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How To Boost Your Creativity The Einstein Way-With Combinatory Play

How The Brain Works

The brain’s building blocks are neurons: nerve cells that receive and transmit signals along neural pathways. Certain pathways are forged at birth. Others can be manipulated by learning. 

So when you’re stuck in a rut, your brain’s neurons could literally be stuck on a neural pathway you’ve carved out through your behavior. But you can get unstuck by choosing to make new connections.

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How To Boost Your Creativity The Einstein Way-With Combinatory Play

How To Boost Your Creativity The Einstein Way-With Combinatory Play

https://blog.trello.com/combinatory-play-boost-creativity

blog.trello.com

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Key Ideas

Combinatory Play

We’ve all experienced that flash of insight, that fleeting moment when a solution we’ve been grinding away at reveals itself in an unexpected place.

Einstein, for example, was known to play violin whenever he was stuck on a tough problem and often spoke of how music influenced the way he thought about math and science.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

“Creativity is just connecting things.”

How The Brain Works

The brain’s building blocks are neurons: nerve cells that receive and transmit signals along neural pathways. Certain pathways are forged at birth. Others can be manipulated by learning. 

So when you’re stuck in a rut, your brain’s neurons could literally be stuck on a neural pathway you’ve carved out through your behavior. But you can get unstuck by choosing to make new connections.

Comfort In Familiarity

Your brain is continually striving for predictability, and it can get pretty set in its ways. When a novelty appears, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) part of your brain is wired to review old rules and apply them to this new situation. It does not want to invent new ways if it can help it. This can hinder your creativity.

Combinatory play can help with quieting this part of the brain by relaxing your mind.

Seeking Patterns

While applying old lessons to new situations can limit your creativity, the brain’s inclination for seeking patterns can encourage innovation, too.

This will serve you well in creative thinking as long as you question your assumptions and try to find patterns where there aren't any.

Cross Train Your Brain

Try a new activity within your field or related to it; you’ll expand your neural connections and strengthen your brain overall.

If you’re a novelist, try your hand at poetry. If you’re a painter, dabble in sculpting. If you’re a computer scientist, play around with web design.

Do Some Other Mundane Activity

Doing something boring, like showering, doesn’t require substantial cognitive effort, so our brains are free to wander. 

And a brain “at rest” isn’t really resting at all. Mind-wandering may allow the conscious to give way to the subconscious, so the brain can connect disparate ideas.

Sleep On It

If you’re feeling stuck on a problem, try going to bed. You just might have a more creative solution in the morning.

When we’re in REM, our brains are better able to integrate unassociated information, which is essential to creative thinking (and can explain why dreams are so bizarre).

Indulge Your Inner Copycat

Get inspired by someone else’s creations:

  • If you’re suffering from writer’s block, buy a pack of word magnets and rearrange them until you come up with creative phrases on your fridge.
  • If you’re building a product and you're stuck in the design phase, search for competitors who have made similar products, find where their customers are unhappy, and design something new that solves the problems your competitors failed to address.

If You Need A New Way Of Thinking

... use combinatory play to give your brain a boost:

  • Participate in creative cross-training to expand your brain’s neural connections.
  • Let your mind wander by doing something mundane, like taking a shower.
  • Go to bed and let your subconscious mind connect the dots during REM sleep.
  • Use another person’s work as a springboard for inspiration and improvement.

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“When you’re completely stuck on a problem, setting it aside can lead to new ideas or even flashes of insight.” 

Mental Break
A 2019 study titled “When the Muses Strike” found that many physicists and writers had creative insights while they exercised, showered, gardened, or engaged in other predominantly physical activities which gave them a mental break.

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The creative process is the act of making new connections between old ideas or recognizing relationships between concepts.

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The 5 Step Creative Process
  1. Gather new material directly related to your task as well as learning general material by becoming fascinated with a wide range of concepts.
  2. Thoroughly work over the materials in your mind.  Examine what you have learned by looking at the facts from different angles and experimenting with fitting various ideas together.
  3. Step away from the problem. Next, you put the problem completely out of your mind and go do something else that excites you and energizes you.
  4. Let your idea return to you. After you have stopped thinking about it, your idea will come back to you with a flash of insight and renewed energy.
  5. Shape and develop your idea based on feedback. For any idea to succeed, you must release it out into the world, submit it to criticism, and adapt it as needed.
Creativity is learned

Some people are primed to be more creative than others.

However, nearly every person is born with some level of creative skill and the majority of our creative thinking abilities are trainable.

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Creativity is complex

It means producing something novel or original, evaluating, solving problems, whether on paper, on stage, in a laboratory or even in the shower.

Knowing how to think

Geniuses know “how” to think, instead of “what” to think.

People who are more creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together.

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Divergent Thinking

Is the ability to generate many ideas or solutions from a single idea or piece of information. 

It’s thought to be one of, if not the most, important factor in creativity.

Convergent Thinking

Is the ability to take many pieces of information or data and generate one solution. 

It is largely taught and encouraged in schools and workplaces.

