While creativity has long been a mystery, lately researchers have been unlocking keys to the creative process and dispelling some common myths. Jonah Lehrer, Wired contributing editor and author of Imagine: How Creativity Works shared findings about personal creativity and group collaboration during a presentation at the Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) Re:think conference on Monday in New York.
Public relations ranks as the top creative services job in U.S. News’ recent report, underscoring its creative component. So understanding the secrets of creativity can be valuable the next time you’re asked to come up with a big idea. As it turns out, daydreaming, diversions, and random conversations all play a role.
Since creative solutions arrive when least expected, relax. According to Lehrer, “insights are genuine mental events that are defined by two features– solutions come out of the blue, and as soon as you arrive at an answer you know it’s the right one.” As he explained, “it’s a myth to double down to solve creative problems, because often you end up fixated on the wrong answer. Usually the ‘aha moment’ arrives after you stop looking for it.”
Instead he recommends “any activity associated with relaxation, such as a walk on the beach or taking a hot shower. Daydreaming in particular allows you to reach toward unexpected sources of information. These diversions spark ‘alpha waves’ that put you at ease and allow you to turn your attention inwards.”
Grit and the ability to persist through rejection are key predictors of creative success. “There’s no universal cure for creative problems,” Lehrer pointed out. “One first needs to sort through various creative iterations and be willing to withstand failures. Grit represents an essential psychological trait, embodied by famous examples, such as Bob Dylan, Pablo Picasso, and Steve Jobs.”
He said the keys to determining one’s own grit are “how you answer two critical questions. These include how long you’ve wanted to accomplish that goal and how you respond to rejection — whether you change course or try harder.” For example, J.K. Rowling endured several thumbs down from publishers on her way to writing the Harry Potter series.
Diverse perspectives and random encounters contribute to team collaboration. Group creativity has been a hot topic recently since idea sharing has accelerated, Lehrer noted. “Problems nowadays are getting harder and often exceed the capabilities of individual imagination,” he added. While he’s not a fan of brainstorming, he recommends seeking the advice of outsiders.
Modern office design and open floor plans lead to more idle conversations and aid group creativity, Lehrer reported. At the animated filmmaking company Pixar, Jobs designed the work space with a central atrium and bathrooms. “The employees had to walk longer distances, resulting in more personal connections and frequent bathroom epiphanies.” Overall, as Lehrer observed, “creativity is really more about serendipity.”