Many people who are just getting on the creative path or starting a career as an entrepreneur faced with the question: “How to find an idea, look for inspiration?”. I will tell you about my experience.
For me, generating ideas and predicting, creativity and intuition are one and the same. I come up with ideas and try to look into the future in the same way, and I feel the same way.
As Nobel laureate Denesch Gabor said, “The future cannot be foreseen, but can be invented. But what are these feelings and how did I learn to evoke them in myself? Let me tell you about three intellectual adventures I’ve had at different times that have helped me to know myself, my capabilities, and my limitations better.
1. How I “hacked” my subconscious
I became interested in journalism very early, when I was still in school. Since there were no youth editorial offices in my hometown, I had to work with the local political newspaper.
My first teachers took my intentions seriously and sent me to interview serious people: factory directors, officials, politicians, architects of cities, prosecutor’s office investigators, etc. And they, without a smile, patiently gave the answers to an unsophisticated young journalist.
Alas, my life experience and knowledge summed up to zero. I did not understand even half of what was being said to me. So I tried to write down every word in my notebook.
I would go out after the interview with my back all scrunched up and head to the library to clarify for myself the meaning of obscure terms and processes. And then I would run home, cut the sheets of paper into dozens of squares, write out one fact or vivid phrase or observation on each square in my notebook, and spend hours shuffling these scraps of paper on my desk, trying to build a logical, convincing scheme from them.
It was only when I felt I could do it that I dared to return to my duties as a junior journalist. The editors seemed to be satisfied with the result: each time I was given more and more difficult assignments. And I was often praised for my creativity. But I already knew that the basis of creativity is a large amount of accumulated information and continuous efforts to make sense of it. 🙂
Seven years later, by the time I graduated from journalism school, I had a noticeable increase in my life experience. But the “living block diagrams” I invented in my youth continued to help me out. The fact is that I was lucky enough to start my career in the third largest youth newspaper in my country.
And, I think, the second is in the quality of the journalistic school. A good literary style was the default requirement here. But even more appreciated here were articles that contained a certain discovery, a generalization, an unexpected solution to a problem, an out-of-the-box look at people, events, and processes. I tried. And, in search of the next discovery, I shuffled the squares on the table, sometimes for several days at a time.
But one day I hit a deadline: I had to turn in a text of unbelievable size by morning. There wasn’t even time left to simply transfer to the squares the “squeeze” of the many meetings, documents read, and facts checked out. What was it all about? In desperation, I tried to conjure up that feeling of elation I used to feel when successful thoughts and phrases came to mind.
I tried, and it worked! I still remember in detail that amazing moment. Within seconds: a second, deeper meaning of the events I encountered during my journalistic investigation became clear; then a killer headline came to mind; then a detailed flowchart of the future article popped up on the “inner screen”.
Only after some time was I able to comprehend the mechanism of this insight.
Emotions can be the key to the subconscious.
So, our subconsciousness is not only a dark abode of Freudian monsters. It makes a lot of useful (in IT terms, parallel) calculations at enormous speed, comparing external signals, internal reactions and accumulated data. We are aware of some of the obtained results. And some are perceived in a generalized form, as an emotional background.
Be attentive to your emotions – they are cues from your subconscious!
Since then I constantly use emotions as a tool of feedback to my hidden resources. I formulate a task, “remember” the state of inspiration or creative flow – and very quickly (often – immediately) I get an answer: some initial idea, the scheme of embodiment of which can be refined by usual logical methods.
Yeah, it’s just like that. But I suppose some difficulties can arise:
- First, your brain must already be loaded with necessary and sufficient information: ideas are not born from nothing;
- Secondly, you must have experience in analyzing information. To put it without sentimentality: have the practice of “squeezing out” creative ideas from yourself by purely logical, constructivist methods. The brain must be trained to quickly calculate the “equilibrium of the idea” – the main vector of all the forces and factors you have taken into account.
You might ask: does this always work for me? No, not always (in this case I keep an open “chest” with a collection of popular methods for stimulating creativity – such as SCAMPER, the “blue ocean” strategy, the method of focal objects, etc.).
But I should note that the emotional feedback tool can always be re-established. After all, the reason for its failure is either a lack of information / practice, or, again, emotions: anger, fear, a state of stress, resistance to change, etc. So in order to get my inspiration back – I still have to deal with my emotions as keys to outdated habits, life attitudes, etc.
2. How did I learn to look ahead?
Another five years later, I found myself on a continuum of conflicts on all fronts. By and large, it was a banal story, where external career and internal development clashed. But I understand that now. Back then it seemed as if I was surrounded on all sides by ill-wishers.
In the midst of those events, I noticed a pattern that struck me. If I woke up in the morning in a depressed and anxious mood, another conflict was bound to happen by lunch or in the evening (I even gradually learned to estimate by the strength of my emotions the time when it would happen). And the absence of negative emotions meant that the day would pass quietly.
This pattern seemed unbelievable, but day after day, month after month, it was confirmed one hundred percent. The gut-wrenching mood in the morning foreshadowed conflict in the course of the day. And my morning equilibrium stretched throughout the day. I could not change the balance in my favor by avoiding conflicted people, topics, and zones. Someone was bound to strike from what I thought at the time was an unexpected angle.
