Creativity resists the control of conventional thinking. At times it may appear as madness. Places where conformity is the norm cause us to lose touch with the creative impulses within our brains, and subsequently innovation is lost. Networked creativity frees us from the constraints of such places, unleashing the potential of our group brain.
These days creativity is thought to be a competitive asset, helping us to adapt and thrive. To nurture creativity, we must kick aside those mental blocks that keep us comfortably numb and entice our brains to explore new territories. We must open our minds to the vastness of social networks where anything is possible.
In Clay Shirky’s book on Cognitive Surplus he stressed the importance of groups using social media to experiment in order to achieve profound results. It takes a willingness to try new things, to listen, to learn, and offer insights. He adds:
“Creating the most value from a tool involves not master plans or great leaps forward but constant trial and error. The key question for any society undergoing such a shift is how to get the most of that process.”
Keep in mind that ideas will only grow richer as we share our insights with each other. Lawrence Miller sums this up in his book Lean Culture – The Leader’s Guide:
“Most innovations are not the product of one person thinking alone. Rather they are the result of thinking together, sharing ideas, brainstorming and allowing your idea to be criticized by your associates.”
Indeed, positive critiques can strengthen ideas, challenging us to let go of those standard ways of thinking that no longer serve us. At Innovation Excellence, Jeffery Phillips says that “creativity requires courage” because new ideas are often met with “a snort of derision or scorn”. He encourages us to create virtuous circles that reinforce creativity, rather than vicious circles that reject creativity as “mental deviance”.
Creativity can at times be shocking, but sharing our passions can rattle assumptions, until needed insights break through. There are methods for facilitating this through social networks, but the first leap requires letting go of the pre-defined roles we’ve assigned ourselves in order to engage both hemispheres of our group brain.
In the book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist, we read of two hemispheres that struggle for dominance in our brains: the left, with it’s narrow focus on the certainties of theory over experience has long reigned, and the right, with its subtle awareness of a broad number of facets to every situation, is ready for a social comeback.
To engage the right side of our group mind, we must be open to some madness. Consider how the thought pathways of highly creative people function, exhibiting similarities to those in the early stages of schizophrenia, “feelings of deep insight, mystical knowledge and religious experience.” The 2003 study by Professor Fredrik Ullen from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute has shown that the most creative brains engage a higher flow of unfiltered information, which at times may appear as madness.
But madness is only half of the puzzle. Without mindfulness, nothing with be synthesized, thus we engage in meditation to alter how our brains handle complex stimuli. The research of Joshua Aronson, a psychologist at New York University who studies intellectual performance, did a study on the meditation techniques taught by Ron Alexander, a therapist who encourages us to slow down the brain to consolidate and connect concepts. Alexander says that we’re accessing the “creative unconscious” while in a meditative state, and Aronson’s study shows that ongoing practice can increase IQ by up to 10 points. (This research was featured in FastCompany in 2011.)
In fact, the creative mind takes a slower and “more meandering path than intelligence”, according to the Dr. (Rex) Jung, a scientist from the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque. He informs us that MRIs of actively creative brains reveal “a lot of little side roads with interesting detours, and meandering little byways.” So we should trust that multiple pathways are okay and that some may connect to the insights we need.
Steven Johnson highlights the importance of this networked phenomena in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. He explains that good ideas are like “networks of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make in your mind” and how they “emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error”. So it’s okay when experimentation gets messy, as long as we hit the breaks on our madness from time to time to mindfully connect the dots.
Am I suggesting we meditate and create with social networks as our instrument? Yes, and it’s a messy process that may require discipline, but deeper connection and bolder experimentation can help us figure it out. With networked creativity we dance between the hemispheres of chaotic madness and coherent mindfulness. Innovation is our song.