Exercising Divergent Thinking
  1. The Many Uses Exercise: Pick an ordinary object, set a timer for 5 minutes and try to come up with as many alternative uses for a paperclip as you can.
  2. 10 New Ideas: Every day for a week, try to come up with 10 new ideas within a specific topic or category.
  3. Daily Headlines: Imagine that your day was a news story in the New York Times. What would the headline be? 
  4. Articles on Trial: Challenge the conclusion of articles you read by coming up with one question you’d like to ask the author.
  5. Start to notice your automatic thoughts and generate alternatives to them.
Restrict yourself

Research suggests placing self-imposed limitations can boost creativity. 

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Re-conceptualize the problem

Instead of thinking of a cut-and-dry end goal to certain situations, creative people sit back and examine the problem in different ways before beginning to work.

If you find yourself stagnating by focusing on generic problems, try to re-conceptualize the problem by focusing on a more meaningful angle.

For example: Instead of thinking “What would be something cool to paint?” rather ask, “What sort of painting evokes the feeling of loneliness that we all encounter after a break-up?”

Create psychological distance

Creating “psychological” distance may be useful for breaking through a creative block.

Try to imagine your creative task as being disconnected and distant from your current position/location - this may make the problem more accessible and can encourage higher level thinking.

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Early History

The connection between genius and possible insanity was first documented in 1891 in the Italian physicians’ book The Man Of Genius.

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Genius and Heredity

In a 1904 study by English physician Havelock Ellis, a list was made of 1030 individuals through extensive research, examining thoroughly the intellectual distinction people had by the various factors like heredity, general health, and social class.


These works established that genius minds are often hereditary.

Genetic Studies Of Genius

A body of work of Stanford psychologist Lewis M. Terman, was an in-depth multi-decade study of gifted individuals, and an attempt to improve the measurement of genius and its association with the degradation of mental stability. This also included an enhanced version of the French IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test.

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Find places that inspire you

You might not be in a position to choose your workspace, but there are quick fixes: look for a spot with natural light from a window or skylight, take a walk outside when you feel stuck, or simply explore a new location. 

A new environment can quite literally lead to new ideas.

Task association

It's when your brain knows that when you’re in a certain place, you’re taking a certain action.

Take advantage of the way different locations affect you. Our brains love habits, and if we can associate certain qualities with different places, it can help us get into a better working flow. 

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Don’t wait for inspiration

Breakthroughs are seldom made through sudden inspiration. Insight is the result of action. Doing creative work is about setting a schedule and getting on with it. Eventually, the combination of your effort will energize the push towards a final result.

Albert Einstein worked at a Swiss patent office, a rather uninspiring place relative to his interest in physics. Between the hours he spent on the job, he also dedicated hours to scientific work. He was deliberate in his commitment to creation, which led to the formulation of the two fundamental theories in physics: general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Seeking connections between existing ideas

Creativity is not equivalent to originality. Creativity is just a new way of combining old ideas.

Albert Einstein saw invention as a product of "combinatory play." He would separate his existing ideas from language, so he could freely visualise and mix these known elements of information to arrive at some new logically connected concept.

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What Creativity Does

Creative acts can grow new neural connections, reduce depression and isolation, enhance cognitive skills, and increase emotional fulfillment.

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Triggering the Creative Process
  • Change one element in an activity you do repeatedly. This will require you to learn something new and that will trigger the creative process.
  • Add something new to a routine. For example, when watching your favorite TV drama, pause it every ten or so minutes, and predict what will happen when you resume watching.
  • Engage in an activity that constantly changes. 
  • Begin a new activity. The best example is learning a new language. Everything is fresh: the meaning of words, the syntax, and pronunciation.
The End Products

The purpose of creative activities for brain health is not to produce a sellable or even a laudable product. These activities creates new neural connections that can preserve your cognitive ability or at least slow down its deterioration.

Also, just as muscle strength takes time to develop after years of idleness, so does improved memory and better reasoning abilities.

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Aspects we get wrong about walking
  1. Instead of propelling ourselves forward by pushing off with the back foot, we attempt to use our stepping foot to get us going. Sitting down too much shortens and tightens the hip flexor muscles, causing us to take the wrong step.
  2. The passive foot strike. The movement provided by the joints in our feet offers suspension and balance. Plodding along flatly causes knee discomfort. It can create a slight misalignment of the back, and stiffness of the shoulders.
  3. Letting your head hang forwards. Screens, reading, and desk work have made this the default position. With the head slightly forward, the muscles in the upper back and shoulders have to contract to hold it there. Back mobility becomes restricted, and you will be unable to rotate your spine from the hips.
  4. Arms hanging awkwardly or forced into a tense power-walk movement. If you get steps one to three right, the arms will naturally dangle freely.
Walking benefits
  • When people walk together, they unconsciously fall into step. Their neural activity synchronizes too. The more in sync we are, the deeper our social connection.
  • Walking aids creativity. A study revealed that when participants who brainstormed while walking, thought of more valid ideas than those who tried the same while sitting.
  • Half an hour of walking per day helps treat depression.
  • To reinforce the positive effects, notice how you're feeling. Notice what you are seeing, smelling, and tasting.
  • Be aware of rumination if you're struggling with something such as grief, a job loss, or uncertainty. Avoid unhelpful responses such as "why me?" or "why this?" Instead, ask, "what now?" to help you find a way forward.