A series of ten articles transferred from Dr. Huhn’s earlier blog posts

Some Fundamentals of the Creative Process and the Transfers into Real Life Innovations

Fifth article:

Phase II of the creative process (continued):

Creativity and the processes within the brain

The assertion made in the early 1960s of the last century based on superficial perceptions of so-called hemispheric research that the non-linguistic part of the cerebrum (in our culture the right cerebrum for most people) was responsible for creativity had to be quickly dropped. A fixed localization of creativity is utterly absurd because of the manifold and complex processes. Even a single location in the cerebrum would disregard the influences of the limbic system and possibly other regions of the vertical structures up to the brain stem.

The decisive factors for stronger or weaker forms of creativity seem to be the ability to consciously relax deeply (the production of substances triggered by stress situations that inhibit or block the flow of information between the nerve cells usually prevents creative solutions) and the question of how strong or weak a more risk-prone, rule-breaking or a safety-oriented and rule-compliant posture pattern has developed due to complex psychological constellations.

There is still a lot of room for further research here so that we will quickly leave these unexplained aspects behind, as we are concerned with practical solutions in this series. Concerning very practical questions, however, science has provided us with useful insights in recent decades as to which factors are more likely to promote creative solutions and which are more likely to hinder or prevent them.

The so-called creative techniques or methods, most of which were developed from practical experience, thus received meaningful justifications in retrospect.

Convergent and divergent thinking

An example is distinguishing a convergent from a divergent thinking style. In convergent thinking, efforts are made to get to the point as quickly as possible, a quick solution, a decision. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is about approaching a task in such a way that as many different possible solutions as possible are found before a decision is reached.

Both thinking styles have advantages and disadvantages. Too quickly to find a solution can mean not having found a qualitatively good solution at all, so that later on, continuous improvements become necessary or the solution even appears to be unsuitable. In most cases, this way does not lead to creative solutions at all (in the sense of the 2nd order according to Watzlawick) but to pseudo-innovations. The advantage of convergent thinking is a quick procedure and the achievement of quick results.

Thus the main disadvantage of divergent thinking becomes clear: it costs time, and divergent thinkers are usually able to avoid decisions completely because they think there could still be a better solution. However, the advantage of divergent thinking also lies here: dissatisfaction with the results, which are quickly obvious, considerably increases the chance of actually inventing something original, something qualitatively really new and better.

Usually, people are fixed on one or the other style of thinking and have considerable reservations against people who cultivate the opposite style of thinking. This is one of the main causes of conflict. The convergent thinker feels as seriously disturbed in his approach by the divergent as the divergent by the convergent.

The highly creative people can change between the thinking styles depending on the process phase and usually do this quite intuitively.

Let's look at the use of both thinking styles in the course of the creative process:

In the first phase, it depends on the problem penetration, and definition of the solution sought: Convergent thinking is important..

In the incubation phase (II.) and in the discovery phase (III.), divergent thinking is essential and then in Phase IV make convergent decisions again and implement the solution.

Convergent – divergent thinking style

Convergent – divergent thinking style

A competent manager or a team in self-control should therefore bring people of both thinking styles together as far as possible. It is then a question of good moderation to make these connections conscious in advance. In the process, it depends then on the fact that each thinking style can bring itself in in the suitable phase sufficiently clearly and the opposition holds itself back despite resisting emotions. The next step is to get it back on track.

So the crucial rule in brainstorming is to hold back with criticism and to produce as many solutions as possible at high speed, developed precisely to give the divergent thinkers the necessary space to »play« . Unfortunately, in 90% of the cases exactly this rule is not kept, and the so-called brainstorming becomes a fake-brainstorming with an overflowing discussion. Here it can be seen that mechanically applied creativity methods without a deeper understanding of the background not only do not bring any benefit but can even cause damage (to those involved). The divergent thinkers withdraw after several such experiences, and the creative potentials of the people, as well as the methods, remain unused.

