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What Happens to the Brain During Creativity?
By Shlomo Maital
At the main bus stop, at my university Technion, there is a set of bookshelves, where people drop off unwanted books and others browse and take them. I’ve put a great many books there and they always disappear quickly.
One day this week I noticed some rather old copies of Scientific American. I took two of them, to read while on the bus. One of them had a fascinating article by Charles J. Limb, a surgeon who plays saxophone, does cochleal transplants, and loves John Coltrane. (The article was in the May 2011 issue, nearly 6 years ago).
Using FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), Limb asked, what happens to the brain when jazz musicians improvise? Coltrane, legendary tenor sax player, did incredible improvisations. How? Why?
Here is what Limb found: “creativity is whole-brain…during improvisation, the lateral prefrontal region of the cortex shuts down (areas involved in conscious self-inhibition, self-monitoring, evaluation of rightness and wrongness of what you are doing). Another area of the prefrontal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, turns on…this is the focal area of the brain that’s involved in self-expression and autobiographical narrative..it has do to with sense of self.”
Brief summary? Want to create? Turn off all inhibition, judging, evaluating, good or bad. Turn them off. Activate your own self, self-awareness, self-expression… express who you are, what you are, tell your story.
And Coltrane? “He practiced. He was an obsessive—he practiced obsessively. He was after the ability to have an idea he had never had before…be profound, and be able to executive the idea.”
John Coltrane was creative, had ideas…but he had technique, he mastered his instrument so that he could effortless IMPLEMENT his creative ideas. You need both. Discovery (creativity). And Delivery (practice, practice, mastery mastery!).
That, according to Limb, is creativity.
Europe’s REAL Problem: Innovation!
By Shlomo Maital
Innovation: Only the Dark Green is “Innovation leader”
The EU has a lot of headaches – more than an ocean-full of Tylenol can assuage. Brexit, and copycat exit movements (including Austria, Catalonia, parts of France, eastern Europe); Greek debts that can neither be paid off nor written off (owing to stubborn German banks); a banking system that has an EU central bank but fragmented country-level banks, that can neither be integrated nor freed and opened; and many more.
Some of these headaches are being (badly) addressed. But one key issue is utterly ignored, as the Washing Post recently noted. * In an EU report, EU Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2016, it is claimed that:
The continent’s most creative and productive regions are in Germany, France, Britain and the Nordic countries. Southern England, northern Denmark, southern Germany and Paris are particularly successful — whereas Romania, Poland and Spain have disproportionately more regions that lack innovation. But as a political and economic union, all of Europe should be worried. Europe is becoming less innovative overall.
Why is this worrisome? One of the main points of a single market is that by creating a huge market, the world’s 2nd biggest economy, you open huge opportunities for entrepreneurs, whose path-breaking ideas can now reach 510 million people (EU), $20 trillion economy (2nd in the world) and per capita GDP of $37,000. But the opposite has occurred. Europe is becoming less innovative, as the report shows.
In Belgium, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands and Romania, performance declined in all regions,” the report’s authors note. Germany — often considered the economic powerhouse of the continent — was also unable to improve performance.
I taught in France for many years. France has some of the world’s most talented creative engineers. But they don’t start businesses! Why? There are a hundred reasons. Risk, bureaucracy, lack of finance, rigid labor markets…
You can’t solve a problem until you face it. Europe is preoccupied with other problems, and is not even beginning to face its innovation problem. Alas.
* Rick Noack “Where Europe is most and least innovative, in 6 maps,” Washington Post. 2016.
Common Innovation: Ordinary People Have Ideas
By Shlomo Maital
Peter Swann is emeritus Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School. Previously he was Professor of Economics and Management of Innovation at Manchester Business School. He has been researching and teaching the economics of innovation since 1980 and is the author of 8 books and over 100 articles, chapters and reports.
His latest book is about a wonderful subject: “Common Innovation”, or, innovation by ordinary people, in everyday life, far removed from the industrial R&D departments of huge companies. * The Wealth of Nations does not come solely from Apple, Google and Intel. It comes from you and me, claims Swann, and from our creative ideas.
I have not read it. But I intend to very soon. Here is how his publisher, E. Elgar, describes it:
Common innovation is the contribution of ordinary people to innovation and the wealth of nations. Innovation and wealth creation are not merely the monopoly of business. While Schumpeter described business innovation as a, ‘perennial gale of creative destruction’, common innovation is more a, ‘gentle and benign breeze’. This book analyses some illustrations of the destructive side of business innovation, and provides numerous examples of the ‘benign breeze’ of common innovation. It builds on the pioneering work of von Hippel, but takes that a step further. In common innovation, the ordinary citizen is centre stage and business can be quite peripheral.
Swann carried out many studies for government departments and international agencies including DTI, BIS, Cabinet Office, Home Office, OECD and EU. He was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2005, “for services to business and economic policy”.
* G. M.P. Swann. Common Innovation: How We Create the Wealth of Nations. Edward Elgar: UK, 2016.
