October 6, 2005
Excerpts: The Source of Success - Part V
The Creative Cauldron
But before getting to that, it may help to show what science has established about the origins of creativity. Creative acts happen in a particular, well-defined state of mind. This has been simply demonstrated by hooking the brain to an electroencephalograph and monitoring electrical impulses during a subject’s creative activity. As it turns out, the human brain’s electromagnetic frequency can be broken into four kinds of wave patterns: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. The beta state, the brain’s highest brain frequency, is where we spend the vast majority of our conscious time: the average waking state. It involves the cacophony of multiple stimuli and is least conducive to creativity. Alpha, by contrast, is the twilight between full consciousness and sleep, the golden hour, the most fertile state for the brain. Interestingly, it is the state of mind where children exist up to the ages of seven or eight. This, in part, explains why children are so prone to fantasy and play, free-association and intuition. Theta and delta are the lowest frequency levels, where some extraordinarilycreative people and some religious luminaries, including the Dalai Lama, have been found to exist in a conscious level. Theta and delta for most people are the brain frequencies emitted during the most healthful sleep time of their lives—and aren’t of interest to us here. It’s the alpha state an organization wants to cultivate if it hopes to encourage widespread creativity.
People whose consciousness is in an alpha state are, almost inevitably, more creative, more imaginative. It isn’t something reserved for the lucky few. A vast amount of literature describes how people find their own instinctive ways to get into an alpha state other than sleep. It takes practice. The most common and healthful way to achieve an alpha state is some form of meditation—focused, purposeful relaxation. There are many forms—yoga, Zen, simple breathing exercises—meditation is no more exotic than creativity itself. It’s a natural, simple way to achieve an alpha state while conscious, on an individual level.
Having worked with thousands of creative people, I’ve seen some unusual, idiosyncratic ways of getting into this state of mental flow. One fellow I worked with would drink a glass of warm water: that’s all it took to ignite his creative firepower, as he put it. Another visualized lowering himself into a well where, deep down, toward the bottom of the well, he found the source of his inspiration. There were other practical solutions: rocking in an easy chair, a rhythmic motion that stimulated new ideas, and obviously brought back memories of that continuous alpha state of childhood. Still others looked deep into space with their eyes aimed upward at a 45-degree angle.
These are all individual efforts. I have experienced such moments myself and have observed them many times in business. Organizations magnify individual creativity through collaboration, partnerships, brainstorming sessions, late-night teamwork, all of which produce an exponential enhancement of each individual’s productivity. As an example, in the advertising industry, “creative teams”—those people who produce the actual commercials—are always paired up, a writer working with an art director. Early in my career, I considered this unproductive. It seemed, well, expensive. My thinking was simple. Most writers I knew could draw and art directors could write—and this, it seemed, offered room to cut costs and improve productivity. What I came to realize was that some-thing else was at work here, the interaction between two creative minds, which seemed to work in practical reality better than a single mind. Literature about fifth-generation computers, yet to arrive, describes a parallel processing model that adds exponentially to what a single processor can do, regardless of its size. There may well be a useful analogy here: the outcome of collaborative efforts is far greater than the sum of the individual minds involved. The writer–art director pairing was in fact an investment in a greater, more rewarding creative output. Every business should seek and find opportunities to create collaborative environments that produce more creative results. The effort and investment is likely to be rewarded exponentially.
This is an excerpt from The Source of Success: Five Enduring Principles at the Heart of Leadership by Peter Georgescu and David Dorsey
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.