This brings us to the methods and techniques that can be used in the creative process. You have two goals:

On the one hand, they can increase the variety and quality of the possible solutions, on the other hand, they can accelerate the process of incubation.

The methods become effective when, after the first necessary emphasis on the primarily analytical, logical, sequential and structured approach (which most people in our culture develop in the left cerebral hemisphere). During the next step they switch to a stronger emphasis on analogous, metaphorical, pictorial, simultaneous, paradoxical, non-logical thought operations (which most people in our culture localize in the right cerebral hemisphere).

To clear up misunderstandings, both hemispheres (and many other brain areas) are always involved. It is not about an exclusive either/or, but about a stronger dominance of one or the other side, an increase or decrease of the respective activities with simultaneous maintenance of a balanced back and forth exchange via the connecting strand, the corpus callosum, between both hemispheres.

And don’t bother if you belong to the majority or to the minority (simultanous thinking on the left side and sequential thinking on the right side). This may be important for other considerations but for the stimulation of the creativity it is only important to be aware of the possible dominance of one or the other side, to be able to switch, and to reach a balance if wished.

We must always bear in mind that it is an enormous challenge for the brain to switch from the usual sequential, logical, linguistically dominant thinking to the non-logical, simultaneous, pictorial, paradoxical thinking. Let's recall the story with the throwing of oxen and the explanatory problem pyramid: Now it is a matter of jumping from the level in which one has get stuck up to now or in which the problem is located into one of the logically and hierarchically higher levels.

Here lurks the fear of the unknown, the new, the risk.

Creativity  means first and foremost to develop courage for the new.

Due to the particular psychological components of the incubation phase (restlessness, frustration, feelings of inferiority, an impression of personal incompetence up to extreme tension, strategies of displacement, avoidance, escape - e.g., producing another problem, black-peter-game, denial, etc.) many give up at this stage.

Creative people, on the other hand, show frustration tolerance, patience, perseverance, continuous changes of tension between further intense effort and complete letting go, »switching off«, delegating problem-solving to the unconscious (or, to use another metaphor in this context, »the non-verbal hemisphere«).

Thus the best creativity techniques promote not only the interplay of both cerebral hemispheres but also the cooperation between the front and back brain areas by overcoming blockades of fear, filters of perception and intense contradictions between old stored experiences and necessary new perspectives and contents.

The deeper secret of creativity has not yet been revealed. At best, we know a little more about the circumstances that tend to allow creativity. But we must also acquire this knowledge and make it usable. 

The thoughtless use of creativity techniques does not help much, and can even be harmful.

Creativity is not a single, methodical act, which is often underestimated by those who, on the public stage, demand more innovation from a certain push of a button mentality, but themselves have little connection to the sensitive, complex personal borderline situations of creative thinking, which for creative people are often psychologically connected with a roller coaster of extreme feelings - from deep frustration and depression to free-floating euphoria.

On the individual level, creating something new in thought is a question of consciousness, inner attitude and personal dealings with fantasy, the irrational and the illogical. 

It is necessary to perceive differently than usual, to overcome fear and to develop enthusiasm. 

Creativity has to do with the willingness to set oneself goals and to pursue them with commitment and perseverance. But just as important is the ability to play, and ultimately the creative in man is very often (or always?) a question of the heart, of love, of devotion. 

When creativity is demanded, it is necessary to create the space in which »das Schöpfungswerk der Seele« (German poet Friedrich Schiller - the deeper miracles of the soul) can unfold. In any case, it is beneficial to establish a friendly relationship with the visual, emotional, sensual, synthesizing, holistic hemisphere.

All this said, I would like to introduce you to the two most recommendable methods, but if you are interested in a variety of methods and would like to gain a deeper understanding, please refer to my colleague’s, co-Author and friend Hendrik Backerra clearly laid out pocketbook full of practical tips »Kreativitätstechniken«, published in the Pocket Power series of Hanser Verlag (available only in German language).

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