Entrepreneurship: How to Overcome Barriers
By Shlomo Maital
Antoni Baszczeski, from Poland, has been taking one of my courses on Coursera, the on-line platform. (3 courses are currently running there, comprising a Startup Entrepreneurship specialization). In one of the Discussion Forums, Antoni notes:
“Some time ago, I participated in a “Design New Learning Environment” (DNLE) course project at the Venture Lab Edu platfom (@ Stanford University) : Rethinking Vocational Education in the State of Massachusetts:An Entrepreneurship Imperative for the 21st Century. http://www.slideshare.net/Gribbenslide/final-rethinking-vocational-education-in-the-state-of-massachusetts-1569106
We tried to identify Barriers to Entrepreneurship, and It looks that a majority of them are driven by cultural / mindset / attitude components. And they are root causes of the problems with creativity and innovation.
- Internal :
- lack of self-confidence •lack of critical thinking skills •fear of failure •passivity•lack of experience with fundraising and managing money •ack of credibility among adults that would fund the venture, due to the young age of entrepreneur
- External : •education •schools are providing exam preparation courses today and kill kids/students creativity and desire to innovate •entrepreneurship is not taught nor promoted in schools •there is a lack of understanding of the important role entrepreneurship has for future generations at the level of decision makers – Ministry of Education and Superintendents of Education •cultural – society (including parents and teachers) is not tolerant of young people who think differently than those that have gone before them. • bureaucratic and administrative – including lack of transparency •financing is difficult to acquire due to the lack of faith in the youths’ ability to execute the ideas
Antoni asks Forum participants about their own countries, and the barriers they perceive to young people starting and growing businesses.
So blog readers: What about your country? What do you think are the main 3 obstacles that keep young people from becoming startup entrepreneurs? What are the obstacles that keep YOU personally from doing so? How can these obstacles be overcome?
Thank you Antoni!
Creativity Capital: We’re Destroying Billions of Dollars Worth!
By Shlomo Maital
What is “capital”? For most people, capital is something tangible, like money, houses, or other assets. But for economists, capital is somewhat abstract – it is the summed present value of a stream of future benefits.
For instance, a bond pays interest for 10 years or 25 years, and its value is the summed p.v. of those interest payments plus the principal.
People, too, comprise capital. When you improve your skills, the summed present value of the added income from those added skills is also capital and can be calculated – this is “human capital”.
I believe there is a kind of capital that we are constantly destroying, rather than building as we should. It is “creativity capital”.
Here is a small story. The daughter of a close friend drew a picture in elementary school. The teacher said that it was utter rubbish. Even though the young girl’s mother was a skilled artist, and even though she herself had talent – she never again drew a picture. Perhaps the world lost an important artist; but more important, she herself lost an activity that could have given her enormous pleasure.
This one case is creativity capital that was destroyed, because a stupid teacher was insensitive and failed to understand that her role is to encourage and empower, not destroy. How many other such cases are there? How many readers have encountered similar massive destruction of their creativity capital?
How do we get schools to stop destroying massive amounts of creativity capital? What if we tried to put some numbers on ‘creativity capital’ and more important, investment in it (the additions to Creativity Capital)? What if we tried to measure schools not by students’ scores on stupid mechanical tests, but by the extent to which their students excel in, say, the Torrance Creativity Test?
What if teachers’ job definition changed radically, from teaching test-taking skills to fostering ability to come up with wild ideas and then implement them?
But – how in the world can we make this happen? We need creative ideas to create Creativity Capital.
Creativity: The Dark Side
By Shlomo Maital
Some 53 years ago, Harvard Business School Prof. Ted Levitt, as always ahead of his time, noted in the Harvard Business Review that creativity has a dark side.
“Creativity…can actually be destructive to businesses. By failing to take into account practical matters of implementation, big thinkers can inspire organizational cultures dedicated to abstract chatter rather than purposeful action. In such cultures innovation never happens – because people are always talking about it but never doing it.” [“Creativity Is not enough”, HBR 1963. Reprinted August 2002].
My friend and colleague Prof. Ella Miron-Spektor drew my attention to this wonderful article.
Levitt’s prescient insight shows how and why organizations tend to stress one half of the creativity yin-yang circle – novelty – and fail to invest time and resources in the crucial second half – usefulness and implementation. A case study of an Israeli high-tech company shows how it pioneered a unique approach for overcoming creativity’s dark side. The key is in having high-level managers examine every creative suggestion, while guiding the workers toward ideas that are BOTH novel and highly useful.
‘Innovative’ organizations, large and small, often fail to generate successful innovation, because their innovation process puts far too much weight on ‘novel’ and far too little weight on ‘useful’ and ‘creating value’. One reason for this is that process innovation – how you do things, not what you do – is often neglected. Process innovation pays a far higher return than product innovation, yet many organizations don’t bother much with it. Why?
How to Raise a Creative Child
By Shlomo Maital
Adam Grant, a Wharton management professor and New York Times Op-Ed contributor, has written a wonderful piece on “how to raise a creative child”, based on solid research. Here are a few of his observations. Parents (and grandparents): Take note.
