Creative Problem Solving for the 21st Century: The Go-To Guide
What Exactly Is Creativity?
Why does it matter? What is unique or necessary about creative problem solving today?
Creativity is often equated with artistic ability–music, painting, drawing, design, dance–and by the time we reach adulthood, many of us believe we are “not that creative.”
In reality, though, creativity is a process that can be used for absolutely any field or endeavor: business, education, finance, science, and even in your daily personal life.
In order to navigate the globalized Digital Information Age in all its speed and uncertainty, we need to adopt not only a new view of creativity, but also new problem solving approaches that are leading-edge and innovative rather than based on historical wisdom.
These approaches rely more heavily on tapping the resources of your nonconscious mind and developing your intuition–the latent faculties that we have not been taught how to use by our educational systems and by mainstream societies.
In this Go-To Guide on Creative Problem Solving for the 21st Century, you will learn how the historical conception of creativity has limited the ways in which we go about solving problems today, as well as new, broader definitions of creativity and intelligence that are more appropriate for 21st-century problem solving.
You will also learn the steps of the creative process, how to access your creative genius through your multiple intelligences, altered states and several creative problem-solving techniques for small and large scale problems.
HOW TO BUST OUT OF THE INDUSTRIAL MODEL AND RELEASE YOUR CREATIVE GENIUS
What is creativity, and how did our historical social models influence our view of it? In this chapter you’ll learn how our typical understanding and practical application of creativity was developed within the Industrial Model, and why this is no longer effective for 21st-century creative problem solving.
The Industrial Model
Though we are firmly in the Information or Digital Age, much of our educational models–both in schools and in the broader ways our societies create citizens–remain in the Industrial Paradigm. The Industrial Model developed with the Industrial Revolution, and emphasized efficiency and conformity, not creativity. This model is how we ended up with the 9-5 workday schedule.
Aside from the way societies structured the workday, our school systems focused heavily on math, science and language which were then measured in aptitude tests. School curriculum today is still largely divided into specialist segments, especially in high schools, and also divided by age and standardized testing.
This structure is beneficial for those whose strength is conventional academic work, but not for many who will need to apply their intelligence and creativity in vastly diverse fields and occupations. In fact today, we see more and more the declining value of college degrees.
How we define intelligence largely came from the Enlightenment influences of logic and critical reasoning, which were viewed as superior to feeling and emotion. These values shaped mass education to meet the demands of the Industrial Revolution, which required quick selection and assessment. This is when IQ tests that could measure “real intelligence” emerged.
In 1916, Lewis Terman of Stanford University published the revised Stanford-Binet test, which is the basis for the modern IQ test, and was actually part of the eugenics movement to weed out entire sectors of the population.
Luckily today, many alternative holistic educational models are slowly emerging around the globe, and many colleges and universities no longer put as much weight on aptitude or entrance exams because they only present a small sliver of human intelligence and creative potential.
And although these new educational models are emerging, the old Industrial mindset remains deep-seated in our collective psyche: the way to get things done is to be efficient, logical and analytical by looking at what history has taught us and then applying that wisdom to present-day situations. This approach is largely left-brain hemisphere oriented.
The primary problem with this approach is that our present day circumstances are vastly different than anything we’ve seen before.
In Future Shock published in the 1970s, Alvin Toffler discussed the massive social and technological changes that would take place in our world. Now that we are fully immersed in these changes, we recognize that no other period in human history matches the scale, speed or global complexity of the changes and challenges we have now.
We can’t know what the future will be like, and, therefore, looking to the past or our history is not the best approach if we want to create something new and revolutionary.
A New View of Intelligence and Creativity
In response to this limited Industrial view of intelligence, many theorists developed alternative and much more comprehensive views of intelligence and creativity. Howard Gardner, for instance, developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences, which we will cover in chapter three of this guide.
Robert Cooper, author of The Other 90%, found that intelligence doesn’t only happen in our brains; it’s in our hearts and guts. Many researchers are now finding that the neurological networks of our enteric nervous system in our intestinal tract and heart are far more sensitive and intelligent than our physical brains. Our hearts and guts sense feeling and emotion before our brains can register it.
Sadly though, many people do not think they are creative, believing that creativity is relegated to the arts and design. They think creativity and intelligence are two unrelated things. With these emerging perspectives such as Gardner’s and Cooper’s, however, the split between creativity and intelligence is slowly healing.
According to Sir Ken Robinson, TED speaker on education and creativity, and an international consultant on education in the arts, creativity is “the process of having original ideas that have value.” Creativity is applied imagination. It can be applied to music, dance, theater, math, science, business, relationships or any area of existence.
Creativity in Collaboration
In his book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Robinson explains that creativity also takes place within domains and fields. A domain is the kind of activity or discipline. Examples include acting, music, business, ballet, physics, poetry, teaching, comedy and many more. A field refers to others engaged with it, such as other actors or teachers or scientists.
Robinson also highlights the importance of creative teams, which need to be diverse. In Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration, Warren Bennis and Pat Ward Biederman discuss Great Groups, or collections of people with similar interests who create something greater than any could create individually. There is an alchemy of synergy within these groups. Healthy peer pressure, plus a commitment to excellence drive the creative outcomes of the group. Each individual’s strengths complement the others’.
Robinson also emphasizes the importance of mentors in creativity, as they serve four crucial roles: Recognition, Encouragement, Facilitating and Stretching, or pushing you past your perceived limits.
In the current age, this creative collaboration is essential because creativity, and especially creative problem solving, requires courage. Change can be disconcerting.
Consider those throughout history whose passions were inconsistent with the culture of their time, and may have even required them to break away from their native cultures.
