Rather, creative thinking is our brain networks firing on all cylinders to make new neural connections. Creative thinking is not a left-brain function (as previously thought), it is an all-brain function.
Creativity researcher Scott Barry Kaufman suggests that the entire creative process – preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification – requires interplay between three brain networks. The Imagination Network lights up when we think divergently, explore and engage with new ideas. The Executive Attention Network brings us back down to earth with practicalities and critical thinking. Our Salient Network allows us to toggle between imaginative and critical thinking, and to take in outside information, connect with past memories, and play with meaning making. When creative thinking happens, our brain lights up like a Christmas tree.
To use more common analogies, our Imagination Network enables what Thinking Fast and Slow author, Daniel Kahneman refers to as ‘System 1’ thinking whereas our Executive Attention Network enables ‘System 2’ thinking. Normally System 1 and System 2 work separately. However, creative thinking requires that we switch fluidly between the two systems depending on the task. The better we get at doing this, the more creative we become.
System 1: Imaginative Thinking
Incubation and Illumination
Emotions and past experiences
Working memory (short-term)
System 2: Rational thinking
Preparation and Verification
Episodic memory (long-term)
The Sweet Spot
When experienced rap artists create spontaneously, they access their well-honed improvisation skills, their inner critic shuts off, they feel elation, and they report that the words flow from their lips like magic.
Though flow might seem magical, anyone can access it. In creative work, our creative thinking can become so fluid that we lose our self-consciousness. We’ve hit the sweet spot, work becomes fun, and we access the full extent of our idea-generating, problem-solving awesomeness.
References and Contributions
- Adam Grant. Discusses the Art of Managing Fear. The Quiet Leadership Institute blog. http://www.quietrev.com/adam-grant-discusses-the-art-of-managing-fear/
- Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg. (2016). Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
- Daniel Goleman. (2006). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
- Daniel Kahneman. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow.
- Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire. (2015). Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.
- Scott Barry Kaufman and Jerome L. Singer. (2012). The creativity of dual process “System 1” thinking’. Scientific American blog.
- Tom Kelley and David Kelley. (2015). Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All.
- J.S. Mueller, S. Melwani, J. Goncalo. (2012). The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire Yet Reject Creative Ideas Psychological Science; 21(1), 13-17.
- Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle. (2015). Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry.