In 2009, Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love gave a TED Talk about the origin of creativity. Central to the talk is Elizabeth’s claim that genius is not an inherent characteristics of any human.
She believed that people shouldn’t be called genius, instead it should be said about them that there’s a genius in them and she argues that people should stop saying, “I came up with an idea,” and should rather say, “an idea came to me,” because, basically, ideas generation are beyond us humans. This is why we often experience blankness whenever we consciously make a decision to create something and would often overflow with ideas seconds after we make our minds off overthinking.
People call this the shower moment and there has been numerous talks about it for a while now.
In 2016, during Peak Work Performance Summit hosted by psychologist Ron Friedman, during which the influential cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explained why experiences like the shower moment are so special for creativity:
The relaxing, solitary, and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.
The inner stream of consciousness. Not the outer consciousness forced by calculated thinking and directional bias. The peak of our creative ability is better reached when the mind is left to wander, free from directioning and calculations.
“Creativity requires our ability to know what has come before so we can stand on the shoulder of giants,” Kaufman said explaining the mechanism behind creativity, “But it also requires the ability to have great foresight and vision to imagine the world the way that it could be. And when we combine the two I think that makes us much more likely we’ll have creativity.”
How then do we combine these two–intelligence and knowledge–with the reality of the shower moment? How do we utilize the powers of our intelligence (knowledge) and imagination (thinking) to produce the most productive explorations for our inner stream of consciousness so that we can begin innovating like a pro?
In 2012, Robert Greene, the author of the widely acclaimed bestseller 48 Laws of Power, published another masterpiece called Mastery, a book that “examines the lives of great historical figures and contemporary leaders and distills the traits and universal ingredients that made them masters.” In Mastery, Robert brilliantly attempt to answer our question of how to intentionally utilize the power of our intelligence and imagination to facilitate subconscious creativity.
He started by reminding us about the power of our brain, especially in the subconscious state, and then progressing to introduce to us an instrument called chance for maximizing that power:
The brain is an instrument developed for making connections. It operates as a dual processing system, in which every bit of information that comes in is at the same time compared to other information. The brain is constantly searching for similarities, differences, and relationships between what it processes. Your task is to feed this natural inclination, to create the optimal conditions for it to make new and original associations between ideas and experiences. And one of the best ways to accomplish this is by letting go of conscious control and allowing chance to enter into the process.
Although we are not expected to control the subconscious, right? Because, of course, it’s supposed to be subconscious, right? However, “although by their nature you cannot force them to happen, you can invite serendipity into the creative process.”
The first step to inviting serendipity to facilitate chance is to first expand your horizons. Acquire more knowledge to give the mind more ground for imagination:
In the research stage of your project, you look at more than what is generally required. You expand your search into other fields, reading and absorbing any related information. If you have a particular theory or hypothesis about a phenomenon, you examine as many examples and potential counterexamples as humanly possible. It might seem tiring and inefficient, but you must trust this process. What ensues is that the brain becomes increasingly excited and stimulated by the variety of information.
The second step is to get in the shower, that is, to maintain an openness and looseness of spirit.
In moments of great tension and searching, you allow yourself moments of release. You take walks, engage in activities outside your work (Einstein played the violin), or think about something else, no matter how trivial. When some new and unanticipated idea now enters your mind, you do not ignore it because it is irrational or does not fit the narrow frame of your previous work. You give it instead full attention and explore where it leads you.
And finally, in a voice that echoes Elizabeth Gilbert’s sentiment that ideas are imparted by genies who come and go with doses of inspiration, Robert Greene suggests that we always be ready so that when these genies come with brilliant ideas, when our minds suddenly collect creative signals in terms of flashes of ideas, we would be available to receive and make use of them:
To help yourself to cultivate serendipity, you should keep a notebook with you at all times. The moment any idea or observation comes, you note it down. You keep the notebook by your bed, careful to record ideas that come in those moments of fringe awareness—just before falling asleep, or just upon waking. In this notebook you record any scrap of thought that occurs to you, and include drawings, quotes from other books, anything at all. In this way, you will have the freedom to try out the most absurd ideas. The juxtaposition of so many random bits will be enough to spark various associations.
Like all Robert Greene’s works, Mastery is filled with deep insights with inspiration from the lives of great masters on how to become a master at whatever you do. For more insights from Robert Greene and other great thinkers and leaders disrupting our understanding of the human characteristics and development, checkout the growing collection on relationships, and life.