How’s this for mad science: Within the next 15 years, people could elect to have their brains “zapped” to boost creativity in the workplace or classroom.
The process — based on functional studies — is headed up by Adam Green, director of the Georgetown Laboratory for Relational Cognition and president-elect of the Society for the Neuroscience of Creativity. Green’s team looked at blood flow as a measure of brain cell activity when people were doing creative tasks. The process pointed them to one region of the brain in particular so they decided to test whether stimulating the area could make creative thinking easier.
“We zap people’s brains in a targeted way based on these studies,” Green says. The researchers hope to make creative neuroscience more available to the general public down the line.
If you don’t have a brain-stimulation tool and are looking to think outside the box, We’ve got research-backed tips for upping your creativity outside the lab. Here’s how.
1. Exercise your creativity like a muscle.
One surefire way to boost creative thinking: Try. No, really! “Creativity isn’t made out of a magical fairy part of the brain,” Green says. “It’s essentially using all the same tools that go into doing everything else, but applying those tools in creativity-specific ways.”
Research shows that when people try to think more creatively, they almost always can — and those effects are both significant and repeatable. Green points to an “age-old adage” in neuroscience that “cells that fire together, wire together.” The idea is that the more you use your brain to do something, the stronger the connections between the cells involved become.
But the key to this is dedicating more time in your day to actively thinking, which usually means unplugging from email, social media and more. That’s the way to unlock “the digressive, slow, uncertain parts of ourselves that are key to our creativity,” said Maggie Jackson.
Try implementing this idea in your everyday routine by avoiding bringing your phone to bed or to the bathroom. It’s also a good idea to turn off notification settings. Consider dedicating specific time in your day to thinking creatively — and remind yourself to do so before any brainstorming session.
2. Change up your surroundings — even minimally.
“The best trick I know isn’t very,” Green says. Data support that creativity “nudges” can come from changes as small as a warmer cup of coffee or different colours in the room. Try switching out some of the items on your desk, orienting yourself differently or doing an overhaul of the bulletin board you sit facing. Know that those “nudges” don’t only pertain to your physical surroundings — they’re also connected to your social setting.
Take advantage of opportunities to periodically work in different areas of the office, sit with new colleagues or invite people from different departments to lunch. Although you might not have much control over your work environment, making any possible adjustments could translate to a significant creativity boost.
“You want your physical and social surroundings to change,” says Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioural Research and Technology. “If it’s the same old stuff on the walls and your desk — and the same people you’re talking to — that’s not necessarily good for creativity.”