Blog : creativity

The Gears of Creativity – The Creativity Cycle Explored

The Gears of Creativity – The Creativity Cycle Explored

In my previous article, Why the Creativity Cycle is Like an Outstanding Cup of Coffee, I discussed the necessary ingredients of the creative process, such as the importance of protected time, a culture that supports creativity, constraint within the creative process, and not taking the process too personally.

In this article, I’ll explore the cycle of creativity and its relationship to our current understanding of the brain. The importance of dissecting the creative process and organizing it into a guiding metaphor is manifold.

As anyone who has tried to bring a creative impulse from ideation to iteration can attest, there is a great risk of getting lost in the creative process. Understanding the cyclical nature of the process can offer perspective and clarity. It can also supply “gas” for the long haul, giving fledgling ideas the chance to come to fruition.

Different skill sets are needed in each stage. If you know where you are, you can seek assistance to close any gaps in your knowledge. You can also take the necessary measures to protect your time and resources in each phase of the process — even those in which it appears as if not much is happening.

There are a number of diagrams and stage theories that outline various steps within the creative cycle. For our purposes here, each step will be represented by a gear, in order to emphasize that the process is not a linear, but rather cyclical and interconnected. I’ll also describe each step in relation to the structure and division of the brain. (For more on this, see my previous article on imagination).

The brain can be divided in multiple ways. However, an important distinction to look at in terms of creativity is how the brain is divided horizontally.

There are two hemispheres: the left and the right. Though the hemispheres work in concert to create a unified sense of self and personality, each hemisphere attends to the world differently and, therefore, processes information in distinct ways. This provides us with great advantages, including the ability to understand a situation from many different perspectives, as each gear in the cycle of creativity allows for various vantage points. We’ll explore each of these gears in detail below.

Gear 1: Preparation

Preparation is a fundamental part of the creative cycle. Although it’s not the “sexiest” part of creativity, this is the stage in which you are doing your homework and setting the stage, defining the constraints and framework (link to the previous article), for your project. Here, you are elbow deep in research and working primarily from your left brain. The left hemisphere is the great “unpacker” of information; it breaks information down by sorting, categorizing and analyzing.

Gear 2: Incubation & Insight

While the left hemisphere specializes in language, logic, and facts — which are imperative during the preparation phase — the incubation and insight stage requires a letting go of linear and conscious thought processes. Insights, or “a-ha moments”, happen when we are not concentrating specifically on the project. In these moments the right hemisphere is activated, and you need to allow time and space for your ideas to percolate. This is how you allow the web of interconnected ideas — however incongruent they might seem — to surface as a cohesive insight.

You might be asking yourself, “How do I stop consciously thinking and allow this process to develop when I have a deadline to meet?” It’s a common question. For those who consider themselves creatives, this might be a no-(left)brainer (pun intended). However, for those who are used to thinking in a strictly analytical fashion, it will feel very, very different.

The right hemisphere doesn’t use everyday language (which is housed in the left hemisphere) to communicate. It usually communicates without words; for example, you’ll get a gut feeling, or an image or diagram will pop into your head seemingly out of nowhere. So we have to learn to listen in different ways. A few ways to begin to listen differently include:

  • Find ways to transcend language, such as with the use of imagery
  • Creativity (crafting, cooking, gardening, etc.)
  • Spending time in nature
  • Stepping back to see the whole picture (what I call “zooming out”)
  • Being embodied (practicing yoga, dancing, etc.)
  • Listening to music
  • Welcoming opposites. The tension of opposites is part of the creative process and can produce results that are greater than the original parts. (Brain science tidbit: The right hemisphere has the ability to hold dichotomy. It does not categorize things as opposites, but rather sees them as connected and in relation to one another.)

These are just a few ways you can practice tuning into your brain’s right hemisphere. As you learn to listen differently, keep in mind that bringing this information into our daily lives does take a certain amount of trust.

Gear 3: Evaluation

Here you have a chance to turn your idea back over to the left brain and sort out the logistics. Now is when you ask yourself if your project is worth taking all the way to iteration?

David Kelley, founder of the Stanford d.school, and his brother, Tom Kelley, are New York Times bestselling authors of the book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All (Crown Business, 2013). They have a set of guiding principles that can aid in this evaluation: FIRST, with genuine curiosity, ask “What is desirable (human)?”  THEN, ask, “What is viable (business) and feasible (technology)?”

Gear 4: Integration, Imagination & Iteration

Imagination is based on the creative power of opposition, and is a result of the synthesis between the right and left hemispheres. Imagination, insight, and creativity all require this integration of the left and right hemispheres.

This stage requires you to get your hands dirty and do it! It is where head and heart, brain and body, and conscious and unconscious come together to manifest your masterpiece — or complete failure!

Remember that failure is an inevitable part of the creative process. It doesn’t mean your idea or product is necessarily bad. It just means you have the opportunity to go through the creativity cycle again, with your newfound knowledge, so you can make it even better.

It is also important to remember — especially in this part of the cycle — that fear in its many manifestations will arise. It presents itself in every stage, but as you prepare to actually create, it can become even more pronounced. Fear lets you know you are on the edge of your comfort zone, and you are about to grow. This is a good thing. So don’t run away from your fear; run towards it. (Stay tuned for my next article, which outlines how you can embrace fear through mindfulness techniques).

Gear 5: Upleveling

Gear 5 connects back to Gear 1. The left hemisphere, dissecting information in a highly focused and narrow way, offers many contributions, including breaking down tasks and learning complex sequences. However, it is essential to return this information to the right hemisphere, where it can again be viewed within the context of the whole. This is where perspective comes from, as well as the ability to attend to new information in our environments. In this phase, we start the creativity cycle anew, but upleveled: armed with our newfound learning, product, and understanding.

It is my sincere hope that this, admittedly, very left-brain dissection of the creative process will help you manifest your next creative idea. It just might be an idea that can help change the world for the better.

 

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Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

As an employee engagement consultant and professional psychotherapist and coach, Dayna combines out-of- the-box thinking with solid scientific research, so her clients get the best of both worlds.

Dayna is the co-founder of ic3 consulting. ic3 consulting helps business leaders re-engage, re-align and re-ignite their workforce to create highly empowered teams that communicate effectively, collaborate freely and work to realize their company’s vision. Want to become one of the best places to work? Learn how in this video series delivered to your inbox. Each video is under 3 minutes. 

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Why the Creativity Cycle is Like an Outstanding Cup of Coffee

Why the Creativity Cycle is Like an Outstanding Cup of Coffee

If you’re like most people, your standard cup of “morning joe” is okay. It serves a function by helping you go from barely functional to getting you through your routine each morning.

However, the standard cup of coffee is very different from a fantastic cup of coffee that’s so good, it makes you stop and savor each sip. So, what separates an okay cup of coffee from a superb one?

It begins with intention — the desire to make a great cup of coffee. Allowing yourself enough protected time to go through the process is important, too, as is your knowledge and understanding of the steps involved. This knowledge can include far-ranging topics such as the quality of the beans and how to store them properly, roasting types and preferences, timing of grinding, filtering techniques, water quality, and temperature and equipment standards. This is a far cry from scooping some coffee grinds into a machine, pouring in water, and turning the button from black to red. And, so is the result.

Similarly, there is a large divide between producing an adequate product or service and creating something that awes, inspires, disrupts — or all of the above. Like making a remarkable cup of coffee, you need to know each specific ingredient and step required to make a great product or service.

There are distinct stages in the creative process, which we will dive into in our next article in this series. First, let’s examine the concept of creativity itself.

Creativity is a word that has an almost magical connotation because it’s often assumed that it’s an attribute of only a select and chosen few. Many people believe that you have to be an amazing visual artist to be creative. Some also believe that creativity cannot truly be defined, because of its utter uniqueness. But the good news is, all humans are creative. Our earliest ancestors had to be creative in order to survive, and it’s still hardwired into our brains.

So, the question isn’t “How creative are you?”, but rather “How are you creative?”

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the key ingredients of creativity is constraint. Creativity functions best when it is understood and practiced within a framework, and it blossoms within defined boundaries.

For instance, when making a cup of coffee, the equipment, steps, ingredients, and processes are pretty well-defined. Within that structure, it is possible to create something anew, as well as to question what had been previously assumed as “obligatory”. A great example of this approach is the recent popularity of nitro cold brew coffee. All that said, you still need coffee, liquid and and equipment, and you’re still working within the structure of “coffee making”.

Furthermore, there is a risk of getting lost in the creative process once you are in it. Think of how many brilliant ideas never made it beyond the brainstorming phase. Not because it wasn’t a great idea, or because funding wasn’t available, or because of functionality questions; but rather, because the person who generated the idea became too bogged down in the details — or in their personal “stuff”, which will inevitably surface. So structure not only provides perspective and clarity, it protects fledgling ideas and supplies energy for the long haul.