Take Zaha Hadid, for example. Hadid, the first woman ever to win the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, grew up in Baghdad in the 1950s. Baghdad then was more secular and open to Western thought, but still there were no female architect role models there. Hadid moved to London and then America, and was able to develop a revolutionary, risky conceptual style.
Creativity sometimes requires changing environments (whether physically or just in the people you surround yourself with) in order to overcome limitations and maintain your vision in the face of resistance. Each person on the planet possesses a distinct intelligence and creativity, and it is more valuable than ever at this time in history.
HOW TO ENGAGE THE CREATIVE PROCESS: AN INTRODUCTION
Now that you have a clearer view of where models of intelligence and creativity came from, you can choose to adopt a new perspective on your own abilities and potential. In this chapter you’ll learn about the creative process and why the shift out of the left-brain dominant Industrial Model is crucial to creative problem solving in the twenty-first century.
The Creative Process Defined
What is the creative process? This amorphous, dynamic, somewhat unpredictable process has been defined, structured and broken down into various steps by many individuals in an attempt to explain it.
Psychologist and educational philosopher John Dewey likened it to using a wine press in his book Art as Experience. It requires a certain amount of input, resistance, frustration, tension and then a releasing of a flow. It also requires a certain amount of courage to bring it forth.
Novelist Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame defines creative living as a life driven more strongly by curiosity than fear. In her book Big Magic, Gilbert also reminds us to “keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal of it.”
Gilbert’s point is quite valid; creativity and its process is inherent to not only humans, but to the universe itself as it continually brings new life in and out of being.
Ancient Greeks referred to the highest degree of human happiness as eudaimonia, which essentially means “well-daemoned”, or taken care of by an external divine creative force. You may have a sense of this when you’ve found yourself in a flow state, where you can sense it’s not all about you or your doing.
Poetic sentiments aside, however, being creative, creating a new idea, business, or outcome requires focus and courage because true genius often breaks barriers and causes paradigm shifts. In other words, it makes some people really uncomfortable.
So though creating is our human birth right, our ego fear can stop us from bringing it to life.
Yet still, there are steps, intentions and preparations that can be made in order to build a fertile foundation from which creative ideas can emerge. Depending on who you ask, the steps vary, but there are some similarities.
Steps of the Creative Process
Step 1: Preparation
This is an opportunity to define the problem you are trying to solve–whether artistic or more “pragmatic” such as business, science, technology, or any other field, and then doing some research. This step may involve gathering information so that your mind can then begin to get to work on the problem. The research you gather may lead to you redefining the problem more clearly.
Step 2: Incubation
This is the time to let it marinate in your mind. You need to step away from the problem and allow your inner mind to make connections. Your mind will bring together the ideas from your preparation and other information from your life experiences.
Step 3: Illumination
That ah-ha! This is a moment of inspiration, or what some would call revelation when your conscious mind receives the new idea or solution to what you put into your nonconscious mind computer.
Step 4: Evaluation
Here, the answer(s) need to be evaluated before implementing them in the real world. This means consider what other problems the solutions could create. You don’t want to stop at the first answer your mind gives you.
When generating creative solutions, don’t accept the first, second or even third solution generated. Dr. Paul Scheele, a pioneer in Accelerative Learning and Creativity, and co-founder of Learning Strategies Corporation, suggests that you keep going until you come up with at least 11 novel possibilities.
The first three solutions or ideas will make the most sense, but that is because they are coming from “the view of the problem that also makes the most sense.” Scheele emphasizes that “our ideas come from the mental model or problem-solving approach that led us to the unintended consequence we are now trying to resolve.”
Step 5: Implementation
Once you reach your desired solution, it needs to be put into practice to see how it works. It helps to have a view of creativity as being evolutionary rather than an end. Once something is implemented, it will inevitably lead to problems, which means you will always be in the pursuit of improving and pivoting from what you have implemented.
The creative process is largely unpredictable, and you can’t entirely plan for a spontaneous experience. In the following chapters you will learn how to tap into your multiple intelligences and access greater resources through altered states so you can do just that.
HOW TO USE YOUR MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES
Intelligence is dynamic, and sometimes new ideas come in fully formed without much work. Usually, though, it is a process that begins with an inkling or an inspiration, but involves evaluation as we noted in the last chapter. It also involves a medium or mixed media of some sort.
Sir Ken Robinson notes that creative thinking involves much more than the frontal lobes and left brain hemisphere. Sometimes our body is the medium through music or dance. In this chapter you’ll learn about the Theory of Multiple Intelligences and how to apply this to your own creative problem solving process.
Based on over thirty years of research and practice, Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences became widely popular after his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences was first published in 1983. Gardner, the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed the theory in response to the typical view of intelligence as being equated to logical/analytical and linguistic thinking, or that people only have an intellectual capacity.
Gardner explains that you can have multiple capacities, and how we use these capacities is unique to each individual. In light of creative problem solving, this theory also helps elucidate how you naturally receive and process information. It is helpful to be aware of these different “intelligences” so you can tune into spontaneous perceptions you receive. These intelligences tap into emotions and other subtle senses.
While the original theory included eight intelligences, over the years, Gardner has proposed some additional intelligences such as existential intelligence. Here we have listed these nine intelligences.
As you’ll see, the first two intelligences listed are the typical aspects of “intelligence” that were valued in the Industrial Model. Note that these are not either/or intelligences. We all possess every single one, but we typically have some that we are more adept at or naturally engage on a regular basis, no matter what we are doing.
Here are brief summaries of the Intelligences:
People strong in this intelligence are great with words and language. This means you can be great at remembering written and spoken words, you may be a good speller, and you enjoy reading or writing, explaining things or giving speeches.
