Neuroscientist Dr Caroline Luft reveals her tips for unlocking creativity

by Adobe UK Team

Posted on 05-20-2019

Creativity: some of us are born with it, some of us aren’t… right? For leading neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Luft, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you ask her, creativity exists in everyone’s mind, and what’s more, it functions in more or less the same way. The secret to unlocking your own artistic genius is understanding how creativity functions within the human brain and learning how to use this process to your advantage. Here are Dr. Luft’s tips for tapping into your own original talent.

Get to know your creative personality

Everyone has creativity inside them, but each of us expresses our creativity in different ways. Some people come up with great ideas, and some are better at bringing other people’s ideas to life; some people create work that sparks the intellect, whereas others produce work that pulls on the heartstrings. Getting to know your own creative type can help you understand your best ways of working – this was the subject of an experiment, “Co-lab”, led by Dr Luft in conjunction with Adobe.

As part of Co-lab, we gathered some of Europe’s most talented artists from a diverse range of fields, like London-based illustrator Hattie Stewart; Munich-based visual artist David Amberzumjan; and Swedish art director Andreas Wannerstedt, to examine a mix of creative styles and how they work together. Dr Luft monitored the artists’ brainwaves using an EEG machine, providing insight into each artist’s best creative environment and personal triggers.

The artists then broke into groups based on their creative speciality where they were asked to join forces to produce artwork which reflects their collaborative take on Creative Democracy. Announced as one of Adobe’s visual trends for 2019 from Adobe Stock, it means that we’re no longer waiting for creatives to shape our visual worlds – instead people are using technology to elevate their own unpolished, raw, authentic moments in full, vivid colour. Many commented that the insight from the session with Dr. Luft, as well as the specific dynamic of the group, helped them create some of their best work!

(Interpretation of Creative Democracy by George Townley, Niloufar Behradi-Ohnacker, Yael Weiser, and Sarah Alice Hasenmaile)

Sleep on it (no, really!)

Charles Dickens may have said procrastination is the thief of time, but according to Dr Luft, it can actually be the secret to releasing your best ideas! To understand why, we need to look at how creativity works within the brain. Basically, there are two brain modes which are relevant to creative thought: default mode and executive control mode. Your brain is in default mode when it’s wandering or resting, and it’s in executive control mode when the pre-frontal cortex – the part of your brain responsible for reasoning and decision making – is engaged in more concentrated thought.

Creativity requires an optimum combination of both, and too much executive control mode can impede the creative process. That’s why Dr Luft recommends that you give yourself enough time in default mode to let creative ideas incubate. She refers to this process as “scheduled procrastination” and she actually encourages people to factor this time into any creative task:

“Take a break if inspiration doesn’t come to you straight away,” Dr Luft says. “Take a shower, or do something relaxing – sleep on it, if need be!

“You may not feel like your brain is taking your idea any further, but I assure you your default mode network is still working for you. I like to call it your ‘brain librarian’ – it’s scanning your memories and thoughts in search of useful information.”

(Interpretation of Creative Democracy by Will Paterson, Andreas Wannerstedt, Eda Durust, and Antoine Elsensohn)

Believe in your abilities

Now that you know how ideas are generated in the brain, it’s clear that creativity is a neurological capability that all humans share. However, it’s also fair to say that some of us demonstrate higher levels of creativity than others. Dr. Luft puts this down to the presence (or absence) of self-belief.

Citing Carol Dweck’s famous work “Growth mindset”, Dr. Luft explains that many people experience higher levels of creativity simply because they believe in their ability to find inspiration: “You don’t have to be born an Einstein or a Picasso to be creative. Science tells us that everyone is capable of creative thought – you just need to invest the time required to produce it.”

People who exhibit a growth mindset are more likely to put in the patience and hard work required to eventually come up with the creative solutions they are determined to find.

(Interpretation of Creative Democracy by Peter Ohnacker, Hattie Stewart, Anna Wanda Gogusey, and David Amberzumjan)

Creativity in numbers

We are all creative, but we can’t do it on our own. Most people are better at coming up with creative ideas individually, but when it comes to evaluating and iterating them, working in groups will always yield a better result.

According to Dr Luft, diverse groups provide the best environment for bouncing around ideas. In fact, any group where some members bring a fresh perspective – and even disagree with each other – will help flesh out the best solution. And when it comes to group work, face-to-face is always best. This is due to a phenomenon called brain synchronisation, whereby shared eye contact helps people achieve mutual understanding. Groups experiencing brain synchronisation tend to deliver more creative results, Dr Luft says.

If you don’t have the power of an entire team behind you, there are other resources you can draw upon to cultivate your creativity. Adobe is a big believer in the potential of technology to enhance artistic endeavours. In addition to the Co-lab experiment mentioned earlier, Adobe also used the OFFF festival to launch a new feature in Illustrator. The Recolor feature allows users to take colours from existing images onto Illustrator work, allowing them to explore endless colour variations in their designs.

Understanding the science of creativity and believing that people from all walks of life can access it is the first step to realising your own full creative potential. But nothing can ever replace good old-fashioned practice, and Adobe has a vision to provide creative minds with the tools they need to hone their craft, whatever their style may be.

If you don’t have a brain scanner at your disposal but are still keen on discovering the creative inside you, Adobe has developed a Creative Types quiz, based on science, to help anyone understand how to unleash their own creative personality and special brand of creativity. You can take the quiz here:

Topics: Visual Trends, advice for creatives, illustration, Inspiration, UK, UK Exclusive, Creative EMEA

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