This post invites you to put your head in the clouds for a while and think about creative thinking…
This week’s title comes from a new photo by artist Sue Ridge, which heads up this selection of stories that invite us to think about what our thinking, and especially our creative thinking, might ideally be made of…
To get started with this, here’s a quick and surprising challenge to test your existing thinking by Gary Klein, author of Seeing what others don’t: the remarkable ways we gain insights:
Our ability to create insights is critical for innovation and adaptation.
Otherwise we would remain stuck in mental ruts formed over our lifetime. Insights let us see things in new ways. Many people, however, have the wrong ideas about insights. Here is a short test, only 12 items, to assess your knowledge of insights. For each item, note down the number at the left if you agree with the statement and think it has been sufficiently established.
- Brainstorming is an effective method for groups to generate insights.
- Insights depend on having fresh eyes, which is why greybeards – the so-called experts – tend to be trapped by their previous experience.
- Organizations desire insights and encourage their workers to come up with out-of-the box ideas.
- The way insights emerge is that we run into an impasse, struggle for awhile, then let our minds wander until suddenly there is a flash of illumination.
- Correlation doesn’t imply causality, so we shouldn’t get sidetracked by coincidences.
- A major barrier to insights is when we have flawed beliefs and assumptions.
- To correct flawed assumptions we should use critical thinking methods such as listing all the important assumptions we are making, to see which might be wrong.
- Scientists generate insights by running controlled experiments to test their hypotheses.
- Good scientists work carefully so that they won’t make erroneous claims.
- To handle a challenging project we should start by pinning down the goals so that we can systematically achieve success.
- Good ideas often come about by accident so we should expose ourselves to lots of different fields and different types of specialists.
- A well-designed computer workstation, tailored to the way we work so that it filters out irrelevant data and highlights the important cues, can boost our chances for having insights.
Let’s see how you did. Review your responses, changing any that don’t seem quite right. And here is the answer key: Zero. None of these items has been clearly established. Some are just wrong, contradicted by the data. Others seem unlikely and have not been supported by evidence. Here are some brief explanations:
- Brainstorming is a popular technique but the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that groups using it get fewer ideas, and less creative ones.
- Experience doesn’t get us into a rut unless the task is so repetitive and mindless that we tune out. A study of insights that I conducted found that experience was essential in 2/3 of the incidents.
- Organizations resist insights because they are dis-organizing and disruptive, and get in the way of smooth management. Most people view novel ideas as impractical and unreliable.
- This impasse strategy sometimes holds, but it is only one of several different ways that insights emerge. In a sample of 120 insights, only 25% involved impasses.
- Correlation doesn’t prove causality but many important insights started out when someone noticed a coincidence.
- People who gain insights often held flawed beliefs. What set them apart is that they were able to abandon these beliefs whereas others fixated on their flawed beliefs and were trapped by them.
- The strategy of listing assumptions has never been shown to improve performance, and it doesn’t even make sense because the beliefs that trap us are often based on hidden assumptions that we aren’t aware we are making. So we would never list them.
- When scientists run experiments and get results that support their hypotheses they haven’t gained any insights at all. Only when the results don’t work out as expected do scientists have to seek insights. Other parts of the scientific method, such as just observing the phenomenon of interest, are richer sources of insight.
- Claims that can’t ever be wrong are usually pretty bland. Scientists would do better to make the most extreme claims they can defend. Unfortunately, too many scientists are so risk averse that they censor themselves.
- Many challenging projects involve “wicked problems” that don’t have a clear goal. The only path to success is to gain insights about the goal along the way. Locking in on the initial goal is likely to lead to failure.
- There is no clear evidence that deliberate exposure to lots of diverse ideas will result in more insights.
- A well-designed workstation may feel comfortable but it will trap us in our traditional routines and make it harder to have insights about better ways to do the job. If the workstation filters out “irrelevant” cues, it may filter the cues that might spark insights.