These individuals are great with numbers, mathematics, recognizing patterns, abstract and scientific ideas, and like to solve problems.
This intelligence can incorporate a passion, skill and/or understanding of rhythm and musical tones. It means you can think in patterns, rhythms and sounds. It does not mean that you have to be a musician or singer, but perhaps that you greatly appreciate music because you have an embodied understanding of the components that make up music.
People with this intelligence are adept at moving their bodies, using their hands, have good physical coordination and typically learn and remember things through doing or action. You do not have to be a dancer or athlete. If you cook, are an actor, create art or build an engine with your hands, you are using bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
This intelligence is the mark of those who are good with people. If you are a good listener, you are able to empathize with others, and can assess the needs and drives of people around you, you are using interpersonal intelligence.
Much like interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal describes the ability to be attuned to emotions, drives and motives, but this time within oneself. Strong intrapersonal intelligence involves the ability to observe and reflect on one’s thoughts and emotions. Simply, this intelligence involves the ability to be very self-aware.
This intelligence is used by anyone who uses maps, pictures, videos, charts or blueprints. Architects and taxi drivers both use visual-spatial intelligence in different ways.
Anyone who has an affinity for the outdoors or understanding the natural world possesses this intelligence. If you are good at categorizing and organizing things based on types, interested in biology or other natural sciences or enjoy camping, you are exercising your naturalist intelligence.
This intelligence is not one of the original eight, but Gardner suggested it could include the ability to think about big questions such as spirituality, one’s place in the universe or the meaning of life.
Using Your Intelligences for Creative Breakthroughs
Again, these intelligences do not put you into a box as having a “type.” You use many of these intelligences in many different kinds of tasks. If you know you are a visual learner, however, you know that you likely tend to exercise your visual-spatial intelligence.
These intelligences also relate to the creative process and the ways in which your nonconscious mind may feed you new insights or flashes of inspiration.
For instance, music may trigger your creativity if you tend toward musical intelligence, or you may receive inspiration as images in your mind’s eye if you are more visual-spatial. Your bodily-kinesthetic intelligence could deliver to you a bodily-sense of knowing or gut feeling about an idea. Pay attention to what your intelligences are, how you tend to use them in different ways and how your nonconscious mind could subtly deliver you new information.
As you’ve learned about the creative process in the last chapter of this guide, creativity is dynamic and sometimes elusive. It involves a certain degree of spontaneity and illumination on its own terms. You can’t plan for a spontaneous experience, but you can want or intend it, expect it, get out of the way and let it happen.
In the following chapter, you’ll learn about the neuroscience of altered states which allow you to access greater perspective and resources. In other words, you’ll learn how to attune yourself to receive creative problem solving inspiration from a higher order of thinking.
ALTERED STATES AND FLOW
In the previous chapter you explored some views of creativity as it unfolds in work, human behavior and the natural world. In this chapter we’ll delve into the neuroscience of creative breakthroughs, and a skill you will need to navigate the speed of the 21st century and beyond: how to move in and out of altered states.
An Overview of Non-Ordinary States
In 2013, the RedBull Hacking Creativity Project–the largest meta-analysis of creativity research ever conducted–reviewed more than 30,000 research papers, hundreds of subject matter experts, breakdancers, poets, rock stars and more, only to find that creativity is essential to problem solving, and that in general, we have little training for it.
Creative problem solving requires the ability to find solutions by holding conflicting perspectives and using friction to synthesize a new idea. As Dr. Paul Scheele notes, it requires giving up a singular point of view, and either/or logic. And as it turns out, the best way to access this new, expanded point of view is through non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Non-ordinary states of consciousness encompass a wide variety of experiences that typically fall into two categories: the peak or mystical variety, and those that are slightly more “ordinary” and can be cultivated through practice. The line between the two, however, is not well defined.
For instance, non-ordinary peak experiences such as Near Death Experiences (NDEs), Out of Body Experiences, mystical or religious revelations, illuminations, or experiences on psychedelics are not everyday occurrences, and many of us will not experience an NDE or Out of Body experience. Then there are the slightly more ordinary, non-ordinary states, which are usually known as flow states, meditative states, or those accessed through mindbody practices such as yoga, or the awe of being in nature.
The second category we can move in and out of with ease and some training. Cultivating the skill of being able to move in and out of these states at will is a necessary skill for accessing creative breakthroughs. This skill can be cultivated by recognizing when you’re in your regular waking beta brainwave state versus alpha, theta or another.
A Primer on Brainwave States
According to Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler of the Flow Genome Project, “we’ve been trying to train for a skill set, but what we really need is to train for the skill of accessing altered states.”
In order to access greater creativity, it helps to understand the brainwave states associated with different levels of resources within you. When you can become attuned to what these states feel like, and how to enter them at will, you can harness massive amounts of information that are normally unavailable to you in your regular waking state.
The ways of the Western world are often based on more productivity, more output, more hustle–the legacy of the Industrial Model. Yet these ways of being severely limit human potential and expression.
In a moment, you’ll see a chart that is based on the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza in his book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. The left side of the chart displays the brainwave frequency, the developmental stage in life where this is the dominant state, and brief notes about what this state means. The right side of the chart demonstrates the resources available within these states when we access them as adults.
Developmental Stages of Mind
As we develop from infancy into adulthood, we move through stages in which we experience a dominant brainwave state. For instance, infants (age zero to two) spend most of their time in a delta state, which is why they’re asleep much of the time. Human adults mostly experience delta waves only during sleep. In this state there is little mental editing, critical thinking, or judgment taking place.
