden Secrets of the Creative Mind, Time mag. Jan. 8, 2006.]

Asked for advice on being more creative, he says, “Take risks, and expect to make lots of mistakes, because creativity is a numbers game. Work hard, and take frequent breaks, but stay with it over time.

“Do what you love, because creative breakthroughs take years of hard work. Develop a network of colleagues, and schedule time for freewheeling, unstructured discussions.”

He adds, “Most of all, forget those romantic myths that creativity is all about being artsy and gifted and not about hard work. They discourage us because we’re waiting for that one full-blown moment of inspiration. And while we’re waiting, we may never start working on what we might someday create.”

Keith Sawyer is author of the book Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation.

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