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How to Cultivate Your Creativity

19 December 2015

From Scientific American:

Around the time that his cult-classic, drug-culture novel Naked Lunch was released, author William S. Burroughs was experimenting with a writing strategy that he called the cut-up technique. Burroughs would chop up random lines of text from a page and rearrange them to form new sentences, with the aim of freeing his mind and the minds of his readers from conventional, linear ways of thinking.

Beat Generation writers such as Burroughs sought to dismantle old belief systems and to encourage alternative ways of looking at the world. They celebrated intellectual exploration, engagement in art and music, unconventionality and deep spiritual questioning. Perhaps no artist captured this spirit more than Jack Kerouac, whose novels have become manifestos for adventure and nonconformity.

The revelations and methods of Burroughs, Kerouac and other Beat writers illuminated an important truth about creativity, which is now backed by scientific research: we need new and unusual experiences to think differently. In fact, cultivating a mind-set that is open and explorative might be the best thing we can do for our creative work. As Kerouac famously wrote, “The best teacher is experience.”

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Among the “big five” personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism), openness to experience is absolutely essential to creativity. Those who are high in openness tend to be imaginative, curious, perceptive, creative, artistic, thoughtful and intellectual. They are driven to explore their own inner worlds of ideas, emotions, sensations, and fantasies and, outwardly, to constantly seek out and attempt to make meaning of new information in their environment.

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Research conducted by one of us (Kaufman) for his doctoral dissertation suggests that there are at least three major forms of cognitive engagement making up the core of openness. Intellectual engagement is characterized by a searching for truth, a love of problem solving and a drive to engage with ideas, whereas affective engagement has to do with exploration of the full depths of human emotion and is associated with a preference for using gut feeling, emotions, empathy and compassion to make decisions. Finally, those who are high in aesthetic engagement exhibit a drive toward exploring fantasy and art and tend to experience emotional absorption in beauty. Kaufman found intellectual engagement to be associated with creative achievement in the sciences and affective engagement and aesthetic engagement to be linked with artistic creativity.

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Looking at creativity across the arts and sciences, Kaufman and his colleagues found that openness to experience was more highly correlated with total creative achievement than other factors that had been traditionally associated with creativity, such as IQ, divergent thinking and other personality traits. Together these findings suggest the drive for exploration, in its many forms, may be the single most important personal factor predicting creative achievement.

Indeed, openness to experience speaks to our desire and motivation to engage with ideas and emotions—to seek truth and beauty, newness and novelty—and the act of exploring often provides the raw material for great artistic and scientific innovations.

Link to the rest at Scientific American


5 Comments to “How to Cultivate Your Creativity”

  1. In other words go do something else! Take a drive, watch a movie, play a game, surf the web — heck, go read a book.

    While you’re doing any of those things your hind-brain will be thinking random thoughts — some of which might be useful ideas for your projects.

  2. Great post. Thanks.

  3. I believe it. I set out on the road, often flat broke, to find my voice as a writer. Went through many life-threatening experiences along the way and traveled through about 50 countries. Returned to the United States after 35 years with a lot of living under my belt.

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