Unravelling Creativity – Part 1

Torrents of creativity

The other day at one of our meetings, we were talking about how a lot of companies are redefining their competency framework to include an element of creativity/ innovation in it. A lot of training programs have suddenly sprung up which claim to be developing ‘creative skills’. However, as I study creativity/ innovation more and more, I realise that at least in the Indian context, developing creativity is less of a learning journey and more of an unlearning journey.

We all know that our brain consists of two hemispheres. Each has a different function – logical ability, mathematical ability and linguistic ability are all left brain activities whereas emotional intelligence, spatial intelligence and visual ability are right brain activities. From our very childhood, the Indian learning curriculum focuses much more heavily on logical and mathematical ability. Lately, there has been some focus on linguistic intelligence also. As such, the way we are trained since our childhood, our left brain tends to dominate in all our thinking processes.

Creativity, on the other hand is a whole brain activity. It consists of first, redesigning the problem at hand and converting it into various forms to arrive at multiple solutions. For instance, consider the following problem –

Jack and Jill are lying dead on the floor of a room. There’s a window in the room. There is a little water and some broken glass around the two dead bodies. No wounds, no blood, no evident signs of injury. How did Jack and Jill die?

The standard left brain response to the problem would be to examine the evidence one-by-one, ask a series of logical questions to arrive at the solution. The creative (whole-brain) response would be to first use all our faculties to redesign the problem from the very beginning. Who are Jack and Jill would be the first question – and in that question itself lies the answer – Jack and Jill are fishes!

Having said that the more dominant side of a standard Indian is the left side, we look at a product/ process/ concept with a dominant mental pattern which relies heavily on the data available for the senses to see/feel/hear etc. This does have its advantages if the problem is straight forward – we do not tend to re-invent the wheel and our response time is faster. However, in the absence of such structured data we tend to get lost as our ability to think differently has been supressed for a very long time (since we started our schooling).

As such, learning creative thinking skills for most of us really is more about unlearning some of the habits that we have picked up since we were kids – excessive reliance on data, being drawn to structure and repetition and ‘logical’ problem solving.