The field of insight is marked by myths and superstitions. Only by exposing these outdated ideas can we expect to make progress in using our uniquely human talent to make discoveries and achieve insights.
This 5 minute mindfulness bell meditation is wonderful for whenever you want to clear your mind, relax and then get on with your day.
The recording contains nothing but the pure sound of a Tibetan singing bowl being repeatedly struck with a soft mallet. It was taken from Mindfulness Bells Volume 1. Christopher Lloyd Clarke recorded this bowl in his personal studio in 2011 using some of the most high-end microphones and audio processing equipment in his collection. Christopher is known for being a bit obsessed with sound quality, so we hope that you can appreciate the lovely tonal balance and detail that is present in this recording, even if it’s just in YouTube video format.
This calming sound is a wonderful focal point for meditation. Simply absorb your attention in the sound of the mindfulness bell. No mantra is required, no special breathing techniques are needed, just let your awareness be consumed by the sound of the bell.
Your mind will become clearer and more calm with each and every bell strike, and as the bells fade into silence, your mind is given the opportunity to experience a very natural state of stillness.
A high bell sound rings out at the conclusion of the meditation.
Please come back often and enjoy this 5 minute meditation anytime you want to clear your mind and relax!
For more information or to download the full 60 minute version, please visit http://www.the-guided-meditation-site…
Perhaps the most defining barrier in the modern workplace is the ability to seamlessly integrate creative and productive processes. The challenge is faced by both leaders and employees. Though they welcome constructive creativity, the former find it difficult to integrate workflow beyond simple productivity. Creative solutions are often seen as an experimental indulgence, though no less desired from team members. Employees on the other hand find the productivity warp-drive seems to rule their every move, particularly in environments where managers are less project-focused and more task-focused. In fact, an Adobe study called “State of Create” showed that an estimated 75% of participating employees felt like ‘their employers put more pressure on them to be productive than to be creative. Simply put, this group finds little time for (or reward in) creative pursuits.
An organization’s survival is based not only on its productivity, but also on quality and ability to innovate – two traits that are pivotally dependent on creativity. An organization’s ability to integrate productivity with creativity is entirely dependent on taking an “outside” point of view, a broad scope of the entire structure from top to bottom. Here is where you’ll find a golden ratio of creativity-based productivity measures that will help you finally fill this elusive gap.Hard-wired to be Creative: How Creativity Precede ProductivityIt all begins with reimagining creativity as a concept. Some would protest they’re not gifted with creativity. However, while some people have more raw talent than others, creativity is a tool of the mind that (like any other mind-based approach) can be sharpened though disciplined practice.Jonah Lehrer, the author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, comments that while “Creativity shouldn’t be seen as something otherworldly. It shouldn’t be thought of as a process reserved for artists and inventors and other ‘creative types.’ The human mind, after all, has the creative impulse built into its operating system, hard-wired into its most essential programming code.” Creativity, as Lehrer discusses in an article withMashable writer, Josh Catone, can be taught. Lehrer adds definition to the kindled realization that imagination can be cultivated and improved upon.Programmed to be creative, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by eliminating it from our corporate culture – and moreover, from the fundamental way in which we do business. If we’re hard-wired to be creative, then aren’t we performing at diminished levels if we proceed without this deeply incubated and inherent capacity to create and perform?On the Shoulders of Giants: How Leaders Are Responsible for Fueling Creative ProductivityAs leaders, we set the benchmarks. Our role in spearheading creative productivity is by recognizing that “true leadership requires original thought and imagination that can motivate others, solve problems, and cultivate innovation and initiative along the way.” Pulled from a Forbes article entitled “The Content You Read Shapes How You Lead”, by Glenn Llopis, succinctly highlights why it’s critical for leaders to place the first proverbial stepping stone laying the foundation for a creatively productive corporate culture.Leaders are encouraged to treat creativity as a tool necessary for innovation. For those with an aversion to a word that has been associated with crafting and a flood of Pinterest-inspired ideas, know that a creative mind is a strategic mind. As I mentioned in an earlier post entitled, “The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Play and Time”, creativity is the ability to connect the dots. To add weight to the argument, I quote Liane Davey’s Harvard Business Review post entitled “Strengthen Your Strategic Thinking Muscles”, in which she writes, “Strategic people see the world as a web of interconnected ideas and people and they find opportunities to advance their interests at those connection points.” The individual (and the organization) that is able to flex this type of creative thought has a higher chance on coursing through a path that is more result-driven rather than task-driven. In a nutshell, the creative mind has produced the productive mind.