Different skill sets are needed at each stage of the creative process, and it’s wise to plan for this. If you know where you are at any given stage, you can seek assistance to close any gaps in knowledge that might arise, and then continue with the process, rather than giving up or going back to the drawing board. This is how you turn your idea into an original new product, service, or methodology that can set you apart from your competitors.

Another critical ingredient in the creative process is fostering a culture in which it’s supported — in all of its stages. Feelings of fear, loathing, and failure are inevitable parts of the process and can arise anew in each stage. If you want to create a work environment that encourages creativity, it’s a good idea to ask yourself whether or not your current culture welcomes these challenging feelings as signs of growth and the arrival of something new. If they are considered taboo, you will need to plan on how to address them when they come up.

One of the most challenging aspects of creativity is the temptation to take feedback personally. Creativity feels extremely intimate, like shining a bright light on our most soft and vulnerable parts, so we can be very sensitive when it comes to hearing comments and criticism from our peers. It can take a tremendous amount of self-awareness to manage the emotions that can come up. In general, it’s a good idea not to take yourself too seriously, and to do your best to keep a sense of humor throughout the process. Training your team or staff on how to provide feedback in a compassionate and constructive way is also very helpful.

To recap, some of the necessary ingredients of the creative process might seem antithetical at first, such as:

  • Protection (for instance, of time and culture)

  • Universality (We are all born creative!)

  • Constraint (Including understanding the various stages of the creative process. Stay tuned for our next article)

  • Fear (and a whole gamut of “negative” feelings)

  • Not taking it personally (What can be born from the creative process has the potential to be life-altering, but if you start taking yourself too seriously, the creativity is already doomed)

You might not always choose to journey through the creative process — just like you might not always choose to make that outstanding cup of coffee. However, once you taste and experience the difference, you will truly understand how it is hard to go back to just “okay”.

Stay tuned for part two of this series, in which we’ll we describe the cycle of creativity and its relationship to our current understanding of the brain.

 

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Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

As an employee engagement consultant and professional psychotherapist and coach, Dayna combines out-of- the-box thinking with solid scientific research, so her clients get the best of both worlds.

Dayna is the co-founder of ic3 consulting. ic3 consulting helps business leaders re-engage, re-align and re-ignite their workforce to create highly empowered teams that communicate effectively, collaborate freely and work to realize their company’s vision. Want to become one of the best places to work? Learn how in this video series delivered to your inbox. Each video is under 3 minutes. 

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Imagination: From the Inside Out

Imagination: From the Inside Out

Did you know that imagination is one of the most important attributes of the human brain?

Think about it. Without imagination, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have created the iPad. Picasso would never have created his dazzling works of art. Without imagination, we wouldn’t have anything that nature hasn’t already provided for us.

Wikipedia describes imagination – the faculty of imagining – as “the ability to form new images and sensations in the mind that are not perceived through senses such as sight, hearing, or other senses.”  Simply put, imagination is part of what makes us human.

With our increased research into how the brain functions, we’re getting closer to understanding how imagination works.

So what’s going on in our brains when we are imagining?

The brain is divided into two hemispheres: left and right. Though the hemispheres work in concert to create a unified sense of self and personality, each hemisphere actually attends to the world differently, and therefore processes information in distinctive ways. This provides us with great advantages, including the ability to understand a situation from many different perspectives.

Imagination is based on the creative power of opposition, and is a result of the synthesis between the right and left hemispheres.

The right hemisphere can take in new information from our surroundings, and see the “whole picture”. The left hemisphere is the great “unpacker” of that information; it breaks information down, sorting, categorizing and analyzing.

However, there is a big catch: the information has to go from the right to the left, and then BACK to the right in order to synthesize.

Imagination, insight and creativity all require this integration of the left and right hemispheres.

Let’s break this down:

Brain integration follows a simple formula = R > L > R

Step 1: Right hemisphere (R): New information is attended to in the environment

Step 2: Left hemisphere (L): Analysis, or the “unpacking” of what was perceived by the right hemisphere

Step 3: Right hemisphere (R): Information is transferred back to the right hemisphere to be understood within the context of the whole

In modern society, we often get “stuck” in the left hemisphere and have difficulty finding ways to transfer information back to the right, thereby eliminating step 3. Sadly, that means that we miss out on significant benefits, including increased insight and imagination.