As children grow, they enter into a theta state where they are essentially in a trance. This is how small children learn so quickly, and are also so imaginative. For adults, this is a place of intuition and even where deep healing takes place. If you have ever been under hypnosis, this is likely where you were. Your nonconscious mind is highly impressionable in this state.
Alpha states are well known thanks to the mindfulness movement. In school age children, the analytical mind begins to develop, yet they retain an awareness of both their inner and outer worlds. For adults, we may recognize alpha as a place of relaxed alertness in meditation or while gazing at a relaxing natural scene.
Beta states begin to become dominant in children from age eight to twelve and into adulthood. This is our regular waking state as adults where we engage in logical thinking, problem solving and being mostly focused on the environment in front of us. Beta is necessary for successful functioning as an adult.
When we move into the mid to higher ranges of beta frequencies, however, we are likely very stressed, anxious or have experienced some kind of traumatic event. In these ranges, it means your mindbody system is chaotic, where you begin releasing survival chemicals, and may be over-concentrating on a subject–which means you can’t open yourself to other possibilities. Essentially your stressed system has produced tunnel vision in you.
Then there are gamma states or the highest frequency waves we can measure so far, which have been demonstrated in Buddhist monks during meditation. This is the state of peak experiences.
DELTA: 0-2 years. 0.5 to 4 cycles per second. Adults in deep sleep, one-year-olds function from subconscious.
Waking delta state = enlightened masters.
THETA: 2-5/6 years. 4 to 8 cycles per second. Trancelike, internal, imagination.
Enhanced intuition, psychic abilities, deep healing.
ALPHA: 5-8 years. 8 to 13 cycles. Analytical mind begins forming. One foot in inner world and outer world.
Relaxed alertness, focus, enhanced creativity, innovative thinking, scientific breakthroughs.
BETA: 8-12 years onward. Above 13 cycles. “Door between conscious and subconscious mind usually closes.” Low, mid, high range. Teens tend to move into mid and high range. (p. 186)
Regular waking state, logical thinking, analyzing.
GAMMA: Fastest documented 40 to 100 hz. Having a transcendent/peak experience. Highly coherent waves.
The least researched; evident in Tibetan Buddhist monks.
Low beta 13-15, mid 16-22, high 22-50 hz. Survival chemicals. Highly disordered, over concentrating.
Normal waking state. Thinking, problem solving – but a little too much. Can’t stop yourself from doing something.
High beta – focus almost entirely on environment. Outer world appears more real than inner (p. 194). Difficult to learn. Feel dissociated from others and the world around you.
Extreme stress and traumatic events.
Altered States and Creativity Boosts
As you saw in the chart above, research on Tibetan Buddhist monks in the 1990s revealed a preponderance of gamma brainwaves. We now know that these brainwave patterns arise during “binding” when novel ideas come together for the first time and create new neural pathways.
In order to have this kind of experience, your prefrontal cortex, or the seat of your executive functioning, needs to come offline. In Stealing Fire, Wheal and Kotler highlight that researchers at the University of Sydney used transcranial magnetic stimulation to do this, and created 20 to 40-minute flow states.
Psychedelic testing has also revealed as much as a 200 percent creativity boost in some individuals. The authors of the study note the real world solutions that emerged during an experiment included “design of a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a mathematical theorem regarding NOR-gate circuits, a new design for a vibratory microtome, a space probe designed to measure solar properties, and a new conceptual model of a photon.”
Whether it be mindfulness training, psychedelics or technological stimulation, researchers have seen a 200 percent boost in creativity, 490 percent boost in learning, and a 500 percent boost in productivity. (Stealing Fire p. 50)
So in case you were wondering, do short-term peak experiences help us to solve real-world problems? YES.
If you are to harness altered states to increase your creativity and productivity, how else do you recognize them when they occur? The Flow Genome Project’s phenomenological description of these states as S.T.E.R.–Selflessness, Timelessness, Effortlessness and Richness–may be helpful.
This experience means you feel at first less, as if something is missing in you. You experience your nagging inner voice, but then the neurotic prefrontal cortex goes offline. Transient hypofrontality kicks in and your inner critic goes quiet.
Developmental psychologist Robert Kegan describes this as a subject-object shift. In his book In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life, Kegan explains this shift:
“You start. . . constructing a world that is much more friendly to contradiction, to oppositeness, to being able to hold onto multiple systems of thinking. . . This means that the self is more about movement through different forms of consciousness than about defining and identifying with any one form.” In other words, you step outside of yourself and it gives you perspective.
Transient hypofrontality also shuts off your ability to calculate time. Here, you can’t separate past from future, and the only thing that matters is now. This is presence or mindful awareness. Your amygdala, the seat of your fight or flight response calms down here too.
In a study in Psychological Science, Jennifer Aaker and Melanie Rudd found “an experience of timelessness is so powerful it shapes behavior. In a series of experiments, subjects who tasted even a brief moment of timelessness ‘felt they had more time available, were less impatient, more willing to volunteer to help others, more strongly preferred experiences over mental products, and experienced a greater boost in life satisfaction.’”
Can you imagine then, what a brief taste of timelessness can do for your ability to solve complex problems? When you can drop that urgency for a moment to feel into the feeling of an abundance of time and resources? The past and future fade away. You no longer try to predict what the near future will look like based on historical evidence. See chapter five of this guide where Dr. Paul Scheele’s Natural Brilliance model will delve into a process for generating creative solutions.