by Frank Fitzpatrick, multi-Platinum record producer, Grammy-nominated songwriter, social entrepreneur and award-winning filmmaker
As the world continues to spin in more unpredictable and exponential ways, the worlds of ideas-once-separated are being tossed into the same blender.
What is great about the omnipotent ingredient of music is that music is the juice that can make it all work together: cognitive and social development, motivation and emotional engagement, and mindfulness and well-being. Maybe it is because, as Beethoven taught us, music understands humankind in a way that humankind is yet to understand music. Sadly, because music has been so devalued and misunderstood by those leading in these other fields, it is underutilized at best.
One of the emerging trends …that I find encouraging is the desire to move toward creating greater well-being for the individual learner – being more conscious about what we put into the mix and shifting the values around priority outcomes. It is reassuring to have health, well-being and mindfulness be part of a dialogue that too often gets dominated by test scores and brain capacity.
We still have a long way to go, however, to get music fully embraced as a critical and omnipotent ingredient for education, successful learning, and the well-being of [today's young people]. Music here has been removed from school curriculums, and public funding for the music-based arts programs has all, but disappeared. In one of my weekend meetings with the education gurus, I learned about an upcoming two-day global think tank that will help set the framework for open learning analytics to be used to measure learner outcome in education for the next fifteen years. Of the 50 experts at the table, music and the arts don’t have even one representative. Shocking! With all the evidence about the impact of music on learning and creativity, the development of the human brain, and the vitality of the human spirit, it should be a no-brainer to insist on music as an integral part of every child’s education.
So, as I head off to Austin for another education forum, armed with the latest in new technology, leading scientific research, a box of power tools for emotional engagement, and enough creative ideas to fill a 747, I will take my WHY Musicsoapbox with me. Maybe if I throw some magical ingredients into the blender and sing my mantras at the top of my voice — like “There is no M in STEM without Music!” — I might get a few more music warriors to join the movement.
One of the very best ways to think about anything is through questions, and the fine art of asking really great questions is perhaps one of the most important capabilities for us to keep practising, practising, practising.
I have adapted some of these really great questions from the Leadership Freak to increase their openness and relevance for us all…
Knowledge and questions:
‘The opportunity of knowing is “not knowing,” effectively.’
Few things surpass the beauty of questions from someone with knowledge. You learn the most about others by the questions they ask, not the statements they make.
Use what you know to know more. Even ignorance can ask great questions.
7 ways to gain knowledge:
- Argue to apply. Theories are wonderful. Application brings them to life.
- Challenge to prove right.
- Go with not against.
- Explore for clarification not to devalue. It’s easy to shut others down and learn nothing.
- Understand purpose before discounting ideas. Knowledge seeks the reason behind reasons and ideas.
- Bring context to discussions. How might supervisors view this, for example.
- Pursue clarity until action emerges.
‘Action creates it’s own clarity.’
12 questions toward exponential knowledge:
- What impact has this had on your life and/or work?
- How did you come to these ideas?
- How could others put these ideas into practice?
- What difference does it make?
- Why does this matter?
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- Who else is affected by this, and how?
- Who benefits? Why? How?
- What happens if you try?
- What happens if you don’t try?
- What if you fail?
- What if you succeed?
How can we grow our knowledge, especially when we think we know enough already?
