Can you make yourself more creative? According to Shelley Carson, author of the new book Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life, you can.

In a recent conversation with the Boston Globe, Carson, who has a PhD in psychology from Harvard University and teaches at Harvard Extension School, noted these three things: “In the business world, creativity is now the number-one quality that head hunters are looking for in top-level chief executives. Most of the elite business schools in the country now have courses on creativity, and many Fortune 500 companies have hired creativity consultants.”

It’s possible, she says, for creativity-challenged people to use “biofeedback programs and other types of cognitive behavioral research” to change brain activation patterns to “mimic the brain activation of highly creative people.”

“What we have found in recent years in the neuroscience of creativity is that highly creative people tend to activate certain neural patterns in their brain when they are solving a creative problem or doing creative work,” she told the Globe.

Creativity and control are closely linked, she says. “I subscribe to the cognitive disinhibition theory of creativity,” Carson said. “A lot of people are really afraid to turn down the volume on the executive function part of their brain. They want control over their cognitive awareness and their mental workspace. It’s very difficult for them to relinquish that control and say to the guys back there in research and development, throw at me what you’ve got.”

An interview with Carson posted at her website gives a little more detail about this idea that you can make your brain more open to new material:

What do you think are the greatest challenges for people who want to get more creative?
Everyone has a built-in censoring system in their brains that filters thoughts, images, and memories, and stimuli from the outside world before they reach conscious awareness. Our censoring system keeps us focused on our current goals and on information that prior learning has taught us is “appropriate.” Learning to loosen up this mental filtering system to allow more novel ideas and stimuli into conscious awareness is one of the biggest challenges for people who don’t think of themselves as creative. In Your Creative Brain, I provide a lot of information on how to loosen the censoring system so that ideas can flow more fluently.

Does every brain really have the potential to be creative?
Yes! While it’s true that some brains are naturally more inclined toward creative ideation than others, all brains have a marvelous ability to continually change and develop. Research has shown that people who are naturally highly creative can switch between various brain activation patterns more easily than those who are less naturally creative. However, this is a skill that can be practiced and learned. Although it may not make an Einstein out of everyone, practice and exercise can definitely make any brain more creative.

Carson’s Harvard Extension course “Creativity: Geniuses, Madmen, and Harvard Students” covers, in part, “the nature of the creative process, the creative personality, the role of family life and culture in creativity, the relationship of creativity to IQ, and the relationship of creativity to psychopathology.” Carson also contributes (albeit sporadically) to a blog at the Psychology Today website.

It's worth considering: Does making yourself more open to creativity require, as Carson says, relinquishing control over your cognitive awareness and mental workspace? Is letting go always a first step?

8 Comments On: How to Make Your Brain More Creative

  • Laurent Blondeau (evidencesx) | December 16, 2010

    Well, good piece of work. I think we probably forget, since the age of ten, our ability to ask, smile, move like…a child. Children have so live resources on their own and natural behaviors. Find this statement again is an awesome source of reborn and innovation brain training. Genius are probably the simplest attitude, in the ability to release all we learn, change the angle of view, and confront our positions. I must admit modern companies rarely do so, fearing of losing control…

  • Richard Andrew Gardiner | December 17, 2010

    A lot of psychologists and self proclaimed experts on creativity like to refer to creative ideas as “novel ideas”, as if they were some sort of new child’s toy. Look, we are not trying to invest the new ‘pet rock’ we are trying to creatively solve problems, whether they are cultural, technical, economic, environmental or any thing else. There are few good books on creativity, unfortunately this isn’t one. The old saying of “thinking out of the box” doesn’t tell one what the box is. The box is the self imprisoned mental cage that people think in because they are confortable living in it. It is a box that they learned to construct early one from their parents, from their teachers, friends,and employers. Until they can see and hear, really see and hear, from a different perspective, and understand the problem language, they have limited ability to creatively solve problems, especially the problems “as given”. “Loosening” up ones mind can be easily achieved by just going to the bathroom. One certainly doesn’t need silly words like ‘ideation’, whatever the hell that is. This professor has taken a step to far, she is just talking to herself.

  • Kelly Cash | December 17, 2010

    Richard Gardiner says he can loosen his mind by going to the bathroom! That’s because he is full of sh!^. Don’t worry Richard I got some loose screws! That’s how you use ideation to think outside the box! Dr. Carson is a lot more intelligent than you! You aren’t qualified to judge her work! She’s brilliant! She deserves respect!

  • Doug Poretz | December 17, 2010

    I’ve spent more than 4 decades in the communications business, largely PR but also advertising, interactive, research, etc., eventually co-founding (and then selling my equity in) what very quickly became the 5th largest independent firm of our type in the nation. All of which is to say that I’ve worked with tons of creative people. In thinking about the thesis presented, I started to wonder what these people would answer if I asked them: “Have you done anything to train yourself to be creative?” My guess is that the vast majority would probably say something like “are you kidding?” Personally, by the way, I do believe that creativity can be taught at least to a degree. Anyhow, I then wondered what their answer would be if I asked them: “Can you do anything other than training that can make you more creative?” My guess is that more (perhaps vastly more) than a majority would say: “Smoke a joint.” If my assumption is correct …. that is, if most of the most creative people in the most creative jobs would say that marijuana boosted their creativity, I would think that its use ought to be integrated into any serious discussion about creativity. In the case of this study, for example, I think it would be intriguing to study how much marijuana facilitates the “opening up” process to which Dr. Carson refers. If omitted from the discussion/study of creativity, wouldn’t that make it the elephant in the room that nobody is willing to acknowledge?

  • Jackson Kanyi | December 19, 2010

    This sheds a beam of light to the darkness that engulfs many companies today. It is worth noting that most of the creative people did not even consult for the ideation. Surely, creativity resides in an individual, but the mechanisms of tapping it has not been fully developed.

  • Cobb | December 23, 2010

    Interesting article, I’m sure creativity can be learned as she is suggesting but at what level? Most of the truly creative people that I know seem to have creative thoughts flowing from them naturally, it doesn’t seem like something they access its just there.

  • Mark | January 13, 2011

    I own a company that developed AquaNotes®. These waterproof notepads are for creative thinkers who get their best ideas in the shower. I think this article also explains to some degree, why great ideas occur in the shower. This is an environment where it is natural to relinquish control over your cognitive awareness and mental workspace. BTW…excellent article!

  • Dr Alex Johnston | January 18, 2011

    Great article and information. I do agree that it you can make your brain more creative by using biofeedback programs. We have used them and have gotten good results.
    Mark the aquanotes are a great idea.

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