The good news: According to experts, creativity is not purely an inborn trait—we all have the potential to be more creative. The challenge is in knowing how to tap into it.
One reason so many of us seem to be lacking in the dream-it-up department, say experts, is that we don’t understand what creativity means. When you think about creative types, you may imagine some artist flinging colors onto a canvas, or a fashion designer coming up with Lady Gaga-worthy outfits. And you’d be right. But that’s only part of the picture.
At its most basic, creativity is problem solving—showing ingenuity by looking at things in fresh ways. “For something to be creative, it can’t just be novel,” says Harvard psychology professor Shelley Carson, Ph.D., author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. “It has to be useful as well.”
A programmer who crafts an iPhone app, an entrepreneur who finds a way to drum up more business, a scientist who develops a better birth-control pill—they’re all creative. But you can also think of creativity in less lofty terms. Whether you’re figuring out how to redecorate a room like a pro, keep things interesting in bed, or save $25 from your weekly paycheck…it all involves using your imagination.
There is a genetic aspect, however, concedes Carson.
“Some of us have a natural ability to think more creatively than others do,” she says.
“But it’s a skill set that can be learned through practice.” Look at it this way: “A tall woman with broad shoulders and an amazing wingspan might have an initial advantage as a swimmer,” explains Jung, “but that doesn’t mean a petite, wiry woman can’t train and become a competitive freestyler too.” In much the same way, creativity can be developed over time, he says.
How the Other Half Gives
Scientists used to think that creativity happened in the right side of the brain—the side responsible for coming up with imaginative, spontaneous ideas (known as divergent thinking). But now they’re realizing that for the creative process to work, the left side of the noggin—the half that handles logic and reasoning (or convergent thinking)—has to bring something to the party. “Each of us is naturally better at either divergent or convergent thinking. But you need both parts of the brain to be working, because they each contribute to the process,” says Oshin Vartanian, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist at Canada’s Department of Defense and the University of Toronto. You might be a whiz at dreaming up inspired ideas, but unless the disciplined left side of your cranium can organize those ideas and figure out how to put them into action, they will be rendered futile.
To get your juices flowing, you need to retrain your gray matter. “Through practice,” says Carson, “you can recircuit the neurological patterns in your brain and get both halves to work together, upping your creative quotient.”
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