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What is creativity?There is a lot of confusion regarding what exactly people mean by creativity. Often it is associated with artistic aptitude. However that is only part of the story. You can be creative in a variety of situations: sports, conversation and business (although creative accounting is discouraged and is actually illegal in some places!). A broader definition of creativity is the ability to make connections across diverse and disparate fields.
How does the brain work?The brain is like a computer. The frontal lobe is the gatekeeper. It is akin to the user interface if we wish to continue the computer analogy. When you send a query to the brain, the frontal lobe links information from other parts of the brain, sorts it and brings it together in a useful way. However, given how energy intensive this process is, the brain always tries to go for shortcuts, for efficiency’s sake. One shortcut is that the frontal lobe tries to offer the information that is most relevant to the query and keep it succinct. For example, if I were to say ‘apple’, most of you would probably think of a piece of fruit. This is the most relevant and most succinct thought response. However you could also perhaps think of Apple Computer, apple strudel, apple martini, apples and pears, stairs, apple pie, American Pie etc…… To have all those thoughts served up to you would be exhausting and inefficient.
The brain also efficiently sorts, stores and organizes information. There is an area for language, for color, music etc. The barriers that separate compartments are different between people. For some these barriers are very ‘high’ and difficult to permeate, while others find it easy to bleed concepts into each other.
Creative people do two things differently: they have their frontal lobe serve up many different thoughts and ideas, and they find it very easy to form connections between two different subjects.
Can you teach creativity?The big question is can you teach creativity. Can you alter your brain to do more of the two things listed above? Evidence in studies by Neuropsychologists, among them Andreas Fink, suggests you can. These studies show you can improve creativity by cognitive stimulation.
Neuroplasticity is a term some might have come across. It doesn’t mean that the brain is actually made of plastic. It means that the brain is able to reorganize itself, that the structure of the brain changes through time. Just like a river over time can change its landscape into a canyon, repeating or forcing associations can develop neural connections.
The Eversoul Institute focuses on this process to help teach creativity. Using extensive research on creativity and teaching, we developed a comprehensive program to help teach high schoolers how to be creative. First we explore cognitive biases – shortcuts of sorts that the brain takes for efficiency’s sake. Some of these include Anchoring, Framing, Decoy Effect and Availability Heuristics. By being aware of these shortcuts of biases, students can start to alter their frame of mind.
Next, we designed labs, workshops, games, tasks, discussions and exercises to reinforce these new skills. The Eversoul Institute’s high school summer program on creativity is more than just lectures, it’s an interactive program so students get to learn how to apply new skills in everyday situations.
When asked what skills employers value the most, creativity is always high on the list. Thanks to new research and a comprehensive approach to learning, it’s now possible to help teach your children creativity.
Filippo Cipriani is the founder and CEO of the Eversoul Institute. The Eversoul Institute promotes interdisciplinary thinking and curiosity through summer courses, symposiums, and small forums featuring authors, topic experts and intellectuals.