Creativity at work — Are we getting it wrong?

The other day, I was chatting to a friend about creativity at work. The friend is an award-winning artist — Cara Gordon. She said this:

“Nothing is more stressful than being asked to come up with ideas. It paralyses the brain.” 

It got me thinking. 

In the business world, creativity means fresh ideas, innovation and new ways to move forward. It’s crucial for success, yet many companies are inadvertently stifling creative thought. 

In this post, you’ll find out how organisations can help their employees foster creative thought. It includes helpful ideas from Cara, and some fascinating insights into how our brains work. 

Working too hard at creativity

Have you ever wondered why you get your best ideas cleaning the bathroom? Or in the shower? 

It’s all down to brain science. According to neuro transformational coach Ann Betz, our brains have two distinct neural networks:

  • Task Positive Network (TPN) — We’re performing a task, actively focused on what’s directly in front of us.

  • Default Mode Network (DMN) — We’re at wakeful rest. It could be driving, walking, having a shower or just daydreaming.  

Task mode is great for getting things done, obviously. But here’s the thing:

It may not be as effective for solving problems or creating ideas. 

Our Default Network gives insight, fantastic ideas and lightbulb moments. When we’re not actively thinking about a problem, our brains relax and figure it out. 

As it turns out, Cara has known this instinctively for years. 

“It’s the mundane little things — painting the skirting boards, cleaning behind the fridge. I’m not going to get ideas sitting in the studio, worrying about what I’m going to create. 

That mundane stuff enables my brain to relax, to start making connections and associations, which is where all creativity starts.”

The problem with task mode

Many leaders spend much of their time in Task Mode. Once they’ve completed one task, it’s straight on to the next one. 

At the same time, they’re under pressure to come up with a steady stream of ideas. How is that going to happen? In the task-focused brain, the creativity switch is dimmed down. 

To turn the creativity switch on, people need space to sit back, disconnect, go for a walk and let Default Mode work its magic.  

The business world could learn a lot from artists. Cara is in Task Mode during the painting process — even when she’s in a state of flow. If she’s stuck for ideas, Default Mode has to kick in.

“When painting, I have to make decisions about colours, form, or which tool to use. Once I get going, everything becomes instinctive. It’s like riding a wave, and you stay with it until you get to the end of the waves. 

However, once I need more creative ideas, I literally have to down tools, turn the painting around, go off and do something completely different.

So much goes on in your subconscious. If I have a problem, I’ll let it rattle around for a while — in the shower, or gardening — and an idea will pop up.”

Doing vs being

At  work, it’s easy to believe that constantly doing something makes us more productive. As a result, we spend most of our time beavering away in Task Mode.  

Sometimes, simply being can bring the answers we need. For me, breakthroughs happen when I’m swimming or walking on the beach. There’s something about the movement and rhythm that allows thoughts to percolate. 

Not everyone can produce ideas sitting in front of a computer, or under pressure in a brainstorming session. Our brains are hardwired to be creative… when we’re not trying to be creative. 

In the world of business, leaders would benefit from being given space to disconnect. It would allow more Default Mode time and in turn, more creative thought. 

I’ll leave the last word to Cara. 

“Creativity comes unexpectedly, when you’re not looking for it.

When I’m driving, listening to Radio 4, something will just connect. It comes from the most unexpected sources, and it’s random.

It’s about having your mind as relaxed as possible. The key thing is, don’t focus on the problem. It’s never, ever going to work. 

Put the problem aside and get on with something else. You’ll find a solution, probably when you’re not expecting it.”

If you would like to explore tapping in to your own creativity using the latest neuroscience coaching tools get in touch with me here.

Above image is by Cara Gordon. For more information on Cara check her out on Instagram at cara.h.gordon