We solve problems for a living. As a result, we are constantly seeking that elusive creative insight, that “Aha!” moment where the clouds part and the answer becomes perfectly clear. We’ve all experienced it – that magical moment where you see an answer clearly in your mind, often when you least expect it.
I attended a lecture recently by the author Jonah Lehrer who explores how inspiration happens in the brain in his most recent book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.
Lehrer studied neuroscience as an undergraduate, so he approaches the subject from the scientist’s viewpoint. But he also incorporates culture and environment into his analysis of what engenders creativity. If we understand it better, can we train ourselves to be more creative?
It is a fascinating book full of stories of insight on everything from Bob Dylan’s song lyrics to the invention of a new type of mop. He visits 3M, a company with a uniquely long track record of innovation. There he learns how important “not concentrating” is to their researchers. They believe intense focus is not the path to insight. You have to pair that focus with relaxation, downtime, a walk in the woods, or maybe a game of ping pong.
One of the scientific discoveries discussed in the book is that a flurry of alpha waves occurs in the right hemisphere of the brain during moments of insight. Alpha waves are associated with relaxing activities like taking a warm shower. Joydeep Bhattacharya is a psychologist in London whose work Lehrer cites in the book. Bhattacharya says, “That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers. For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of their day.”
So when the answer to that thorny problem seems illusive, maybe it’s time to get away from the office and waste some time so your brain can really get to work.
As founder and Chief Executive Officer, Stephanie has engineered the growth of Advent into one of the world’s leading providers of software and services to the investment management industry.