Thinking Different: Unlocking the Keys to Your Creativity

Written by John M. Eger appeared in Huffington Post on 4/19/12.

The holy grail of success in the new economy is “thinking differently,” according to the latest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer.

“The invention of the Swifter,” he says, “is a tale of Creativity… [because] Harry West and his team managed to think differently about something we do everyday.”

Steve Jobs was close.

Years ago, Jobs launched an Apple advertising campaign called “Think Different,” featuring Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon (with Yoko Ono), Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson (with Kermit the Frog), Frank Lloyd Wright and Pablo Picasso.

The copy said simply:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

But we don’t have to an Einstein, or even crazy, to be creative and innovative. We do have to let go, imagine, connect the dots, or as Lehrer puts it “form new connections between old ideas.”

We also have to draw on both sides of our brain.

This, of course, is the argument of Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Brainers Will Rule the Future. Pink says, “The era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities — inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate. That’s the argument at the center (of his thesis) which uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for understanding the contours of our times.”

Author and educator Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi describes getting both sides of the brain to work together as “flow… a mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”

Drawing on both the right and the left logical side is more difficult in large part because we have not used the right side much. Most education aims at nurturing the left side so after a time the right side kind of atrophies.

Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain advocates, “suppressing” the left side of the brain in favor of the right side. As Tony Schwartz, author of The Art of the Mind describes the process: “It focuses on disregarding preconceived notions of what the drawn object should look like, and on individually ‘seeing’ edges or lines, spaces, relationships, and lights and shadows, later combining them and seeing them as a whole, or gestalt.”

Betty Edwards’s methods are simply to have students paint something upside down. Another common technique — one used by many art teachers — is to “gesso” or paint over each day’s work. Since we all tend to rework each piece until we have something we like, this ‘destructive process’ sets us free to start over again and not get too attached to each effort. Being bold sometimes means using your fingers instead of a brush or painting on cardboard instead of canvas. Or as Helen Frankenthaler, who “helped point art in fresh directions after the initial post-World War II explosion of Abstract Expressionism” preferred: mops and sponges.

Learning to be creative opens the door to painting or performing or pursuing a new vocation or hobby. Unfortunately, we live in a left-brained world and most people have forgotten how to exercise the right hemisphere. It takes time and effort to relearn, to let go, be creative. Making mistakes, taking risks, experimenting is all part of the formula.

Yet there is profound hope because “we are all born creative,” as creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson asserts.


John M. Eger About John Eger

John M. Eger, Van Deerlin Endowed Professor of Communications and Public Policy and Director of the Creative Economy Initiative at San Diego State University teaches in the School of Journalism and Media Studies, and the SDSU Honors Program.

He is an author and lecturer on the subjects of creativity and innovation, education and economic development, and also serves as President of The World Foundation for Smart Communities, a research and educational organization dedicated to helping local communities connect to the global economy.

A former Adviser to two Presidents and Director of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy he helped spearhead the restructuring of America’s telecom Industry and was Senior Vice President of CBS responsible for worldwide enterprises, which opened China to commercial television.

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Thinking Different: Unlocking the Keys to Your Creativity

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