Neuronal Connections

This year, I participate in a class called Innovation Management. While it is mostly about how to grasp and foster innovations within a company, I also had one lecture about creativity, being hosted by a professional creativity coach from Madrid, named Simone . The lesson’s main focus was on generating “lots of ideas” and on “finding quality in quantity”. From what Simone taught the class, I think that we share a lot common perceptions about creativity. One of his approaches to deliver this concept did stick to my mind in particular: While discussing the topic of idea generation, Simone chose a scientific approach of how our brain works to explain how to harvest new ideas:

The way how we perceive our world is different for each and every one of us. Family, social networks, cultural environments and personal experiences all contribute to a huge library of memories, a library that we can access. We once learn how to bind our shoes, and – unless we accidentally find another more efficient way of doing it – we stick to that choice. But as a child, we do of course try different ways of binding the shoes, which leads to the creation of new neuronal connections inside our brain. A child is curious, and does not (yet) care about efficiency and the best way to do it.

As it does not yet have made that many experiences, resulting in a bigger library of concepts to choose from, a child has a better capacity (and the need) to mix concepts in order to find ways how to make his feet stay inside of his shoes. Observing the world through the eyes of a child which has never learned how to bind shoes before, we might try a different approach. As we have seen many times before before, our Mum always uses tape to stick pictures of our family to the fridge, so it might work to stick our feet to the shoes as well.

Using this trail of thoughts, we use 2 different concepts that we know (the concept of tape and the one of shoes) and combine them into a new idea on how to make our feet remain inside of the shoes. We create a new neuronal connection between these two, previously unrelated concepts, while experimenting with the tape. Of course, it is not the most efficient way to do it. And yet, exactly this way of combining two previously unrelated concepts allows us as grown ups to become creative again: By not accepting the rules of our experiences and beliefs about efficiency any more.

Within my first post, a child’s creativity was a huge mystery, and I thought a lot about the reason why we loose our sense of creativity as we become older. Listening to Simones lecture gave me one possible explanation of why this happened, and I am really grateful for widening my horizon through his lecture.

Additionally, Simone told us that we can regain our ability to be creative by exercising, using creativity techniques. Doing this, we can create new neuronal connections and simultaneously use our huge library of life experiences to experiment with new concepts. If we manage to establish our ability to being able to create new neuronal connections within our immense personal library of memories, we gain a powerful tool that exceeds the abilities of a child’s creativity by an unimaginable amount.

To wrap it up, what are the key messages of this post:

  1. Creativity is an ability to combine different concepts of previous experiences into something new
  2. We loose this ability as our personal library of experiences grows and we establish a sense for efficiency
  3. We can regain this lost ability through training, e.g. by using creativity techniques
  4. A huge library of experiences allows us to establish more connections between different concepts
  5. If we regain our ability to combine different concepts, we have a very powerful capability that allows us to be very creative

Let me conclude with one further notion: It is important to be able to combine concepts, and you can do it through training. But for me it is at least as important to keep learning, to keep your eyes open and to perceive every moment as much as possible. Because exactly this moment might become a source for a future combination of different concepts!