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Social Strategies for Creativity

My Take

This article has a few great topics for us. I think the primary message is the first one. One of the best ways to be creative is to be open to all kinds of ideas and experiences (the Openness to Experience trait of the Five Factor model) and to frequently expose yourself to new and novel ones. It is possible to do this by following a diverse group of thought leaders who post intelligent content. Of course, it is also possible for social media to put you into a filter bubble and dive down into the depths of narrow-minded ignorance. So choose wisely.

So we’ve got an idea of where writer’s block is happening – but what can you do to fight against it? There’s no pill you can take to make it go away, but there are some simple things that you can try to loosen up your frontal lobe, all recommended by Dr. Huston in 1998:

Read someone else’s writing. Studies have shown that people are more creative when they’re exposed to the creative ideas of others. Just make sure you’re only inspired by their writing and not copying from it.

The author of this article, Maya Sapiurka, makes it a point to follow her favorite authors who share their creative processes as they go through it, including how they experience and deal with writer’s block. It helps her when she has to deal with it herself.

I see three major challenges of using social media for our creative exposure.

  • We can be shortsighted when deciding who to follow. The temptation to follow people based on fun, self-satisfaction, or other reasons that might be counterproductive for creative exploration.
  • When posting, the people we follow are naturally (both consciously and unconsciously) self-selective in what they share. An old finding is that we overshare the positive and undershare the negative – misleading our followers that are lives are better than they really are.
  • Our ability to understand the true meaning behind what these thought leaders are posting is limited by the typically short length, short time we spend skimming, and our preconceived ideas about what it will mean.

The second message comes from some neuroscientific findings on creativity and brainstorming. Both strongly leverage the frontal lobe, particularly the language areas. But there is a striking difference. Brainstorming had a stronger link to areas associated with semantic processing such as planning and control. Creative writing had a stronger link to areas associated with episodic memory.

Your Turn

OK, OK, I have acknowledged many times before that the links between neuroscience and tangible applications in human factors. But this finding is a great source of hypotheses. Why could brainstorming be more semantic and creative writing be more episodic?

I have some ideas, but I would rather hear yours first. Please share.

Image Credit: fancycrave1

4 thoughts on “Social Strategies for Creativity”

  1. I remember there being a link between the mental processes involved in processing humour (watching funny stuff) and creativity. The one promoted the other. Both involve unexpected content and sudden changes in the frame or context. Not sure if the area of the brain correlates, likely more of a relationship between the skill-sets involved. Which might mean it has to do with the same area of the brain, or perhaps not.
    Not sure if there is an answer to this question, but do similar skill sets exist in the same area of the brain, even for domains as different as humour and problem solving?

    And this is well worth repeating:
    ” it is also possible for social media to put you into a filter bubble and dive down into the depths of narrow-minded ignorance. So choose wisely.”
    Its tough to escape the bubble!

    1. Great points! This is one of the reasons why we have to be carefully attributing causation to correlation. Many of our thought processes involve many brain areas because they require many different kinds of processing. For example just about all processes use working memory, so any brain area involved in working memory is going to be active. If that is during processing of humor, we can’t say that the brain area is dedicated to humor processing, it is simply involved in working memory. If creativity also involved working memory, then the same brain area will be active. But not because they are similar (although they might be) – simply because they both use working memory.

      So the only way to investigate whether humor and creativity involve similar brain processing is to look at the whole brain and see if they involve many of the same areas and if any of those areas are unique to these two kinds of processing but not dozens of others as well. THEN, we can come to that kind of conclusion with some confidence.

  2. Meant to answer the question you posed, but forgot. Regarding “Why could brainstorming be more semantic and creative writing be more episodic?”

    I believe brainstorming involves reasoning. Creative writing involves narrative. These (I argue fortunately) are very different processes. Reasoning and brainstorming involve logical assembly and order. Creativity and narrative involve something called ‘verisimilitude’ – is the content similar enough to some event that it is believable. So creativity is not semantic, it is more related to flashes of similarity. Which brainstorming is only to a certain degree. Maybe some types of brainstorming are episodic?
    I hadn’t articulated this stuff until this post made me think about it. Thanks for it.

    1. One of the main objectives of this site is to evoke “I hadn’t articulated this stuff until this post made me think about it.” You just made my week!!!

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