So, how do we “step back to the right” and get unstuck?

One simple place to start is to get into your body and into nature. The right hemisphere is directly linked to our bodies, and perceives and differentiates living things from mechanical things. Going for a walk outside, hiking in the woods, or simply sitting in the backyard listening to the birds sing can all help you get back “into your right mind”.

Today – maybe even right now! – take five minutes to notice your body (not just your head), and shift your attention to the sights and sounds of nature. Live in the city? No problem. Just looking at pictures of nature can make a difference. (Not sure about all this? See Rebecca Clay’s research.)

If you’d like to learn more ways to “step to the right” and discover all the benefits of making it a conscious part of your life, visit Imagination Retreats, where you’ll take a deep dive into your own creativity and imagination and enjoy just the right combination of activity, personal exploration, pampering, and beach time – all in an idyllic, naturally gorgeous oceanside setting.

 

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Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

How to Bust Out of a Rut in 3 Easy Steps

How to Bust Out of a Rut in 3 Easy Steps

Feeling uninspired at the job? Bored with your relationship? Daily grind got ya down? Don’t panic! It’s normal to get stuck in a rut every now and then. By definition, a “rut” is “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” Here are 3 simple ways to breathe life back into a situation that has lost its oomph and bust out of that rut!

1) Switch up your routines.

Doing everyday tasks a little differently helps awaken your brain to the present moment, fresh perspectives and creative solutions. So go ahead and put on your right shoe before your left; brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand; alter your commute; and once you get to your destination, be sure to open the door without using your hands!!

2) Bust a new move.

If you’re a ballerina, take a tennis lesson. If you haven’t shaken your groove thang in twenty years, hit up You Tube for a ‘how to crunk dance in three easy steps.’ Gym rat? Take a Yin Yoga class. Our brains grow by trying new things. When you challenge mind and body in new and uncomfortable ways, the growth is exponential. That narrow rut won’t be able to hold you.

3) Send out an SOS!

Ruts thrive in isolation and the notion that you have to handle everything on your own. You may convince yourself that it’s more hassle to involve others even as the rut seems to close in around you. Start with a trusted friend. Tell them you’re stuck in a rut and ask them to help you shake things up by planning a surprise day together where you do something out of the ordinary. Take it to the next level by being blindfolded during the car ride. Letting go of being in control, trusting another person, and engaging some of your lesser used senses will catapult you of that rut!

There are countless little and large ways to ease or thrust yourself out of a rut. An easy way to remember the rut remedies are: wake up, shake up & join up. Ask yourself the following 3 questions: “what tweaks to my routine wake me up to the present moment; what new movements (or sounds or colors) can I make that will shake up the dullness of my comfort zone; and, who can I call on to help me reconnect with my aliveness and creativity?” Go forth and bust a rut, and let us know how it goes!

* If you liked this article, you might like our retreats.

 

Camille-Headshot-1 Camille Bianco MA, NCC

Camille Bianco MA, NCC earned her Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology & Art Therapy from Naropa University. She began formal training in Art Therapy and Meditation in 2000 and continues to incorporate researched-based creative expression and mindfulness approaches into her professional consulting practices. Connect with Camille on Goolge+.

Quiet the Analyst & Honor Your Shadow:

Quiet the Analyst & Honor Your Shadow:

5 fun and safe ways to express your “wild thing”

What is your Shadow, and how can you honor it? In Jungian psychology the Shadow is an unconscious aspect of your personality. The conscious ego does not fully identify with this aspect of self. However, our Shadow is often the seat of creativity and recognition and integration of our “darker side” can actually be freeing and revitalizing.

While the Analyst in us – the part that wants to “make sense if it all” and interpret the meanderings of our minds and psyches – means well, it isn’t always helpful. Sometimes it is important not to “tame” these “darker” parts, but rather to find healthy, fun and appropriate ways of expressing them. Here are 5 ways to express your inner wild thing:

1.       Howl at the moon

I mean it. Go outside. Feel your feet on the earth and take time to moon gaze. If you want to make a sound – do it. You might be startled to hear yourself and – dare I say it – even enlightened by these sounds, be it guttural or simply a whisper.

