Monday, April 23, 2007

Creative Minds: What is Divergent Thinking, Anyway?

Thanks, Kristine for this HT at

" would an engineer see the glass? Probably that it's twice as big as it needs to be. The accountant would want to know if the glass really needs all that water. The physicist would say that the volume of this cylinder is divided into two equal parts; one a colorless, odorless liquid, the other a colorless, odorless gas. Thus the cylinder is neither full nor empty. Rather, each half of the cylinder is full, one with a gas, one with a liquid. And the quantum physicist would tell you that the glass has a 50% probability of holding water." Click on the link to read more descriptions, and also check out the comments from marketers about what they see.

I love this post because it made me think about how superficial many of our attempts at divergent thinking might be. If you go to a weekend workshop on lateral thinking, present your lesson plan on divergent thinking, or try to sit and think up more creative possibilities for a problem, you may come up with more ideas (some more formulaic than others), but they won't be so different as they would be coming from a totally different expert in a totally different discipline. That's probably why switching disciplines can be such a powerful stimulus to production of creative work. Anyone can sit with a laundry list of creative techniques and move variables around like tiddlywinks on a page, but really see information from a different knowledge base and context may lead to more profound insights and associations.

In a study such as this which instructed test subjects to "be creative" (vs. "be uncreative") making a story out of certain words, its not surprising that mostly prefrontal activity in the brain is seen (thinking a creative solution). What don't you see? Mobilization of prior knowledge (temporal lobes), imagery (parietal), or even emotions or reward (limbic). This might be the difference between the little-c creativity and big-C Creativity Simonton talks about in articles like this one.

Now wouldn't be interesting to compare minds of engineers, artists, quantum- and non-quantum physicists, marketers, writers, and you name it looking at the same glass? Could we be forcing students to look their glasses with only one answer?
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Switch! Cross Disciplinary Thinking
Eide Neurolearning Blog: fMRI of 'Creativity'

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