Fostering an Environment for Brilliant Ideas

Why do most of your brilliant ideas happen while you're in the shower? Or when you’re about to fall asleep? Or in your dreams...or while you’re cooking...or while you’re in class (or at the office) daydreaming?

The answer is simple: it’s how your brain is wired.

When you are not engaged in goal-oriented activities (cognitively-demanding tasks), you are in a sort of “resting state.”

According to Dr. Michael D. Greicius, a region of the brain “consistently show(s) greater activity during resting states than during cognitive tasks.

In other words, certain regions in your brain are more active and “light up” when you are doing things like walking, sitting, cooking, falling asleep, and other activities we’d consider are based on muscle memory.

The part of your brain responsible for this mode of thinking? The default mode network.

The default mode network – or the DMN – involves several interconnected regions of the brain, such as the posterior cingulate cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the angular gyrus, the hippocampus and so forth.

By John Graner, Neuroimaging Department, National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Through years of brain imaging research, neuroscientists have observed regions in the DMN that “light up” when we think about ourselves, use autobiographical memory retrieval, think about the future, etc.

In contrast, the activity in your DMN is reduced when you are doing tasks that require more attention (i.e. goal-oriented). So when you stay busy at work, engaged in task after task, which requires heavy concentration, then your default mode network activity is diminished.

But what does this have to do with creativity?

Think about what happens when you go for a walk or take a shower. Your brain usually wanders because you don’t need to concentrate on what you're primarily doing.

You are activating a part of your brain that can lead to creative thinking – and ideally, genius insights.

That is why some say daydreamers are more creative.

Brain researcher Marcus Raichle says, “Many researchers believe that creativity is associated with daydreaming or spontaneous thoughts about interesting problems. Personally, I do a bit of that; it is one way we work things out.”

If allowing our DMN to take over the reins more often leads to daydreaming, which then leads to possible creative breakthroughs, why don’t we do it more?

The problem is that we now live in a fast-paced world that glamorizes busyness and efficiency, which often comes at the cost of reduced DMN activity.

Engaged in a to-do list lifestyle where efficiency is king, and particularly in the U.S., where working long hours is a source of pride, many people are not carving time to let their default mode network dominate.

Since the majority of our time is so wrapped up in these external goal-oriented tasks, we don’t allow ourselves to organize the chaotic thoughts in our DMN, keeping us in a more robotic state that may prevent us from fostering that more creative state.

We are so locked into a task mindset. Give yourself permission to daydream.

Does that mean that we should sit in a park all day and simply daydream a genius screenplay or novel?

According to Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack in The Chaos Imperative, “Rather, it means that after long periods of hard work, we sometimes need to relax and let our minds wander to allow the unconscious default part of our brain to synthesize and consolidate all we’ve been working on, to help us discover the meaning and the way forward.”

This is a good opportunity to encourage your boss to let you take mid-day walks, or, if that’s not possible, carve fifteen minutes every night (perhaps even at the expense of sleep) to simply think.

Take the stairs. Learn to not rush. Anything that will allow your thoughts to roam.

What else works for you? Let me know by writing to me: InkTipStoryPower (at) gmail dot com.

Next time, we’ll look into the genesis of some of the most innovative ideas along with what you can do to keep your creative well full and ready.

Now go for a walk and daydream. Or just sit and let your brain wander.

You’re actually harnessing your inner creative genius.

Michael Kim
Questions? Comments? Write me at InkTipStoryPower (at) gmail dot com

Michael Kim has worked in every department at InkTip. He is now the VP of Product Development & Media. Besides going for long walks in the city to spark his creative genius, he likes Dirk Nowitzki, getting back into shape, exploring L.A. food and 90s black cinema.

Written by: Michael Kim
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