 

2.       Messy your hands

Grab some acrylic paints or chalk pastels and simply play with mixing the colors using only your fingers. Absorb yourself and delight in how the colors mix. Notice how your fingers slide over the paper when covered with this media. Don’t worry. It isn’t “supposed” to be anything. It is just fun.

 

3.       Dance unabashedly

Put on a tune that you can’t help but move to. We all have at least one. I’m a little embarrassed to admit mine. They are The Lion Sleeps Tonight (listen to the original Zulu version) and, yes, ACDC Thunderstruck. Find a clear space where you can move as much as you want to. Let go. Your body will do the rest – if you let it. My inner head banger deserves to be let out on occasion, if only in the confines of my home. (This song actually came on during my partner’s and my first date. He said it was a “high risk” move to begin to head bang to it, but I literally could not help it. I’m glad he didn’t judge me – too much – for it.)

 

4.        Free write

This can be a bit tricky for people. It is finding time to disengage from our internal critic and allow ourselves to just write – about anything. There is absolutely no thought about grammar, spelling or punctuation. Our 8th grade English teacher would hate this. You might even notice that your penmanship looks different. That is a good thing. You have tapped into a different part of your brain.

 

5.       Go on an adventure

It can be in as little as 5 minutes or much, much longer. Take time to not have an agenda and see what you might experience and learn. Have fun!

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

 

 

Creativity & the Brain

Creativity & the Brain

Why and how does creativity affect the brain?

It feels different when we are in a “creative flow” and this is due to the structure of the brain. The brain is divided both vertically and horizontally. There are three distinct, but interconnected, hierarchies of the human brain that evolved overtime. They are

1) the brainstem (our “lizard brain”),

2) the limbic system (our “mammalian brain”) and

3) the neocortex (what makes us human).

The brainstem is like our autopilot. It controls the things we don’t have to “think” about such as balance and heart rate. The limbic system is the source of our emotions and instincts, and the neocortex is only in the brain of higher mammals. The prefrontal cortex (PFC), at the front of the neocortex, is responsible for cognition and reasoning.

Our brain is also organized horizontally and is divided into two hemispheres,

connected by the corpus callosum. The left hemisphere specializes in language, logic and facts. It is linear and conscious. The right hemisphere is the seat of emotion and is non-linear. It is beneath consciousness. One of the extraordinary aspects of creative expression is that it bypasses rational thought and logical assumptions.

Creative expression

targets the right hemisphere and limbic system of the brain, which are visual, sensory and emotional in nature. (The right prefrontal cortex is deeply connected to the limbic areas of the brain and is central to affect regulation.)This allows art and imagery to circumvent psychological resistance, which is typically analytic in nature. The Arts (in all their forms) also allow for the externalization of these very inner experiences and gives them shape and form outside the body and mind. Creativity gives expression to that which cannot, because of the structure of the brain, be spoken. This, in turn, provides opportunity to re-imagine concepts of self and identity. Scientists have also discovered that the very act of creating – integrating the brain both vertically and horizontally – reduces anxiety, depression and pain, decreases blood pressure, strengthens immune functioning and improves attention and concentration.

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

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Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

Pause & Reflect

Pause & Reflect

Some of you may know that I was in the hospital in late May due to complications with Shingles. I thought it was a pesky bug bite, but when it started to spread down my face, scalp and eye I knew something was wrong. I went to the ER hoping they could help relieve the pain, itching and swelling and send me on my way – all the while thinking I was going to be back at work the next day. I was very wrong. It was four days later that I was released and though feeling bruised and tried, very grateful for my health. Why did a relatively young and in good health person get Shingles? Stress they told me. This is from a person that talks about the benefits of balance each day. And, yes it had been a stressful period, but I thought I was taking time for ever-so-important self-care. While in the hospital bed I had bit of time to reflect.

What I realized is the self-care I practice each week is all very busy –

swimming, yoga and dance. Rarely, if ever, did I stop to simply pause and reflect. Even before bed, I try to get caught-up on my professional reading. So, I am learning the importance of stopping.

Even in the cycle of creativity (Paul E. Plsek)

in the second phase, imagination, there is a period of “time in”. It’s a moment of spacious emptiness and it is crucial to inspiration. ‘Time in’, coined by Professor Tal-Ben Shahar who is a leading researcher of Positive Psychology, means allowing ourselves not to know. It means a time of silent reflection. It’s a time when we allow the mind to be a blank page. It is being, rather than doing. This is my lesson and goal – to remember to pause.

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

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Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!