Secrets of the Creative Mind: The 3 Bs

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Whether you work in a creative field or not, you’re no doubt called on to think creatively almost every day as you take on new challenges in work, school and life.

But, you might wonder, where does creativity come from? How do creative minds come up with their inspiration? How can I be more creative?

Many people think that creatives have a special kind of thought process, some remarkable way of thinking, different from everyday thinking, that leads them to a sudden burst of creative insight.

Not so, says Washington University psychologist R. Keith Sawyer, author of Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. According to Sawyer, your brain uses the same mental building blocks whether you’re being creative or just doing regular problem solving, such as figuring out the best freeway route or balancing a checkbook.

But, you might say, what about that “aha!” moment we hear so much about? We’ve all experienced it—a moment of sudden clarity, where a creative solution presents itself.

If you think back over the setting for your “aha!” moment, says Sawyer, chances are it took place where ideas have often, and famously, emerged: the bed, the bathtub or the bus: The Three Bs. If you’ve been sitting in front of your computer for hours, take a break. When you take time off from working on a problem, and change the context, you begin to activate different areas of your brain that can approach the problem in a different way. Rest, hot water, or new scenery might just do the trick when plugging away didn’t.

Personally, I like to hike or swim laps while working on a creative problem. The repetitive motion and lack of distractions makes me able to think clearly and come up with an idea. What was the setting for your last “aha!”moment?