- Malcolm Gladwell, in one of his books, says success depends on investing 10,000 hours of practice. OK…but, says Grant, “can’t practice blind us to ways to improve our area of study?…the more we practice, the more we become entrenched – trapped in familiar ways of thinking?
- What motivates people to practice a skill…is passion – discovered through natural curiosity or nurtured through early enjoyable experiences with an activity or many activities.
- Psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s study of the early roots of world-class musicians, artists and scientists found that “their parents didn’t dream of raising superkids. They responded to the intrinsic motivation of their children. When their children showed interest and enthusiasm, their parents supported them.”
- What does it take to raise a creative child? One study showed: parents of ordinary (non-creative) children had an average of six rules, like schedules, bedtime… parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.
- Harvard Prof. Teresa Amabile, creativity guru, says parents of creative children placed emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules. At Grafton MA.’s Touchstone School, I had a wonderful discussion with children; they told me that once they integrated the school’s core values, rules of behavior were no longer necessary.
- Parents of creative children encouraged their kids to find “joy in work”. Their children had the freedom to sort out their own values and discover their own interests. And that set them up to flourish as creative adults.
- It’s not rocket science. Find what your kids love doing, what stimulates their interest. Help them pursue them. Let them enjoy the pursuit. Build in their core values, then make them think for themselves about how to apply them. Avoid long lists of rules. Let them have fun. Give them freedom to explore. And, though Grant doesn’t say this, make them T-shaped. Deep knowledge in something. Wide broad knowledge in many things.
Adam Grant. How to raise a creative child. International New York Times, Wed. Feb. 3, 2016, p. 9.
Read This Blog — Tomorrow
By Shlomo Maital
There are two personality styles, for dealing with pressing tasks. One – reduce the tension, stress and anxiety they cause, by getting them done, now and quickly, and end the source of the stress. Two – reduce the tension, by putting off the task, “I’ll do it tomorrow”, procrastinate, and basically shove the task under the carpet.
Which one is you? Me? I’m the first. I do things now, quickly, often rather poorly, just to get rid of that nagging tension, that something HAS to be done, often something not pleasant. I think of myself as a creative person. But it turns out, according to U. of Pennsylvania Wharton School Professor Adam Grant, writing in The New York Times, procrastination may HELP creativity, not hinder it. Here is his argument:
So Jihae, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent raters rated how original they were. The procrastinators’ ideas were 28 percent more creative. Minesweeper is awesome, but it wasn’t the driver of the effect. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.
Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional. My senior thesis in college ended up replicating a bunch of existing ideas instead of introducing new ones. When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns. Nearly a century ago, the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that people had a better memory for incomplete tasks than for complete ones. When we finish a project, we file it away. But when it’s in limbo, it stays active in our minds.
So, hey! Why do today what you can do tomorrow? Tomorrow – you may have far better ideas for doing it. If you’re already a procrastinator… enjoy! You’re on the right track.
p.s. faithful Timnovate readers: the long silence, since Jan. 9, is not because I procrastinated. My wife and I have practiced what we preach, and have innovated in our personal lives – we’ve moved our household lock stock and barrel from Haifa, from the house we lived in for 35 years, to a community south of Haifa, where we found new friends and new adventure. So far, the leap of faith is proving to be wonderful….
The Two Brain Centers That Drive Creativity
By Shlomo Maital
How do our brains cook up creative ideas? Functional MRI imaging now enables scholars to track precisely which areas of the brain are involved, when the brain is trying to be creative. Using this tool, Haifa University researcher Dr. Naama Mayseless (in her doctoral research, directed by Prof. Simone Shamay-Tsoory), Dept. of Psychology, found that:
“…. for a creative idea to be produced, the brain must activate a number of different – and perhaps even contradictory – networks. Developing an original and creative idea requires the simultaneous activation of two completely different networks in the brain: the associative – “spontaneous” – network alongside the more normative – “conservative” – network.
In the first part of the research, respondents were give half a minute to come up with a new, original and unexpected idea for the use of different objects. Answers which were provided infrequently received a high score for originality, while those given frequently received a low score.
In the second part, respondents were asked to give, within half a minute, their best characteristic (and accepted) description of the objects. During the tests, all subjects were scanned using an FMRI device to examine their brain activity while providing the answer.
For the answer to be original, an additional region worked in collaboration with the associative region – the administrative control region. A more “conservative” region related to social norms and rules. The researchers also found that the stronger the connection, i.e., the better these regions work together in parallel – the greater the level of originality of the answer.
“On the one hand, there is surely a need for a region that tosses out innovative ideas, but on the other hand there is also the need for one that will know to evaluate how applicable and reasonable these ideas are. The ability of the brain to operate these two regions in parallel is what results in creativity. It is possible that the most sublime creations of humanity were produced by people who had an especially strong connection between the two regions,” the researchers concluded.
In short: As I have been teaching – head in the clouds (“associative brain”) and feet on the ground (administrative pragmatic brain).
I think the crucial connections that Dr. Mayseless discovered can be strengthened. Think of creative ideas. Then think of how to make them practical, useful, feasible, implementable. Together, those two brain centers can change the world.