Scott Barry Kaufman, Carolyn Gregoire
[Penguin Group USA, 286 pages]
If you consider yourself a creative person, maybe you’ve felt, at times, like you just might be from a different planet than the majority of people you encounter. Well, while you most likely aren’t some sort of alien life form, you could be onto something with that thought.
In the recent non-fiction release, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, authors Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., a well-known American psychologist, and Carolyn Gregoire present the idea that the brains of creative individuals are wired a bit differently than the brains of others, making creative people do 10 specific things differently from the rest of the population:
» They engage in imaginative play as adults
» They’re intrinsically passionate about their particular craft
» They happily daydream on a regular basis
» They’re able to spend a great deal of time in solitude and enjoy it
» They’re tuned into their intuition, which delivers “flashes of insight” that help them solve problems
» They’re open to new experiences and perspectives
» They’re able to be mindful, using finely tuned observational skills when necessary
» They’re highly sensitive people
» They use painful (and sometimes, significantly pleasurable) life experiences as catalysts for creative growth
» They’re willing to think and act differently from the crowd
Within Wired to Create, each of these behaviours is explored in detail, and the sections that stuck with me the most after I finished the book were the ones on mindfulness and solitude. Both emphasize the idea of balance, as a lot of psychological writing does these days—in one section, the balance between aloneness and interaction with society, and in the other, the “Middle Way” (a term taken from Buddhism) between mindfulness and mind wandering.
Walking the middle line
According to the authors, you need to walk the middle line between both sets of extremes to optimize your creativity, an idea that makes sense to me. After all, if you were to sit completely alone in a room for weeks, months, or years, where would you get any new material with which to engage yourself creatively? Even Henry David Thoreau, mentioned in the book, who spent two years in a cabin in the woods apart from other humans, had the stimulation of nature (in the form of plants and animals) to help inspire him. On the other hand, being “trapped” in a bustling society, being constantly distracted by others’ chatter and the hum of digital devices would leave an individual too mentally scattered and drained to pursue creative excellence.
On the topic of mindfulness, it’s explained that certain types of meditation (those that encourage some wandering of the mind, such as the open-monitoring style or relaxed mantra-focused practices like Transcendental Meditation) can aid the creative process, while other types (those that promote focused attention on a particular object or action, such as breathing, only) may actually block the flow of creative ideas. Although I’ve never participated in all of the specific types mentioned by Kaufman and Gregoire, I tend to agree. While I’m doing something that requires a lot of focused attention, such as operating machinery, crunching numbers, or quickly answering a multitude of phone calls, I can’t be creative, which is one reason why, when possible, I’ve chosen jobs that don’t heavily involve those things.
Different than your “average bear”
While I already knew that as a creative person, I’m a bit different than your “average bear,” Wired to Create gave scientific credence to that idea and provided me with more details on the uniqueness of the creative temperament, without assigning creative people a superior status over others (we’re not better—just distinct). Unfortunately, the authors provide no estimate as to what percentage of people are actually creative, although they do make reference to a study that’ll give you some idea of the percentage of people who are willing to resist conforming to a group that’s in error, which is considered an indicator of creativity.
If you identify as a creative person and begin to read this book, there’s a chance that you’ll feel a tad pigeonholed at first, but as you go along, you’ll likely find yourself admitting that a lot of the ideas within it apply to you. If you don’t consider yourself creative, you might find that the book helps you understand the (possibly baffling) behaviour of any creatives in your life with a bit more ease. Regardless of who you are, you just may come to realize that creatives and non-creatives actually aren’t from different planets, they just interpret the one that we live on differently.