These are notes from a class on creativity Michael C. Patterson gave for MINDRAMP’s Better Brains class for the Senior Center Without Walls this past Thursday, January 28. Senior Center Without Walls is an award winning program that provides free, telephone-based activities, education, conversation and classes to isolated older adults.
MINDRAMP has been a long-time supporter of SCWW and Roger Anunsen’s brain health classes are among the most popular offerings. During this class on The Brain & Creativity, guest instructor Michael C. Patterson presented an overview of some core concepts of creativity, as outlined below, then engaged in a lively Q & A exchange with the participants.
Wired for Creativity - All human beings have brains that are wired for creativity. The remarkable evolutionary success of human beings is due, in large part, to our incredible capacity for creative thinking and creative behavior. We are wired for creativity.
Defining Creativity - The most common definitions of creativity combine two key concepts: novelty & utility. When we are being creative we bring something new and useful into the world.
Big C and Little c creativity - Big C creativity refers to major creative breakthroughs that are performed by creative geniuses. The kind of creativity is relatively rare. Little c creativity refers to the every day kind of creativity that we all perform on a regular basis and tend to take for granted.
H Creativity and P Creativity - Historical (H) Creativity refers to a creative breakthrough of historical proportions. In the history of the world, no one has every had the idea before - Very rare.
Personal Creativity (P) refers to a creative idea that is new to an individual. Others may have had this idea before, but that does not diminish its creativity for this one individual.
Novelty & Routine - While creativity is most often thought of as the opposite of routine, I believe that creativity is a combination of novelty and routine. True, we often need to break out of old routines in order to learn and grow and to adjust to change. To free ourselves from outdated routines we need to explore novel approaches and invent new and more effective ways of doing things. But these novel approaches are only truly valuable if they become tools that we can use over and over again, and in different circumstances. The novel ideas, in other words, must become routines to be really useful.
The creative process involves multiple types of activity, including breaking and reinventing routines. Creativity is a matter of having multiple choices. Human beings are more creative than other animals specifically because we have more routines at our disposal.
Creative People, Product and Process - People who research creativity tend to focus on three different perspectives: People, Process and Product.
Creative People - The core question is why is one person is more, or less, creative than another.
My N.A.M.E. Hypothesis states that “creative achievement is determined by Natural Aptitudes Modified by Experience.” There is now broad consensus among researchers that genes and experience interact to produce creative genius and creative excellence.
Mozart, for example, would not have become a musical prodigy if he had ignored his natural aptitude for music. But Mozart’s entire environment was dedicated to music. His father taught music and was somewhat obsessed with developing, and exploiting, his son’s talent. Mozart’s early aptitude for music was, consequently, developed to its full potential. Genes and environment working together to achieve creative mastery
All of us can develop our creativity if we are willing to put in the effort to build on whatever nature aptitudes we have.
Creative Products - This is the realm of aesthetics. The key question is, “Why is one product considered more creative than another?” Why is one object or person considered more beautiful and pleasing to the eye than another?
My H.E.A.T hypothesis of aesthetics is similar to the N.A.M.E. hypothesis, mentioned above. It states the “our aesthetic judgments are based on a Hierarchy of Evolved and Acquired Tastes.”
At base, we all share certain universal likes and dislikes. We all understand the meaning of certain basic facial expressions and gestures. These form the foundation of our aesthetic tastes. But these universal responses are modified by layer upon layer of cultural, familial and personal likes and dislikes, which can be quite idiosyncratic. This how certain aesthetic judgments can translate from culture to culture, while other are judged very differently by different cultures.
Expectation & Surprise
An artist’s enhances the interest and engagement with his or her work by manipulating our expectation and surprise. The artist creates an expectation that we find familiar and comfortable, then surprises us with something different that grabs our attention and peaks our ongoing interest. It is the dynamic interplay of these two factors that keeps a story or an object interesting. When expectation is fulfilled all of the time, the story becomes trite and boring. If, on the other hand, there is constant surprise and change, our minds become fatigued and chaotic. We respond best to the ebb and flow of expectation and surprise - like the plot of a good mystery murder or adventure story. Just when the hero escapes from certain death, and we relax, some new threat comes along. Expectation and surprise; relaxation and stimulation; routine and novelty.
The key questions is “What do creative people do when they are being creative?” Creative scientists have recognized patterns of behavior in their own creative work and have identified specific stages of a full creative process.
MIND RAMP has built on early work to propose a Creative Cycle that consists of three major phases that divide up into seven individual stages. The major phases of the creative process are:
Goal Setting & Orientation
The full Creative Cycle, with both phases and stages looks like this:
Goal Setting & Orientation
Getting Started - The Initiation Stage
Research and Skill-Building - The Saturation Stage
Conscious exploration of ideas - The Manipulation Stage
Unconscious exploration of ideas - The Incubation Stage
Insight - The Illumination Stage
Build it - the Implementation Stage
Test it - The Verification Stage
The Creative Cycle is like a spiral that, when completed, leads seamlessly into yet another creative cycle. An idea that works leads to a new set of creative challenges and another Creative Cycle. An idea that fails provides invaluable information about what to try next and another Creative Cycle.
The best way to improve our own, individual creativity, we believe, is to learn how to effectively navigate the creative process using the steps of the MINDRAMP Creative Cycle.