It’s exciting to think that we may one day understand the mysteries of our brains. But we should also remember how little we know now, despite a growing body of neuroscience research.
If this area interests you, I really recommend you read this post by Keith Sawyer. He talks fMRI, voxels and neurons and lists the following five points to keep us grounded:
1. For the most part, brain imaging has discovered facts that were already known from classic experimental cognitive psychology. We have no breakthrough surprises; no 1970s experimental findings have been overturned.
2. All thought involves many regions of the brain. There is no such thing as “the brain location for creativity” or anything else.
3. You can’t use brain imaging to make claims about causation, such as “activation in this part of the brain caused you to have a creative insight,” because the activated areas might not play a critical role in performing the task; they might be “listening” or monitoring some other brain area that is actually responsible.
4. Because the brain imaging results are always averaged over many trials and many subjects, it is incorrect to interpret the studies as showing that “creativity is located in the anterior cingulate cortex” (or wherever).
5. Higher cognitive functions, like creativity, are complex and involve many parts of the brain simultaneously. They can’t be reduced to one small location in the brain. And when you think about it, that’s just common sense.
Maria Popova has posted about new research looking at creativity and narcissm. It found that people with narcissistic tendencies were not only more likely to say they were creative; they also were more likely to do creative things.
If you have an iPad, you may be interested in an app called Unstuck, which aims to help power you through your creativity and productivity challenges. I don’t have an iPad so I can’t vouch for it’s quality, but I do appreciate their frequent email newsletters. The latest looks at failure, and advises what to do about it:
1. Own it. Failure is a powerful instructor — when we let it. If our knee jerk reaction to making a mistake is to play the blame-game, to rail that the world is against us, that bad luck follows us like a rain cloud, we need to hit pause, take a breath, and let go of the anger, guilt, fear, or shame. This will make room for us to examine our own actions and behaviors so we can ultimately produce the results we want.
2. Ask and answer objectively. This is as much about finding the good in the mistake as the cause of it. To help you get at the big takeaways, nitty gritty, and human element of what happened, use our checklist list of questions.
3. List lessons and changes to make. Most likely, as you answer the checklist questions, ideas will spring to mind about how and why to do things differently. Jot them down as you think of them. Then step away from this process for a day or two before you review your answers again to see if more solutions occur to you.
4. Name the opportunity. It’s possible that your discoveries will lead you to a new or revised goal. It did for the makers of Play-Doh, which was initially sold as wallpaper cleaner. And for Pfizer, when it discovered that the side effects of a not-so-effective blood pressure medicine could be parlayed into the drug Viagra.
5. Get feedback. Share your answers and lesson list with someone you trust and admire. For just about any situation, getting feedback from a valued source brings a fresh perspective and insights that will enhance your approach.
To finish, more science. One of the world’s most influential management gurus, Clay Christensen, made the argument back in 2011 that academic and medical research supports the idea that innovative tendencies are not genetic. Rather, they can be developed. He quotes research on twins:
…roughly 80 percent to 85 percent of the twins’ performance on general intelligence (IQ) tests could be attributed to genetics. So general intelligence (at least the way scientists measure it) is basically a genetic endowment, but creativity is not. Nurture trumps nature as far as creativity goes. Six other creativity studies of identical twins confirm the Reznikoff et al. result: roughly 25 percent to 40 percent of what we do innovatively stems from genetics. That means that roughly two-thirds of our innovation skills still come through learning—from first understanding the skill, then practicing it, and ultimately gaining confidence in our capacity to create.
Added to that it was interesting to read an article this week by Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London. He argues against a claim by Michael Gove’s special adviser that as much as 70% of a child’s academic performance is genetically derived:
A closer look shows just how misleading it is to use heritability as a key to educational policy. For both height and IQ, the measure for children is far lower than for adults, since they respond much more readily to their circumstances: the IQ of a poor child adopted into a well-off household usually rises by several points. For 10-year-olds, the heritability of IQ is, in some studies, as little as 20 per cent.
With adults, social position also plays a major part. In America, with its extremes of wealth and poverty, the heritability of IQ among the poorest tenth is a fraction of their equivalents at the other end of the income scale: their miserable circumstances allow few among them to show their potential. For geneticists, the more we learn about DNA, the more important the environment appears.
So I think it’s reasonable to say that no matter how much we think that we are born intelligent, or creative, there are still many mitigating factors that can increase it – for instance by creating a more conducive environment and introducing helpful methods and tools.