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Surprising Science

What It Takes to Have a Creative Brain

Always be looking for solutions, but don’t try too hard, says Jonah Lehrer. When we leave the mind to its own devices and forget about strict concentration, we are more likely to create. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Perhaps the nation’s best science writer, Jonah Lehrer has long been fascinated with how the brain works and what inspires creative minds. In his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Lehrer tells the story of the post-it note as an example of the creative process. In the 1970s, engineer Arthur Fry was frustrated when his paper bookmarks kept slipping out of his books. At a seemingly unrelated presentation, Fry heard about the creation of a new, though weak, glue. Having no real-world application, Fry quickly forgot about the glue until he realized it was a solution to his bookmark problem. The rest, they say, is history. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Creative minds, like Fry’s, are always looking for solutions to problems. That, says Lehrer, is the essence of creativity, whether the conundrum is mechanical in nature, or artistic. To help your mind get its creative juices flowing, try thinking alone, without soliciting the perspective of others. In his book, Lehrer references studies that suggest there are serious limits to brainstorming ideas in a group. And if you do stumble on a novel solution to a problem, you might relax a bit and have a shower. Counterintuitively, our brain is most creative when we leave it to its own devices rather than concentrating hard to find a solution. 

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