As an expert on cutting-edge digital displays, Mary Lou Jepsen studies how to show our most creative ideas on screens. And as a brain surgery patient herself, she is driven to know more about the neural activity that underlies invention, creativity, thought. She meshes these two passions in a rather mind-blowing talk on two cutting-edge brain studies that might point to a new frontier in understanding how (and what) we think.
Dan Hurley‘s popular feature in The New York Times Magazine, “Can You Make Yourself Smarter?” brilliantly presented multiple perspectives in the cognitive training debate. In his latest book, “Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power“, Dan expanded his investigation of the cognitive training literature and also reviewed other interventions that attempt to increase intelligence.
How do you define “intelligence”?
Psychologists define it with tests. But those tests are ultimately designed to measure the real-world ability to figure things out, solve problems, and see meaningful patterns in the world around us. And it’s not just “book smarts.” It includes our ability to understand ourselves and those around us, to handle whatever life throws at us, to make sense of things. Intelligence is what allows us to learn from our experience, to gain insight into life, to juggle multiple demands. With the internet these days, information is everywhere. But intelligence is how we make sense of all that information.
You spend some time in the first chapter defending the importance of intelligence. Why did you feel the need to do that. Do you think intelligence is underrated in society?
If you’ve ever been called “stupid,” as I was a kid, you know how intensely personal and important it is. If you’ve ever had a learning-disabled child, or if your parent is becoming impaired by Alzheimer’s disease, you know how important intelligence is. …These days, it’s become politically incorrect to talk about intelligence. The intelligentsia (pun intended) prefer to talk about grit and determination, or “emotional” intelligence. But wishing away the importance of intelligence doesn’t make it go away.
What areas of the cognitive training field are most contentious?
Even some of the psychologists who have found strong benefits for training feel nervous about the commercial advocacy of companies like Lumosity. We all know that physical exercise builds muscles…but we don’t yet know exactly which kinds of cognitive exercises work best. That said, I have counted about 75 randomized, placebo-controlled trials (and they’re all cited in my book) demonstrating significant benefits from various kinds of cognitive training—from “working memory” training to physical exercise, learning a musical instrument, mindfulness meditation, transcranial direct-current stimulation and more. I found only four randomized, placebo-controlled trials that found no benefit whatsoever. That’s pretty overwhelming.
You spoke to K. Anders Ericsson, who studies the development of expertise. Does he think that cognitive training increases in intelligence are irrelevant to the development of world-class expertise?
Ericsson believes that the benefits you get from practice apply only to the specific skill you’re practicing. He published studies showing that even if you practiced memory tricks to learn how to remember a hundred random numbers in a row, you still were no better at remembering a hundred letters in a row, or anything else. In the lingo of psychologists, he believes that training doesn’t “transfer.” Malcolm Gladwell made Ericsson famous in “Outliers” by describing his so-called “law” of 10,000 hours of practice. Ericsson has published studies suggesting that talent doesn’t matter, and that the only thing that does matter is practicing for 10,000 hours in order to become an expert. Whether you want to be a concert pianist or a world-class chess player or anything else, supposedly all you need to do is practice for 10,000 hours and then you’ll be a master.
What do you think of Ericsson’s perspective?
Ericsson’s claims have not been supported by other researchers who have found that talent does matter, and that training in certain tasks does result in “transfer” to improvements in other abilities. Some chess grandmasters practiced for much less than 10,000 hours before they reached the top, whereas other people can practice for much more than 10,000 hours and still not make it. The same is true of intelligence as a trait. Just because you study and study and study doesn’t mean you’re going to get into Harvard. We all know that. Some people are smarter than others. The real question is whether you can increase your intelligence so that the hard work you put in will pay off better.
What kind of effect does cognitive training have on the brain?
There is no question that training causes structural and functional improvement in the brain, as seen on MRI. Most of the changes are seen in the frontal areas of the brain, where high-level thinking occurs. Mindfulness meditation, for instance, has been shown to produce increased white-matter connections between the anterior cingulate cortex, an important region for complex decision-making, and the rest of the brain.
