I recently finished Shelley Carson’s book on the neural bases of creativity, and it was a pretty interesting read. Carson is a psychology professor at the Harvard Extension School and has been conducting research on creativity for many years.
- The Absorb Brainset, which involves opening one’s mind up to new information and insights from the environment and from other areas of the mind.
- The Envision Brainset, which involves thinking visually and imagining hypothetical “what-if” situations.
- The Connect Brainset, which involves seeing connections between disparate concepts or objects.
- The Reason Brainset, which involves planning, making decisions, and solving problems in a logical and sequential way.
- The Evaluate Brainset, which involves judging whether an idea will be useful and appropriate to take forward.
- The Transform Brainset, which involves turning one’s slightly negative feelings (of disappointment, discontent) to express oneself in creative work.
- And finally, the Stream Brainset, which is the activation pattern observed when one’s thoughts and actions come together harmoniously, otherwise known as Csikszentmilhalyi’s idea of flow or the feeling of being “in the zone”.
Carson describes each of these brainsets, discusses briefly each brainset’s neural bases and offers exercises that one can do to practice invoking each brainset.
Understanding these brainsets is immensely relevant for the “creative cogntion” aspect of my project, since I want to understand how I can incorporate creative cognition findings in the my final design solution. Towards the end of the book, Carson discusses how the brainsets can be applied to various stages of the creative process—namely, that the more “open” and “exploratory” brainsets such as Absorb and Connect should be applied early on in problem-finding and idea generation stages, while “practical” brainsets such as Reason and Evaluate should be applied later on in the process when it’s important to have a feasible plan for executing the idea.
Another opportunity that I see from this book for my project is that while the exercises Carson offers in her book are interesting and grounded in the research, they require a bit of time and commitment to do. She proposes a workout-like program, in which you practice invoking the various brainsets several times a week and reward yourself with small presents. Activities include mentally imagining your car for a few minutes (to practice Envisioning), to playing word association games with yourself (to practice Connecting). While these activities seem engaging, one of the main things that I’ve found in my research so far is that many people already feel like they don’t have enough time as is to be creative, and therefore may prefer more streamlined ways to practice invoking the brainsets (or tools to help them do it). The design implication from this is that while Carson’s insights are definitely valuable, perhaps there is a way to make that information more accessible and integrated into the context of people’s current behaviors and practices, albeit with a slightly greater awareness of the brainsets!
- The usefulness and effectiveness of the final design could benefit from understanding and incorporating insights from Carson’s characterization of the seven brainsets
- An opportunity exists to help people be more creative by designing something that lets people practice the brainsets within the context of current behaviors