How your brain is creative

I’m fascinated by creativity. It seems to be the differentiating feature between humans and primates, or AI. We don’t even know what creativity is, or how it works. But there’s a lot to learn about how to be creative.

Neil Gaiman needs to be constrained to not distract himself.

“I go down to my lovely little gazebo at the bottom of the garden, sit down, and I’m absolutely allowed not to do anything…I’m not allowed to do a crossword, read a book, phone a friend…all I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write. But writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while.”

Neil Gaiman

Julian Shapiro thinks that creativity is what happens when you get rid of the first layer of obvious ideas.

“Visualize your creativity as a backed-up pipe of water. The first mile is packed with wastewater. This wastewater must be emptied before the clear water arrives.”

Julian Shapiro

Shigeru Miyamoto at Nintendo would add constraints to his game development teams to force them to be creative.

John Cleese recently wrote a book on the subject, and he knows a lot about creativity. He talks about it in my favourite lecture ever:

Cleese also adds constraints. He’s adding rules about space, and about time spent, in which to be creative. In which to play.

Why do constraints make you creative?

Dr. Nancy Andreasen wanted to know what happens when the brain is resting, doing nothing, and it turns out the brain starts making connections. It’s being creative.

“We found activations in multiple regions of the association cortex,” Dr. Andreasen wrote. “We were not [seeing] a passive silent brain during the ‘resting state,’ but rather a brain that was actively connecting thoughts and experiences.”

Dr. Nancy Andreasen

Now we know why constraints work. The brain starts playing, becoming creative, when there’s no input, and nothing to do. So if you want to be more creative, you should to slack off more.