It was time for me to become a mystic. Fortunately, the accumulated reserve of sanity kept me from creating a “personal totalitarian sect”. 🙂
I began to analyze my relationships with people, and a sad picture emerged. Namely, mountains of my own forgotten promises, provocative hints, and ignored requests. I pushed all this out of consciousness – but my brain kept storing and processing it in my subconscious. And it issued warnings of imminent conflicts with the help of emotions – i.e. through the channel that was already well trained through regular generation of ideas. After a while, I got my relationships with others back in balance – and my inner equilibrium returned to me.
It seems to me that the word equilibrium is very closely related to predicting the future.
Do you know how the vestibular system works? There are three fluid-filled semicircles in the inner ear that have sensitive receptors. One hemisphere signals to the brain the position of a person in the horizontal plane, the second in the vertical plane, and the third one informs about forward and backward movements. Those who use a smartphone with an accelerometer and gyroscope will quickly understand. 🙂
The dramatic consequences of damage to the vestibular apparatus (e.g. due to illness or medication abuse) are described in Brain Plasticity by Norman Doidge, M.D:
A person not only loses the ability to move normally, but even when seated in a chair, he falls helplessly from it. And when lying down, he feels himself continually falling into a bottomless abyss. This condition literally drives patients insane.
It seems to me that in each of us lies the ability to maintain a balance on the path to the future. The fact that the human brain continuously predicts the future (calculates the consequences of certain actions and options of external events) has been known to science for a long time. Moreover, many neurobiologists assume that the mystery of human consciousness is connected exactly with the predictive ability of the brain.
But at the same time we can see from the state of affairs on the planet that the forecasting horizon of the majority of people is not very wide yet. A minute, a day, a week… And it takes more, much more, for life to come into balance.
The man have a better sense of the direction in which the future is leaning if:
- it takes into account the interests of more and more people;
- it tries to make sense of more and more events and phenomena;
- he relies not only on the authority of ideologies, concepts, and traditions, which tend to become obsolete, but also on his own inner sense of balance.
This way you can sense the direction in which the future is leaning and you can do something about it in advance.
Fortunately, there are more and more such people. At least that’s what my own sense of balance tells me. 🙂
3. How I traded other people’s talents for my own
Five years later, I encountered an unexpected creative problem. Before, I had never complained about my lack of wit: as soon as I concentrated on a topic, I could almost immediately “fire off” a ready-made aphorism or generalization. But now I suddenly noticed that I was having more and more difficulty with short and apt phrases.
Finally, there came a time when I could have spent ten, fifteen minutes, or half an hour trying to come up with a killer phrase that was begging for at the climax of the article. I kept coming back to this fragment several times a day, but I couldn’t come up with anything special.
Of course, by that time I had become a much more skilled craftsman in many respects than I had been in my youth – but some of the aerobatics had suddenly become inaccessible to me.
My first thought: here comes old age. 🙁
It is not for nothing that they say that the human brain develops after 20 years in only one direction – towards degradation. And I was already over thirty. I made several deliberate attempts to regain the lost skill. And one day in the course of these experiments a thought struck me so vividly that my brain was no longer a “black box” to me: I understood how it functioned!
I realized that I demanded the impossible from my brain. What it is physically unable to do now, because my brain have physically changed.
I realized that we change not only because we gain new experiences and forget some of the old ones. We change not only because sclerotic plaques appear and nerve cells die in the brain. Most importantly, our thinking changes our neural and, therefore, associative connections. And this opens up the possibility for us to come up with some ideas, and at the same time – makes us incapable of generating other ideas!
In this sense, each of us dies and is born as a new person several times during our lives.
I suddenly saw clearly the impact that going into business journalism had on me. I became strong in specifics, in detail, in a systematic step-by-step presentation of technology. But at the same time, my ability to generalize has almost atrophied due to its uselessness. And when communicating with people, I no longer see the forest for the details.
I didn’t like this discovery. I tried to change my way of life. I changed the subject matter, form, and style of presentation of my publications. There were more second and third meanings – and less instructions.
And the ability to generalize returned, in part. To a degree that suited me. I even started coming up with aphorisms again.
It was only many years later that I learned that the hunch was correct. That scientists had discovered the phenomenon of neuroplasticity – the amazing ability of the brain to change its structure under the influence of experience.
It turned out that the well-established opinion about the inexorable degradation of the brain after 20 years of age is an ignorant myth. A person can develop his or her brain throughout life and retain mental clarity in old age. Healthy parts of the brain can take over the functions of damaged parts. Solving complex intellectual tasks leads to physical enlargement of the hippocampus and other critical brain structures, as well as the creation of new neural connections. As the American writer and scientist Stephen Johnson aptly put it: “A new idea is a new network of neurons, a new configuration that never existed before”.
But in parallel with the “sprouting” of new neural networks, unused ones disappear. The emergence of new abilities can lead to a redistribution of resources and weakening of old skills. For example, the development of reading skills occurs at the expense of visual memory. And vice versa.
All this means that we are responsible for our own thinking.
All we know the adage: “You are what you eat”. For example, consumption of fish with high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids stimulates intellectual activity. But in the same way a man is what he thinks he is.
Each of us is responsible for what newspapers and books we read, what movies we watch, what trainings we go to, what projects we put into the “important and urgent” category. We are responsible for who we communicate with, what we do on social networks, how long we scroll through the same thoughts in our heads, and how long we meditate.
In essence, we think for the sake of opening the door to new thoughts. As a result, we either invent our own Mendeleev Table in our sleep, or we watch a replay of the same bad dream in our waking life.