Effortlessness can propel you past the limits of your normal motivation. When you experience flow while undertaking a task or situation, afterward you know that you did it, it felt amazing, and you want to do it again. The six powerful neurotransmitters involved in flow states can be to blame: norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, anandamide, and oxytocin–all pleasurable chemicals.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s research into flow found that his subjects frequently called the state ‘addictive,’ and admitted to going to exceptional lengths to engage in flow states more often. Czikzenmihalyi explains in his book Flow that the experience “lifts the course of life to another level. . . alienation gives way to involvement, enjoyment replaces boredom, helplessness turns into a feeling of control. . .” The intrinsic reward of feeling flow means you no longer need reminders, to-do lists or an accountability buddy or coach to make sure you do what we need to do.
Your experience becomes vivid, detailed and revealing. Jason Silva is a futurist and host of National Geographic documentaries Brain Games and Origins. In his first YouTube video “You Are a Receiver,” Silva explains, “It’s creative inspiration or divine madness or that kind of connection to something larger than ourselves that makes us feel like we understand the intelligence that runs throughout the universe.”
The Greeks called this richness anamnesis, or the forgetting of the forgetting. This sense of remembering is that of ecstatic experiences. When your agitated beta waves move into alpha daydreaming or relaxed alertness via the shutting down of your prefrontal cortex, and your anandamide boosts your ‘lateral thinking’, you now have the ability to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas.
Then quasi-hypnotic theta waves enhance relaxation and intuition. Your conscious processing–or what you can pick up through your daily awake beta brainwave state–can only take in about 120 bits of information at once. Listening to another person speak can take almost 60 bits.
That means if two people are talking, you’ve maxed out your attention and cannot take it all in. If you can remember that unconscious processing can handle billions of bits at once, that’s a game changer. The information we need is always there. We just can’t tap into it in our normal state.
So as you’ve seen from the detailed explanation of brainwave frequencies, flow and altered states we presented in this chapter, understanding these different states intellectually, and actually having an embodied experience of them so that you can create set points, helps you reach into the realms of creative problem solving breakthroughs by using your mind to access expanded perspectives and connect seemingly disparate ideas to create innovative solutions.
According to Dr. Win Wenger, a pioneer in Accelerative Learning, Creativity, Brain and Mind Development, your nonconscious mind processes bits of information at 10 million to one of what your conscious mind processes. This equates to you consciously perceiving about 40 bits per second.
An easy way to recognize how much you are letting in is by paying attention to your eyes. If you are hard focusing your eyes, you are in your conscious mind. If you have a softer gaze, you are allowing in information from the periphery, and you are accessing your nonconscious mind.
In this guide, we are not just looking for creative solutions; we are looking for creative solutions for the 21st century going forward. This means that we need to be cautious of the influence of the Industrial Model on our habits of looking for solutions through left-brain analysis alone. Using altered states on a regular basis is a way to move beyond the left brain.
As you will see in the next chapter on the Natural Brilliance model, Dr. Paul Scheele notes that our problems are defined within our mental and social models. So, in order to effectively create solutions, we need to shift our paradigm in the way we approach the problem.
Paradigm shifts mean that we shift our consciousness to what developmental psychologists would call a higher order of thinking, or the expansive perspective of altered states. In the following chapter, you’ll dive into Scheele’s step-by-step Natural Brilliance model.
HOW TO USE THE NATURAL BRILLIANCE MODEL FOR PARADOXICAL PROBLEMS
As we’ve discussed in previous chapters of this guide, our modern globalized world is complex, ever-changing, and will require greater creative problem solving capabilities than perhaps any other time in our human history.
Now that you have an understanding of the neuroscience behind brainwave states, as well as the importance of utilizing altered states in creative problem solving, we’ll now introduce you to a specific, highly effective problem solving technique for addressing paradoxical problems: The Natural Brilliance model.
Flipping the Old Problem-Solving Paradigm
The Natural Brilliance model is a creative problem solving process originally created for Honeywell by Paul Scheele, PhD, a pioneer in Accelerative Learning and Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
Scheele notes that people typically spend 20 percent of the time and effort of defining a problem and finding a solution, and then 80 percent on the implementation of it, which often leads to more problems. Scheele suggests that we need to spend 80 percent of the time and effort on finding solutions—meaning don’t just find one or two solutions. It means finding more–up to 7, 9, 11 different solutions.
The reason for coming up with a higher number of solutions is that the ones that come first are usually the easy answers that are emerging from the level of thinking that created the problem.
This means that when we come up with solutions, we need to challenge them right away. Consider, what could go wrong? What will result from solving this aspect of a problem? When 80 percent of the effort is spent on the solution finding, only 20 percent need be spent on implementation, which will typically go far more smoothly than the 20/80 percent approach.
In an interview on Creativity in Business, Scheele noted that the ability to embrace paradox and be comfortable with ambiguity is crucial to creativity within organizations. The paradox refers to the fact that whatever solution you implement can create more problems, so there is no lasting solution.
We need to think of creativity as evolutionary. It involves solving, creating, implementing the solution, receiving feedback from the implementation and then further refining the approach to the problem. You will see this approach in action in the steps of the Natural Brilliance model below.
Scheele also shares that our mental models are based on social systems, which means we are wearing blinders to what those models are, so we end up creating more of the same without realizing how or why. Creative leadership, then, must include the capacity to make these models visible so that they can be changed.
About the Natural Brilliance Model
According to Scheele in his book Natural Brilliance, the Natural Brilliance model uses Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) to deconstruct rigid definitions of a static “problem” and instead move to a fluid exploration of internal representations and options.
This deconstruction makes the mental models visible so that they can be changed, and, therefore, allows for a cohesive whole that incorporates all desired benefits to remain. It removes the either/or dichotomy that our minds typically resort to–which is the paradox. It requires a shift to a higher order of consciousness. Or, like, Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, “we cannot solve our problems on the same level of thinking that created them.”
