When you understand how new ideas are formed, you can improve your ability to come up with better ones.
This article covers how ideas work, what gets them flowing and 10 tips to help you improve the process.
Your Brain and Ideas
The left-hand side of your brain is the analytical side, where logic and rational thought processes manifest.
The right-hand side is the home of your creative and intuitive thought processes.
On both sides of the brain, we have a brain function called a superior temporal gyrus. This is where creative ideas and new insights are formed.
Idea formation happens when the multiple areas of the brain are stimulated simultaneously, providing new insights. The brain cells in your left hemisphere have short branch like cells, which assists in pulling nearby information into thoughts and ideas. In contrast, the cells on the right branch out further and pull in distant unrelated information.
When a flash of insight occurs, the right-hand side of the superior temporal gyrus is activated and processes the new insight.
The eureka effect (also known as the aha! moment or eureka moment) refers to the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept.
The 16th-century woodcut of Archimedes' eureka moment.
Life Experiences Shape Idea Formation
A critical component of idea formation is our experiences throughout life, as they serve as a platform for the manifestation of ideas. Our brain connects the dots between our experiences and the new idea which ultimately provides us with insight, through the process explained earlier.
Our memories are a lot more important than we may think and are stored in a complex system within our brains.
Memories are stored in one of two ways, short-term and long-term. The short-term storage of memories is processed in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. Situations like dialling a phone number on a TV commercial is where our short-term memory is used. If we deem what is being remembered to be of significance, or are motivated to hold onto this information, then our short-term recollection is translated into long-term memory in the hippocampus. The hippocampus extracts different memories from different regions within the brain and puts it into one “episode of memory”(Molika Ashford, 2010).
As time goes on the memories which are stored within the hippocampus, the connections associated with the neurones, and the memory will become a fixed combination. These will, therefore, will be stored in long-term memory.
The human brain is able to make connections and manifest ideas based on experiences or memories.
In an interview where Steve Jobs was asked about creativity, he positioned creativity or idea formation as a process of connecting things together.
The Importance of Switching Off
Dr Rex Jung, a neuroscientist and neuropsychologist, has conducted studies delving further into creativity, where he believes that creativity and idea formation occurs when the mind is ‘switched off’. He spoke at an event called 'The Future of Getting Lost' in 2015, where he talked about the creativity phenomenon.
Dr Jung believes that when our minds switch from conscious to the unconscious is where the ‘magic’ of creativity is manifested.
Michelangelo, 'The Creation of Adam'.
Switching from our conscious mind to our unconscious mind is the process of going from our explicit system (conscious) to our implicit system (unconscious).
When we are using our implicit system we are able to solve many problems and generate new ideas. It is our brain's way of processing information without actively thinking about it, which allows for significantly higher processing power.
Dr Jung draws a bridge between our frontal lobes and creativity because when we are able to switch off our conscious mind, which is when our frontal lobes aren't engaged, it means that we can receive a greater flow of ideas.
To Sum It Up
The more experiences we have, the greater our ability to form connections. The more connections we are able to make, the better able we are to manifest ideas and look at alternative ways to solve problems. 'Switching off' then allows those connections to occur easier and faster.
Tips For Getting Ideas Flowing:
- Remember to take decent breaks from work. Go for a hike or lie on the beach, and practice meditation if you can. Take time to get “lost”. This can mean different things to different people, but immerse yourself in an activity where you can lose yourself - to get the idea’s flowing.
- Train your brain to become better at forming connections and coming up with new ideas by practising. Try to come up with 10 new ideas or problems that could be solved each day. James Altucher has a good blog post on this titled ' The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine'.
- Practice passion and positivity. Be passionate about life, and passionate about the issue you wish to solve. By having a positive mindset, ideas are better able to flow.
- Read more! Whether it be in the specific category of the problem you are wanting to solve or reading other people’s experiences with creativity. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is an excellent read for those wanting to enhance their creativity.
- Don’t dismiss all ideas that surface. Some ideas require development, and after a few tweaks here and there, the can develop into something exciting.
- Put yourself in environments that will expose you to people, knowledge and inspiration that will fuel your idea development. Lean Coffee and Entrepreneurs Unleashed are two events we run at Mum's Garage for this purpose. Find out more about our up-and-coming events here.
- Keep track of everything. Bring your phone or a notepad around with you everywhere, you never know when you may feel inspired or having an ‘ahhh’ moment of realisation. You can't store everything in memory, so it's good to have something down on paper that you can come back to.
- Push your boundaries and experience more; go to new places, speak to new people and do the things that excite you. The more meaningful reference experiences you have, the more information you have to draw ideas from.