What cognitive functions did you find are most trainable?
Working memory is the ability to juggle multiple items of attention, to manipulate and analyze information. If you try to multiple 26 by 37 in your head, the reason it’s so hard is because of the demands it puts on your working memory. Tons of studies, including the latest one by Randy Engle, show that by training on certain kinds of working-memory tasks, you can improve your working memory overall. This is profoundly important for your ability to multi-task and think through complicated problems.
What interventions are the most effective in improving cognitive ability?
Working-memory training has proved really useful, although exactly which kinds of working-memory tasks are most useful remains unclear. Susanne Jaeggi has focused on the N-back task, which anyone can check out online at www.soakyourbrain.com. Others prefer various other kinds of working-memory tasks. But plenty of research also shows that physical exercise, learning a musical instrument, and mindfulness meditation can all bring significant benefits. One of the coolest parts of my training was learning to play the Renaissance lute.
Teenagers everywhere want to know: are there any cognitive benefits of first-person shooter games?
Absolutely. These games are so good at improving reaction times that they are used by the U.S. military to train pilots and operators of drones. These games can also improve the “useful field of view,” your ability to see and respond to stimuli at the periphery of your vision, which is incredibly important when driving a vehicle. Other computerized games have been shown to improve older people’s ability to distinguish very fine differences in shades of gray. Strangely, this ability has been shown to be one of the single most important markers of longevity. So if you get better at it, will you actually live longer? That’s not yet clear. But improving your ability to see and respond to your environment can be potentially lifesaving.
How important is exercise?
Research has proved beyond doubt that the brain is actually connected to the heart and lungs via something called the “neck.” Physical exercise is perhaps the best-proved method for improving cognitive function in older people. It’s also critical for children and middle-aged sloths. Some researchers believe that cardiovascular exercise is best, while others insist that strength training is more important.
What about vitamins? Which one should take the most of if I want to think more quickly? Or should I just continue to drink lots and lots of caffeine?
I know that many people believe in the benefits of vitamins and dietary supplements. But there are no good studies showing that any of them really help cognitive function. Large studies of fish oil given to pregnant women have even suggested that there might be some risks to the intellectual abilities of their children. Caffeine, on the other hand, has been repeatedly shown to enhance not just attention, but motivation and even, most recently, memory. And if you can believe it, nicotine also helps. Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are of course extremely dangerous and greatly increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and much more. But studies in both humans and animals confirm that nicotine, given through a patch or gum, can be a great cognitive enhancer. I actually started using a 7 mg nicotine patch and found it useful, without any noticeable addictiveness.
Can mindfulness meditation make you smarter? What cognitive functions are most affected by mindfulness meditation?
A series of studies by Michael Posner and Yi-Yuan Tang have shown that mindfulness meditation can enhance all kinds of cognitive abilities. Mind-wandering is not helpful when you’re trying to write an article or take a test. On the other hand, some recent studies have suggested that allowing your mind to wander can also be helpful when you need a breakthrough. Some of the greatest scientific insights have occurred when scientists were spacing out.
How transferable are improvements in specific cognitive functions to intelligence more generally?
It’s easy for psychologists to give you a series of tests, have you practice some exercises, and then run follow-up tests to see if you improve better than people who didn’t do those exercises. But figuring out what the real-world benefits are to those improvements is much, much harder. A recent study of older adults given just ten hours of training found that even ten years later, they still enjoyed significant benefits in daily functioning. A hundred years of studies have proved that IQ tests and other tests of cognitive function are very, very predictive of real-world abilities. They’re not perfect—no test is—but on average, just like blood-pressure tests, they’re pretty good at predicting how you’ll do in the future. Many large corporations, as well as the U.S. military, give these tests not because they love tests, but because they really help pick out people who can be successful from those who just lack the ability to learn and function.
