You might think that playing hooky from work on a Wednesday afternoon to go for a walk with your friends is counter-productive. It’s a week day between 9am-5pm afterall, shouldn’t you be doing something useful?
If we’re engaged in creative work, however, this may be precisely what we need to have a breakthrough on our project.
Let me explain.
Last week, I wrote about the types of problems*. Our creative problems, like writing that novel or communicating our message through provocative design, are open-ended problems. These require more creative thinking skills and a creative process to work through them.
Open-ended problems call for insight and unusual associations in order to arrive at the most impactful outcomes. They can’t be logically figured out. Unfortunately, insight and inspiration isn’t on call, we can’t force it to show up when we want it to.
However, we can set our environment up to help it come to us. We can show inspiration we’re listening – but we have to listen in a different way.
Insight and inspiration require a more absorbing, open-minded state. We need to tone down the volume of our judgemental, critical thoughts to allow room for more sensory information to sneak in. When we’re in this open-minded state, the back of our brain is more active, the part that holds our visual centre, our hearing and our association centres. We start to venture off the beaten track of our neurological circuits and find new pathways, new ideas and now combinations of ideas that could just be exactly what we’re looking for.
That’s how we find ourselves walking through the sub-tropical rainforest on a Wednesday afternoon with our friends…
Nature has an incredibly calming effect on the brain. So does routine, habitual tasks like walking, driving a very familiar route, doing household chores. Things that we do so often they involve little or no conscious thought anymore. This environment naturally puts us in the absorbing, open-minded state we need to receive insight.
This is nothing new, of course, many great thinkers, artists and innovators have had a daily walk in nature as part of their process. But in our busy, connected world, we have lost touch with leisure being productive.
Be warned, however, when used in the wrong part of your creative process this kind of activity can be procrastination, distraction and unproductive. We definitely don’t want that, so how can we be sure?
Most creative processes have a period of incubation. Generally we’ve had a wee spark of curiosity, we’ve spent time researching, experimenting and exploring – filling our brain with data. We send the data to the back of our brain for processing: review, categorise, reflect, connect, and ultimately, report back your findings.
The front of our brain can only review one piece of information at a time. A then b then c… etc. This becomes a bit of a trial and error logical approach – ok for unreasonable problems. Eg, Edison’s lightbulb. There was one solution, lots of possible routes and he tried 10,000 of these, one after the other until he found it (incidentally, there was some insight in there too).
The back of our brain, however, can process lots of bits of information concurrently, mix and match these bits of information, link it into existing associations, memories, knowledge and experience and then filter back what it believes are the most important findings.
This kind of broad thinking is quick, but you can’t consciously control it. It is during this phase of your creative process, when we are stuck, when we are unsure of the next step, when we are bored or exhausted from thinking about it so much – it is then that we need to break away, spend time in nature, distract ourselves and have some fun.
You may be surprised how productive that can be when the right insight drops in and helps you make progress that seemed out of reach earlier.
Just remember to take some mechanism for recording your insights – a notebook, a phone you can record your idea on. Insights have a tendency to fade quickly.
Want more help to reach your creative and financial goals? Drop a “Me please” in the comments below and I’ll reach out.
* For details on the full article, reach out. To summarise though, the 3 problem types are: Reasonable (one solution and a road map to get there), Unreasonable (one solution and no road map or logical route to find it) and Open-ended problems (lots of possible outcomes and lots of possible ways to get there that are usually not logical).