This model can be used for complex (or paradoxical) problems that a group is working on together in business, or it can be used to address personal problems within one’s own life. No matter the problem being addressed, it helps individuals to work through stuck states: those situations where it seems you have an inability to learn or make progress in an area.
It addresses the physical, mental and emotional push and pull, or what Scheele calls Oscillation between options, or knowing what would be best to do and then failing to take action in order to change the situation. This oscillation results in stagnation, where people think change is too difficult.
For most people, you are afraid to change because you risk losing the present positives that you want to keep. On the other hand, the future also has some negatives that will inevitably arise from the change you are implementing.
Stuck States and using NLP to reframe
This series of questions can be used for any stuck state, which is whatever you seem unable to accomplish in life, and can help you to get clarity on what you do want versus what you do not want. When you find yourself in oscillation and unable to take action, ask yourself:
- What is the difference between the present state and desired outcome? In what area of life (or business or whatever the context in which you are seeking new solutions) is there oscillation? In personal life, this could be in your work, creating, self-expression, learning or intellectual abilities, physical body or wellness, social, interpersonal or community problems, or family/relationships.
- What personal identity do you maintain in relationship to this issue? How do you view yourself? What do you affirm about this issue? And what do you believe to be true for you?
- What is the predominant emotion?
- What is your unresolvable paradox? In other words, what opposing outcomes do you want at the same time?
- What are the benefits and detriments inside your stuck state?
- What fears are associated with your stuck state?
The answers to these questions will help you to understand your current frame of reference surrounding your problem so you can shift it.
Stuck States and using NLP to reframe
Step 1: Release
The first step, Release, drains stress out of the physical systems. Relax your body and mind into an alpha state.
Releasing can be as easy as changing your posture, eye focus, breathing, and thoughts to produce a calming effect.
You are familiar with this concept if you’ve read chapter four of this guide. Tension and resistance characterize a person trying to change the present situation. Often, the person strains to avoid making the situation worse. You’re trying to force an outcome. Scheele notes that, paradoxically, almost everything people instinctively do to remedy a bad situation makes it worse. The best solution may also be counterintuitive.
Tension and stress causes us to narrowly focus our attention. Think back to our brainwave chart in chapter four. In this narrowed attention, you’re too focused on the details and miss the big picture. Scheele states that “breakthrough happens when we make the connection that our attempts to keep everything in control are antithetical to relaxing enough to be in control.”
By relaxing, you allow your sensory system to take in subtle changes within and around you. This is how you can be more open to intuitive nudges and resources from your nonconscious mind. This leads us to the next step, Notice.
Step 2: Notice
The Notice step could also be thought of as mindfulness or presence. It involves entering into increased awareness both of external sensory input and internal sensations such as intuition and impressions upon your inner mind. You get rid of your tunnel vision of a problem.
Scheele notes that when you attend to the input in your sensory systems, you will naturally generate creative options and promising responses. The reason for this is because your inner mind makes connections and associations much faster than your conscious mind. You’re giving your mind direction and then it can get to work on deep levels.
This awareness includes using your five physical senses to pay attention to the external environment, as well as your corresponding internal senses. Internal perceptions include inner pictures, imaginings, memories, emotional feelings, remembered tactile sensations, internal dialogue, voices and other sounds, even remembered smells and tastes. Remember your multiple intelligences here.
Relaxed alertness and a broader perception of information helps you to now choose new responses from a rich set of options. You stop the oscillation.
Step 3: Respond
This step means to take action which will then provide feedback. Until you take some kind of action and receive feedback, you cannot know what steps to take next, if your approach is on the right track, or if you need to rethink your actions or plan all together.
Any response either increases the oscillation and the inability to move, or it dampens the oscillation and increases movement toward a satisfying outcome. For instance, falling down simply provides feedback on how to walk better next time.
Once your brain recognizes that your actions (or not doing any actions) makes your situation better or worse, you have the beginnings of change and the first step in gaining control of the outcomes you want to produce.
When you feel you can cause your life to get better, you build your self-confidence and self-esteem. Measure your progress after taking action, and be kind to yourself. There is no failure; only feedback and progress.
Step 4: Witness
This step allows you to create the successful outcome you are after. Just as in Step 3 you learned to remain neutral and relaxed, it is still important to maintain a nonjudgmental stance, or what Scheele calls emotional safety and blessing. Witnessing means you are simply observing. Feedback is learning; failure or success is not the point. Scheele suggests giving your new behaviors at least 50 trials.
Again, the Natural Brilliance process is:
This process may seem very simple–because it is! The key is to remember to utilize it in tense situations, especially when there is an urgency to find a creative solution. Slowing down in times of stress seems counterintuitive, but it is exactly what you need in order to find the best solutions.
THE WIND TUNNEL AND OTHER CREATIVE TECHNIQUES
In the last chapter you learned Paul Scheele’s Natural Brilliance model for creating solutions for paradoxical problems. One of the keys to Scheele’s model is being open to many options, and not stopping at the first few ideas that you receive because those are likely too close to the level of thinking that created the problem. You need to go deeper and access more resources–just as you learned in the previous chapters on multiple intelligences and altered states.
In this chapter you’ll learn some specific techniques to increase your creative idea generation, as well as tips to exercise your mind for creative thinking on a regular basis, even if you are not currently working on a problem.
The Wind Tunnel Technique was created by Win Wenger, PhD, pioneer in Accelerative Learning, Creativity, Brain and Mind Development and Political Economy, and one of the authors of The Einstein Factor.
One of Wenger’s key contributions to the field of creativity is his research on Image Streaming to reach the resources beyond your conscious mind.
According to Wenger, 80 to 90 percent of information your brain processes happens through sensory image association, while only two percent happens through word association. So this means talking about a problem in a logical, left brain manner is limited. You need to access the right brain, which communicates in images, metaphors and feelings. Image Streaming should be used to describe in sensory-textured detail as possible.