After you assess the results of your own cognitive training, you put it all in perspective by saying:
“And so what? Those are just numbers on a test. In the end, for all of us, the best test of cognitive abilities is one for which there is no answer key. It’s called life.”
Chances are, if you are reading this then you are at least passingly familiar with the emerging field of positive psychology.
Although every religious and philosophical tradition through antiquity has offered insight into the “good life” it is only in the last couple decades that we have truly been able to turn scientific attention to this important topic in a sophisticated way. Modern scientists have used careful research designs, validated assessments and rich theory to produce new and sometimes counter-intuitive ideas about age-old topics such as happiness, resilience, and hope.
Among the set-pieces of this modern movement are so-called “positive psychology interventions.” These are, more or less, simple behaviours in which a person can engage to improve her own well-being. The most famous of these is the “gratitude exercise.” In this exercise people are instructed to jot down “three things” for which they are grateful. The list might include a reliable automobile, a sunny afternoon, or a healthy child. The list will change from person to person and from time to time. The results are in, however: the gratitude exercise appears to boost individual happiness and buffer people from the deleterious effects of depression. This finding has been replicated and most famously so with a randomised controlled study conducted by positive psychology founder Martin Seligman and his colleagues.
Since that initial study appeared in 2005 there have been other positive psychology interventions that have been tested and have shown—at least in a preliminary way—evidence for small boosts in happiness. One of these is the “counting kindnesses” intervention conducted by Keiko Otake and her colleagues. As the name implies people who kept a tally of their daily kindnesses felt a little spring in their step as a result.
The publication of the counting kindnesses intervention set me to wondering what the causal mechanisms were that might form the foundation of positive psychology interventions. Could it be, for instance, that the gratitude exercise actually boosts appreciation and this improved mindfulness translates to a better mood? Or might it be that gratitude works primarily by reminding people to appreciate things they overlook, and in this ways functions primarily by acting as an antidote to the natural human tendency to adapt.
Privately, I have been worried by what I see as the uncritical acceptance of these intervention techniques by some coaches and other human service professionals. It’s nice to know that these techniques work — for the most part — but isn’t it even nicer to understand how they work?
For months I harbored a sneaking suspicion that positive psychology interventions such as counting kindnesses and the gratitude exercise were simply “listing interventions.” That is, I was curious to know if we might find the same rise in happiness if we had people simply list anything positive. Imagine having people keep a daily “courage diary” in which they listed three ways they didn’t let discomfort hold them back. Or picture a scenario in which people tally hopes, such as “three things that are likely to happen in the next two weeks that you are eagerly looking forward to.” Could it be that any instance of pen, paper and positivity constitutes an effective positive psychology intervention?
Interestingly, this exact premise was tested in a study that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. The researchers replicated the classic Seligman study using a sample of nearly 1,500 adults ranging in age from 18 to 72. They included the gratitude exercise, a “positive placebo” in which they had participants write for 10 minutes each evening about a positive memory, and a control placebo in which they had participants wrote for 10 minutes each evening about an early life memory (not necessarily a positive one). Using the same happiness assessment employed by Seligman in the original study, the researchers discovered that the positive memory exercise performed roughly in the same way that the gratitude exercise did: both boosted happiness and did so over three and six month follow-ups.
Now, on the one hand, it would seem that the researchers have created yet another positive psychology intervention. Hooray! We can now add the “positive memory exercise” to the stable of happiness boosting activities.
In the end, however, the researchers draw much the same conclusion I do: there is some common factor that acts as the therapeutic mechanism for many of these “listing interventions.” According to the researchers, engaging in any activity that makes positive self-information more accessible is likely to have a tonic effect on people. This does not mean that we should dismiss positive psychology exercises as somehow “fake.” It does mean that we should not rush to mental closure on their effectiveness or the ways in which we use them. This is an important study because it opens the door to exciting new research questions:
- Are there different types of positive psychology interventions?
