If you’re reading this article, it’s likely because you are CRAVING a little creativity in your life: imaginative future vignettes about your personal creative scenarios or the harvest of ideas emerging from full-blown, collaborative experiences that are orchestrated with your team to drive remarkable innovation. If you are seeking innovation, change, and growth in your personal and professional life, then your answer might be both.
While the sources of creativity are often elusive and mysterious, there is evidence that the very concept of creativity and how it is stimulated can be described scientifically.
A 2018 study published by the National Academy of Sciences and led by Post-Doctoral Fellow in Psychology Dr. Roger Beaty suggests that highly creative people are characterized by their ability to simultaneously engage three large-scale neural networks in our brains: named default, salience, and executive systems.
The default mode network, he said, is involved in memory and mental simulation, so the theory is that it plays an important role in processes like mind-wandering, imagination, and spontaneous thinking.
“In terms of creativity, we think that’s important for brainstorming,” Beaty said. “But you’re not always going to stumble onto the most creative idea that way, because you might be drawn to something unoriginal from memory, so that’s when these other networks come online.”
The salience network, he said, detects important information, both in the environment and internally. When it comes to creativity, researchers believe it may be responsible for sorting through the ideas that emerge from the default mode network. The salience network includes parts of your brain that are responsible for mediating emotions, learning, memory, taste, touch, and planning for the future.
Lastly, Beaty said, the executive control network helps people focus on useful ideas while discarding those that aren’t working.
“It’s the synchrony between these systems that seems to be important for creativity,” Beaty said. “People who think more flexibly and come up with more creative ideas are better able to engage these networks that don’t typically work together and bring these systems online.
“What this shows is that the creative brain is wired differently,” said Beaty. “People who are more creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together. The default mode network, the salience network and the executive control network — that appear to play key roles in creative thought.
With these findings in mind, I have noticed a significant difference in the effectiveness of different collaborative experiences and now there is scientific evidence to understand why that is true.
When it comes to collaborative experiences, there is a significant distinction between the typical “brainstorming” sessions and the immersive innovation workshops that leverage multi-sensory stimulation to activate the ideal combination of neural networks in our minds which lead to creativity.
Typical brainstorming sessions, which display walls adorned with a flurry of Post-it® notes, have generally proven to be ineffective because:
- not everyone is comfortable creating and sharing in a group setting;
- these sessions don’t usually produce sufficient mindful inputs that would expand people’s spectrum of thinking; and
- typical brainstorming sessions yield nascent ideas that don’t move forward, leaving participants with a halo of time wasted.
Multi-sensory innovation workshops, whereby a collection of unfamiliar people have their minds bathed in a combination of intellectual and sensory-stimulating perturbations, induce our collective sub-consciousness, where great ideas are hiding, awaiting a zone of safety to emerge.
The “creative immersion” concept began (though I recognize it only when looking back) with my career in the culinary world. When you go to a restaurant, is your experience 100% focused on the taste of the food? No. What about texture? What about the anticipatory smell? What about the ambience and the delight of gracious hospitality? Culinary arts produce multi-sensory experiences—the music that’s playing, the romantically dim lighting, the way the waiter moves softly around you. That whole sensory experience has always been electrifying to me.
From there I phased into innovation in the fashion industry, which has all of the same multi-sensory occurrences, plus sex appeal. Over time I became naturally tuned to the way stimulating the senses leads to creativity. With the goal of perceiving “alternatives to current realities,” there are core mindful methods I have found from my experience which generate brave new concepts to be courageously evolved over time.
To mix metaphors (which is often an effective way to stimulate new thinking), there is a recipe for experiences that enables teams to transcend their creative inhibitions and release a torrent of pent, subconscious imagination that leads to realistic ideas. Each event has a recipe. The secret ingredients in this recipe are in a multi-sensory immersion that triggers future memories, mixed metaphors, new word combinations, music and songs, advanced technologies, empathic emotions and bizarre images that all lead to the creation of new concepts and, eventually, new realities. Stimulating senses seems to trigger multiple parts of our brains that are responsible for creativity. Well-orchestrated, multi-sensory experiences enable the type of synchronicity that leads to future-focused, fantasy-based thinking and imaginative scenarios projected to evolve five years from now.
Making these experiences happen requires a combination of “mission-clarity,” optimal group ecology, and immersion into broad and surprising sensory triggers: sounds, sights, textures, flavors, aromas and physical experiences.
Clarifying the innovation mission and challenge is an iterative, collaborative effort which requires you intersect marketplace insights and organizational realities. Then you need to stimulate senses and even generate conditions that are equivalent to the phenomena of synesthesia; essentially the transposing of senses.
The term “synesthesia” comes from Greek language (those Greeks had such fabulous ideas). It means: “to perceive together” and more commonly represents the ability to cross-pollinate senses. Can you taste the color of winning? Can you feel the enchanting sound of a harp on the skin in front of your heart?
For example, using live music as a tool to generate energy vibrations and enhance the overall mood can generate a dopamine rush, flooding minds with the excitement of creating what is next. Music and lyrics touch our emotions and trigger memories and metaphors.
Giving gifts while live music is playing can enhance the experience even more, generating empathy. Try giving plush animal toys that can be loved to everyone in the room. Soft and mushy, you bet! But, the climate of kindness you generate pays dividends in the energy people devote to helping you create your future.
Food, fragrance, and texture also play a role. Having people be met with unique combinations of foods stimulates their senses and memory. Sliced oranges with vanilla, cardamom, and cinnamon work well. Ask people to share what metaphors or memories are evoked. The elements of surprise and the act of sharing ideas that are triggered immediately places people in a new mental space.
What I love most about the dozens of innovation events that I have produced is the transformative power these events have on individuals. During one event at Banana Republic headquarters, a participating designer said, “You have brought so much more life into me. I never would have generated these ideas sitting at my desk, doing my typical line plan.”
This is the type of response I live for, what gets me jazzed. I crave the sensation of imagination because I know that other people crave that same sensation.
If you wish to generate the bold creativity that leads to future-focused innovation, try deliberately orchestrating highly immersive, mindfully crafted innovation workshops that activate the neural networks in our minds leading to creation of remarkable ideas. All knowledge, after all, begins with the senses.