Creative ideas don't come easy

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INSIGHT 1: Switch off to switch on your ideas

Overwhelmingly, creatives said they were more likely to get ideas from real-life experiences like talking with friends, travel, nature, books, magazines and going to galleries. Creative blogs and social media (especially Twitter and Facebook) scored less well, suggesting we need to build better online spaces for idea generation.


Maryanne Wolf A highly-acclaimed neuroscientist at Tufts University and information through language and reading.

When you think about what goes into cognition, there are multiple sensory pathways in. To give you a tiny example, if a stroke patient can’t retrieve a word like ‘orange,’ and then they smell an orange, it will enhance their ability to retrieve the word. In other words, we have multiple contributors to how we think. The recipe is the same for reading and real-life experiences. The multiplicity of multi-sensory information that you can get [offline] helps you with a better understanding and a better perception too. The problem that we have with the digital screen is that it has neither kinaesthetic [to do with learning through physical activity] nor spatial information in the same way that print does. There is a fair amount of work that shows when you have this tactile dimension, you are actually delving deeper into what is being read.

The second factor is that the digital screen enhances the speed of processing more voluminous material. The reading brain has a circuit. It’s a plastic circuit, so when you read on a digital medium you are quickly skimming multiple sources of information; you’re multitasking. You are giving less attention to the apperception of detail and the deep reading process. What often goes missing in skimming, browsing and word-spotting is the time the brain circuit usually allocates to deep reading, empathy and critical analysis.

After empathy and critical analysis comes insight. That takes time. I’m not saying it’s impossible to gain insight digitally. It’s just that you’re more able to gain insight when you allocate more time to these deeper processes. They lead more naturally to insights and to creativity.


Author: Maryanne Wolf, A highly-acclaimed neuroscientist at Tufts University and information through language and reading.