- Will some types work better with certain people than with others?
- Are there people for whom these activities are contra-indicated?
- Is salient positive self-information as powerful as positive information about loved ones?
- How might these interventions be modified to be more effective across cultural boundaries?
We are just scratching the surface of these tools.
by Douglas Eby
What leads, urges, even compels so many of us to be creatively expressive?
Given that everyone is creative to some degree, why do many people choose careers in the arts, or work that actively engages their creativity?
Most of us will never be actors or other filmmakers – especially ones that are seen and acknowledged publicly – but many of those creators talk about what calls them to engage in creative work, despite the challenges.
One example: Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress on March 2, 2014 for her role in “12 Years a Slave.”
In her moving acceptance speech, she noted one source of inspiration for her portrayal of a slave: “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance.”
She also thanked director Steve McQueen: “You charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it’s been the joy of my life.”
Creating can be more or less dispassionate, guided by engineering, product development or social needs, for example – but much of what we value in the arts comes from a place in the soul as well as mind.
“Acting is hardly a common career in Kenya for the child of a powerful politician, but Nyong’o’s father, one-time health minister Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, said the family had always supported her dreams.
“She started acting very young, right from kindergarten, and even at home with just the family, she would come up with make-believe stories and perform them for us. She was always imaginative and creative.”
She “was inspired to follow an acting career after working as a production assistant on the 2005 drama ‘The Constant Gardener.’ Actor Ralph Fiennes then told her only to get into acting if she couldn’t live without it. “It’s not what I wanted to hear, but it’s what I needed to hear,” she said.
That idea of pursuing acting – or another art, of course – only if you “can’t live without it” or be happy unless you do it, is something many of the actors and other artists I have quoted over the years say fits for them and their own “calling.”
In her article “The Special Challenges of Highly Intelligent and Talented Women Who Are Moms,” Belinda Seiger writes that in her private psychotherapy practice and her personal life, she has “known many gifted women who seem to possess what I refer to as the ‘rage to achieve.’
“They are constantly driven to learn, to create and to be intellectually productive even while raising young children. Many of these women face periods of frustration when the demands of family and their need for intellectual immersion collides.”
But, Seiger adds, being a mother and actively engaged in other work is not easy: “As one friend who was getting her second master’s degree put it: ‘mass chaos’ ensues when one attempts to become immersed intellectually while simultaneously remaining attentive and available for family responsibilities…”
She notes that “Like gifted children and young adults; gifted adults are distinguishable not only by their IQ’s but by their intensity, multiple talents, high energy, curiosity and obsessive need to increase in-depth knowledge in subjects that interest them. Trying to ignore these qualities can result in a depressed mood, anxiety and feelings of being unfulfilled emotionally and intellectually.”
by Jeremy Dean, a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is “Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick“.
An ‘open monitoring’ style of meditation can promote divergent thinking, a crucial aspect of creativity, finds research published in the journalFrontiers in Cognition (Colzato et al., 2012).
Divergent thinking is the kind which is often used at the start of the creative process, in which new ideas are generated.
The typical psychological test of divergent thinking asks participants to name as many uses as they can for a mundane object like a brick or a pen.
In the study by Dr. Lorenza Colzato and colleagues, participants who’d been meditating in an ‘open monitoring’ style came up with the most uses for the mundane object.
An ‘open monitoring’ style of meditation is where you don’t focus on a particular object or sensation, such as your own breath; rather you pay attention to whatever thoughts or sensations you are experiencing at the time.
The results are fascinating because the study of how meditation affects creativity has had mixed results over the years.
Part of the problem is that there are many different types of creativity and many different types of meditation, which are not often delineated by the studies.
However, this is not the only study to make finer distinctions and show the benefits of meditation for creativity.
A study by Ren et al. (2011) has looked at another crucial area of creativity: problem-solving.
This requires different skills because it’s about gaining a vital insight into a problem that’s already defined.