If you recall the brainwave chart earlier in this guide, when you are receiving spontaneous images in your mind, you are automatically working at a theta brainwave level, which is accessing far greater resources than your conscious mind can capture.
Within this foundational framework of Image Streaming, Wenger developed a “torrential approach” with an outpouring of perceptions from the mind: the Wind Tunnel.
The Wind Tunnel
In this brainstorming exercise, you work with a partner to capture whatever creative ideas flow from your nonconscious mind, without allowing for the judgments or analysis of your conscious mind to slow you down.
- You start with a minimum of 11 minutes, but the longer the time, the better.
- Perhaps after preparing by reading some texts on a subject, or reviewing other information about a topic or field, you would then proceed to talk without stopping. As Paul Scheele mentioned about his Natural Brilliance approach, the main problem in solving problems is getting past the conscious expectation of what the answer ought to be.
- In order to get past what you already know and access new perceptions, your partner who is recording your ideas should be focused on encouraging you to speak faster.
- The recording partner should only write down three to four of the most important or interesting ideas that you as the speaker mention and ignore the rest.
- The idea of this process is to speak first and think later, and be willing to be wrong or silly. Wenger notes that if your idea would elicit a burst of laughter from another person, it is probably a good idea in disguise.
- The recording partner will then take four minutes to share his or her notes on the most interesting things the speaker said.
- If relevant, you could then switch with your partner and allow the recorder to become the speaker about a topic he or she has just studied or reviewed.
The process may seem similar to doing free writing or any process where you let words flow without stopping to analyze them, but the addition of a partner could lead to recognizing significant ideas from you that you would not highlight as significant or useful.
The Crab Apple Process
Another creative brainstorming approach from Wenger is the Crab Apple Process.
- In this simple process, you allow your attention to be drawn to something in your surroundings. It could be as simple as a crab apple.
- Begin to describe aspects of the object of your attention, and then begin to relate aspects of the object to the topic of discussion. Remember, the more sensory, textured detail you can include, the better.
- Like the Wind Tunnel technique, the longer amount of time you go for in doing this, the better the ideas will flow.
Accessing Creativity Through Another Pathway
Prolific author Jean Houston, one of the principal founders of the Human Potential Movement, as well as founder of The Mind Research Institute often discusses her practice of accessing creativity through other paths. For instance, if Houston is working on writing and having trouble finding her flow of ideas, she will go cook and allow the ideas to come as they are ready.
You could try anything: cooking, painting, playing music, but the key is not to just use any activity. Houston notes that cooking is her other pathway because she is skilled and confident in it. So choose an activity where you are competent and confident in your abilities, and it does not demand much of you. In other words, it doesn’t feel like hard work that causes you to feel tension. This process will not only free up your nonconscious mind to offer up solutions to your creative problem, but may also allow you to access a burst of energy to create.
Draw Your Solutions
Like Wenger noted, your brain uses sensory-image association to process the incoming stream of information in your world. Like his Image Streaming techniques, using your right brain to bypass the left brain logical mind can help you generate novel solutions. This can include activities such as drawing (you don’t have to be a good artist). The point is not to really think about what you are drawing.
Just put your hand to paper and see what comes out. Think about how art therapy works, especially for children. By drawing or painting, they are able to express unconscious emotions. Similarly, you drawing can allow you to unleash some of the genius lurking in your nonconscious mind.
Draw Your Solutions
As Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, often mentions, daily routines can set you up for success, but you also need to learn how to break them.
Consider these questions:
- Do you open yourself to novelty in your life?
- Do you take different routes home from work?
- Do you make yourself available to new people, places and ideas?
- Do you go against your habits to explore that which is different from your reality?
Simply becoming more deliberately curious and open minded about the world can help you to take in more varied, diverse sensory information, which later allow you to make novel connections between seemingly unrelated ideas–often the mark of genius.
HOW THE NATURAL WORLD MAKES YOU MASSIVELY CREATIVE
It’s well known that many famous artists, inventors and thinkers throughout history spent time in nature–especially walking–to enhance their work. Nikola Tesla, John Muir, Albert Einstein, Ludwig Van Beethoven and many more often credit their time in nature for creative breakthroughs.
In our modern world, we have plenty of emerging data to explain why nature helps us be more creative, and especially why this is so important in the Digital Age.
How Our Brains Evolved in Nature
Our brains evolved outside where we could be filled with interesting things, but not an overwhelming amount of interesting things. Our ancestors could notice passing distractions, but also had the ability to focus and remain disciplined so they could master skills, build tools, have families, and hunt. Evolution favored early humans who could stay on task and switch tasks when needed. Our prefrontal cortex evolved to allow us to do this.
Our ancestors were curious and also wanted to explore. The ones who could survive in dynamic, unfamiliar environments could respond more quickly. Just as in today’s complex, ever-changing world, those of us who can be creative enough to switch tasks and devise novel solutions will be far more likely to thrive.
In the modern world we consume 74 gigabytes of data every day, according to McGill University neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. Teens today spend vastly more waking hours on screens than outdoors, which means that the Digital Age is profoundly narrowing our horizons and our creativity.
How Nature Expands Our Creative Minds
Nature gets us into flow states, especially after a few days of being outdoors. David Strayer of the University of Utah’s Applied Cognition Lab notes that nature helps us think, solve problems and work together, primarily by lowering stress and anxiety.
Stephen and Rachel Kaplan at the University of Michigan developed Attention Restoration Theory (ART) which explains how nature scenes evoke “soft fascination” and help us rest our top-down, direct-attention faculties, helping us relax so we can think better. You rest the executive branch of your brain after a couple of days in the wilderness.