In this study, people were given insight problems to try and solve.
The results showed that, compared with a control group, those who learned a simple meditation technique, involving focusing on the breath, solved more of the insight problems.
Benefits of meditation
Together these two studies suggest that different types of meditation may be useful for different aspects of creativity.
For generating new ideas, an open monitoring style performs best, then for solving an existing problem, a more focused attention style provides the best results.
It also may begin to show why the previous studies on the connection between meditation and creativity have provided such mixed results.
→ Read on: the benefits of meditation.
by Marina Illich, Co-founder and Principal at Broad Ventures Leadership
A Sioux saying has it that the longest journey we’ll ever make is the journey from our head to our heart. As an Ivy League-trained academic, some part of me still winces when I hear this kind of adage, thinking it sounds a bit trite or misguided.
But if there’s one thing that more than 20 years of mindfulness training has taught me, it’s this: Few challenges are more important than making that short and inestimably long trip from head to heart.
What brings me to this topic? America is in the throes of a “mindfulness revolution” (see Time magazine’s cover article and Wisdom 2.0). In every sector from business to politics, education, parenting and the military, people are using mindfulness techniques to become more self-aware.
This is good news. Across the nation, women and men are learning simple practices to handle the overwrought stresses of post-modernity with more grace and aplomb. Corporations are teaching executives how to increase focus and attention. Schools are teaching children to be more self-aware and self-regulating. And books offer sage counsel to help parents navigate modern child-raising without losing their marbles. In myriad ways, mindfulness is offering us critical and fabulous skills to slow down and reconnect.
But I also see a worrisome trend afoot. Increasingly, mindfulness is being equated with stress reduction or learning how to center under pressure to enhance performance. This is cause for alarm.
The intention of mindfulness is not to make us more “chill” with the insanities and inanities of our post-modern lives.
It is not designed to help us better tolerate the steam-rolling experience of 12-hour work days and three-hour commutes, short shrift meals and dwindling hours of sleep. It is not there to make us endlessly up our performance inside a crushing cascade of information overload. And it is certainly not designed to have us watch calmly as the earth’s weather patterns erupt into a contagion of calamity.
Mindfulness is not meant to make us better at living lives that drain our ingenuity, silence our compassion, or demoralize us into a state of collective catatonia.
The purpose of mindfulness is to wake us up. It’s designed to reconnect us with our intrinsic ingenuity and our indestructible, innate excellence. The Buddhist world that modern mindfulness practices emerged from is explicit about this: human beings are wired for excellence.
It maintains six ways — known in Buddhist Sanskrit as paramitas – that we are designed to be extraordinary.
1) We are wired to do the right thing, no matter how much the world tests us.
2) We are wired to tolerate what feels intolerable to become fearless in making the world a better place.
3) We are wired for stamina, the kind that has us stand by our vision, unflagging, even when no one believes in us.
4) We are wired to be decisive, acute and undeterred in pursuing what really matters.
5) We are wired to see ourselves and others with the wisdom of kindness and tolerance.
6) And, finally, we are wired to kindle greatness in others through our generosity of spirit.
I’ve taken some liberty in translating from the Sanskrit to make a point: Mindfulness is not about retreating into some bastion of heady, personal calm. Mindfulness is about courageously turning our hearts inside out so that we can actualize our deeply human ability to find solutions and stand in our universal goodness, no matter what the circumstances.
Practice mindfulness to be calmer. Hone your breathing meditation so you can be more resilient at work and more present with your kids. Do your noting practice so that you know yourself better. But more than anything, practice mindfulness to break your heart open to your extraordinary excellence and the excellence of everyone around you.
Maybe, just maybe, if we do this kind of work – thankless, heartbreaking, and upending though it may be – we can usher in the kind of collective ingenuity that our world calls for.
All of these articles, along with many others, are included in this week’s new collection of ideas about creativity and learning and leadership and resilience and happiness, when the new collection publishes online on Friday 7th March.