After three days of being in nature, you’re more relaxed and begin noticing details. Once the novelty effect of the first few days wears off, your attention is no longer grabbed so you move into intuition. This is where the creative inspiration starts bubbling up. From a neuroscientific perspective, this means nature effortlessly puts you in the calm-alert zone of the alpha state.
The overall take away from these experts is that when the brain rests from daily tasks, it can make room for other things.
Luckily, we also have tools such as The Nature Pyramid developed by Tim Beatley who runs the Biophilic Cities Project at the University of Virginia. Beatley has broken down more exact amounts of time spent in nature and how it affects our wellbeing and creativity.
The Nature Pyramid
The first step in expanding your creativity and wellbeing, is in scheduling daily interactions with nearby nature to help you de-stress, find focus and recover from mental fatigue. Remember our brainwave chart? Too much time in a high beta brainwave state is not good for your mind or body, and severely limits your perception of the world.
Birds, trees in your neighborhood, pets, house plants, public and private architecture, daylight, fresh air, the ability to see blue sky and naturalistic landscaping are fall under the daily nature schedule.
The second step is weekly outings to parks, waterways, and specifically places where the sounds of a city diminish. The minimum optimal time spent here is one hour per week. Think big city parks, regional or national parks that you can easily access.
The third step is monthly excursions to forests, “restful, escapist natural areas” one weekend per month. This level of nature immersion benefits our immune systems too.
The fourth level of the pyramid encompasses the “rare, but essential” doses of wilderness yearly or biyearly. These kinds of trips are intense, multi-day bursts of nature. They can often be life-changing, or paradigm-shifting, and “fill us with awe and reassurance of our place in the universe,” according to Florence Williams in her book The Nature Fix.
In fact, consider how American President Teddy Roosevelt, arguably one of the “most hyperproductive presidents of all time” according to Williams, escaped to open country for months at a time.
Awe and Creativity
Aside from the spiritual or existential benefits of this kind of wilderness trip, if you’ll recall the role of awe in altered states and the ah-ha breakthroughs it can create, you will understand why time in nature can be incredibly powerful in generating creative solutions.
An awe-inspiring experience means that we have difficulty making sense of it. These are the transcendent experiences described by philosophers, poets, and mystics. These experiences are not just transitory moments of wonder, however. Awe can change your perspective even for a long time afterward.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS REVISITED: HOW TO AVOID SELF SABOTAGE
Throughout this guide, we’ve looked at the creative process as a way to solve a discrete problem. The creative process can also be understood in a broader scope as well. Afterall, our human-directed creative process is a microcosm of the universal creative process.
A Lifespan Approach to the Creative Process
Novelist and poet Orna Ross takes a lifespan approach in describing creativity in the context of stages of psychological development that we all move in and out of. Ross’s process is particularly helpful in understanding problems of procrastination, overwhelm and self-sabotage.
These seven stages are intention, incubation, investigation, composition, clarification, correction and completion. They do not operate in a linear way. Instead they are spontaneous and free-flowing, and can sometimes feel chaotic or overwhelming.
This is not a simplistic model imposed on human behaviour but a primal, unfolding process that happens over and over again, in humans and in nature. We can see this creative unfolding reflected in the seven stages of life, and also in the seven psychological states, as follows.
STAGE 1: INTENTION (Aspiring)
First Law of Creation: Birth
Life Stage: Infancy: Impulse
STAGE 2: INCUBATION (Germinating)
Second Law of Creation: Enchantment
Life Stage: Childhood: Magic
STAGE 3: INVESTIGATION (Exploring)
Third Law of Creation: Revolution
Life Stage: Adolescence: Experiment
STAGE 4: COMPOSITION (Devising)
Fourth Law of Creation: Involution
Life Stage: Adulthood: Logic
STAGE 5: CLARIFICATION (Deepening)
Fifth Law of Creation: Selfhood
Life Stage: Early Midlife: Appraisal
STAGE 6: CORRECTION (Revis[ion]ing)
Sixth Law of Creation: Evolution
Life Stage: Late Midlife: Adaptation
STAGE 7: COMPLETION (Finishing and Letting Go)
Seventh Law of Creation: Transformation
Life Stage: Aging: Release
Ross compares the example of doing something that comes easy to us, such as making a family dinner, painting a room, or writing an article, where we zip through the stages without noticing them, to doing something that stretches us: conference catering for 300, making a million dollars, writing a novel, which require a more nuanced understanding of the differing behaviours and requirements of each stage.
Ross notes that “a common reason why people fail to accomplish their heart’s desire is because they are indulging thoughts and behaviours that are inappropriate to the stage they are in.”
For instance, if you tend to edit (stage 6) your ideas and insights before they are fully formed (stage 2), you are impeding the natural process.
This perspective demonstrates that creativity is both a science and an art with clear steps that can be followed, but also requires a letting go and allowing. Creativity takes courage whether you are solving a problem at work, or creating your own life. It can be a messy endeavor, but nonetheless, this powerful process is unavoidable in all existence.
So that’s Creative Problem Solving for the 21st Century: The Go-To Guide.
Creativity is largely about bringing seemingly disparate ideas together in new ways, and applying it to a real-world situation. It doesn’t mean you have to invent something new, because the truth is nothing is ever truly new. Everything is built upon the ideas and experiences of others.
Never doubt your creativity. No one else has your unique combination of education and life experience. No one wears the same lenses as you to view the world. Remember, if your idea is silly or laughable, it’s probably a genius idea in disguise.
Now we want to turn it over to you: what did you think about this guide?
Let us know by leaving a comment below.