Fortunately, this is still a future threat, but what can we do for the infernal charm of gradually more intricate computer programs not to make us lazy killing the human ability to think creatively?
Mind in the Internet era
First, let’s take a look at how the Internet is shaping the human mind. The good news is, some cognitive skills can be developed through the use of a computer and the network. These mostly include the more primitive brain functions, such as eye-hand coordination, reflexes and processing of visual stimuli.
The bad news is, other brain functions are not doing so well. Numerous studies have all led to the same conclusion: whenever we connect to the online network, we enter the environment where cursory reading, lack of concentration, surface knowledge are all a standard, not to mention the decreased level of text understanding.
When reading something on the computer screen you need to rate various links quickly, decide what to click, move from one format to another. We click up to 40 times per hour to download new e-mails. Meanwhile, each shift from one thing to another impedes concentration and is a burden to the working memory. The cognitive costs of such habits can be considerable, as it increases the risk of omitting or not understanding important information.
The Internet makes us think in a more shallow way. And not just seemingly – it literally changes the structure of our brain. Michael Merzenich, expert in neuroplasticity, explains this in the following way: when we adjust to a new cultural phenomenon, such as using a new medium, our brain gets reprogrammed. This means that the way we work and search for information on the Internet influences how our mind works also when we shut down the computer. We start to follow the same neuron paths responsible for multitasking, and we omit those we would use when we read books or think deeply about something.
What you are reading right now is probably one of many things that are going to take over your senses today. The brain actually almost never rests. When we engage it in some trivial activities – spending time in front of a screen, not doing anything in particular or peeping into your e-mail box or Facebook every now and then – it is constantly working, only below its potential.
Research has shown that in order to set creativity free the brain should simply slow down a bit. Instead of using the most common beta brain waves, when the frequency range of activity is from 13 to 25 Hz, it should shift to the frequency of 8–12 Hz, or the alpha state. This is the state when we get the best ideas, and our creative potential is most widely used. Some people can reach that state easily. Others must make a conscious effort to “downshift” from multitasking. That’s why it’s worth cutting off from external stimuli and go deep into one particular task.
And when you’re experiencing a creative blockage, you should do the contrary – try to break off from work. At least this is what one of the busiest editors at AUDE Bożena Makowska recommends: “Creative block is hard to overcome. Depending on how much time I have, I either leave the task for the next day or I try to read something completely different for a while, even a newspaper, just to focus on something else. It’s also good to simply let your eyes rest from looking at the screen. Creativity is not within the snap of a finger. It can be quite a long process of coming to an idea”.
So we already know from experience that creativity does not like haste, but we can also refer to an academic authority:
“Professor Lech Majewski, one of my tutors at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw where I studied graphic designing, always got angry when students were trying to come up with something and talk about this idea” says Marcin Rutkowski, art director at AUDE. “He has taught us that it’s impossible to come up with a finished idea. You need to search, try many things, cut something out, add another piece and repeat this process of constant change until something clicks and brings a result. When your idea is good you simply know it, you can feel it and are excited about it and you will defend it no matter what. It has been over two decades since that time, I no longer use markers, scissors and paper but a computer, but this attitude still works for me. I never really have a ready-made idea. They come up as a process. That’s why I believe creativity is not a piece of cake. I always find this way of working more exhausting than implementing ready-made solutions”.
Creativity of an office worker
When it comes to office work, there are more things to blame for stifling creativity than using technology and the Internet: stress, unsupportive environment, wrong attitude of the boss who only accepts successes and never says: “try and if it doesn’t work, try something else”, the problem of conservatism and routine at work, or even our own way of thinking – disbelieving in our own skills and unwillingness to make an effort. Meanwhile, you can be creative no matter what position you have at your company. You can use the ability to find new solutions in any field. This ability can be strengthened if you know how to treat your mind.
How to support creativity? Here’s a few hints:
- Make notes by hand – making notes on paper with a pen/pencil helps to train your brain. Writing down on paper activates many more areas of your brain than tapping the keyboard.Bożena knows something about it: “Before I go to see the graphic designer, I often draw myself all the elements of the page on a piece of paper. This helps me to think over the layout and to verify my ideas.”
- Go outside – studies show that contact with nature, when we’re away from technology, increases our creativity and the ability to solve problems. Scientists from the University of Utah have observed that 4 days spent outside the city can improve creativity test results by as much as 50 percent. It is hard to say why exactly. Some claim that green color improves creativity (and as we know it is dominant in the nature). According to “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,” looking at green color has given better results in solving various creativity tests than looking at other colors.
One enthusiast of this hypothesis is our editor Iwona Derda: “The green and daydreaming indeed can stimulate the brain. I realized this as I was making up tales for one 3-year-old girl during my vacation;-)”
Just in case it does work, I’m placing here an image that could help. Just look at this grass!
- Take a longer nap – sleep is enormously important for your cognitive skills and you should never resign from it. In your sleep your brain maintains your memories, reorganizes them and chooses the most useful information, which improves creativity.
- Search for ideas on your own, but develop them in group – British psychologist Adrian Furnham claims that most good ideas are born in the minds of people working alone, who can set their imagination free without self-censorship, being afraid of criticism or pressure from other group members. However, this only applies to the initial stage of forming an idea. At the next stage, it is worth discussing it with a group of people with similar views, who can help develop and refine the idea. Speaking of working in a group: also here psychologists have a few techniques to recommend, such as brainstorming, mind mapping or the Six Thinking Hats system designed by Edward de Bono, which involves looking at a given problem from six different perspectives.
We also value group work at our agency, especially when it comes to collaboration between editor and graphic designer, which Bożena emphasizes: “The contribution of another person cannot be overestimated when it comes to the process of creation. I’m a supporter of good old brainstorming, when someone can oppose and present new ideas. In the case of our projects, the greatest asset is the collaboration with the graphic designer when creating a layout. The designer tells what he thinks about the layout, may change some details to help improve the whole. Working in a team is better than working only individually”.
Marcin totally agrees with this, and even has his favorite editor to work with: “I always work best when I work in a pair. When I work with someone whose creativity I trust, we can complete the task in a shorter time. If I’m not sure about something, or I get too excited about my idea – a bucket of cold water poured on my head can help shorten my creative torment.
So who’s pouring that cold water over him most often?
“My second half at work is Magda Kozińska,” Marcin says without hesitation. “When working together we will often use harsh words. We also switch roles: she becomes the designer and I’m a copywriter. This always brings good results. And working together is always more effective than working individually”.
- Get to like physical activity – is this a coincidence that TBWA* main office has a basketball court, and that they have climbing walls and ping pong tables at Googleplex? I don’t think so. Physical activity is fuel for the brain, and “sweat – according to Christopher Bergland, world-class endurance athlete and coach – is like WD-40 for your mind: it lubricates the rusty hinges of your brain and makes your thinking more fluid. Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are buried in the subconscious.” Bergland gives the example of Albert Einstein, who is said to have come up with the theory of relativity while riding a bicycle. But you don’t have to become a triathlon champion. Even 10 minutes of increased activity is enough for the mind to start working more effectively.
I owe much to my trips to work. During a morning walk or a ride on my scooter I can have a fresh and critical look at whatever I was sure of the evening before.
We know something about this too, in particular Bożena, who has to commute all the way from Grochów to Mokotów to get to work: “I owe much to my trips to work, especially when I walk because it’s very refreshing. My favorite route is through the Skaryszewski Park (that green again! – Ed.). During a morning walk or a ride on my scooter I can have a fresh and critical look at whatever I was sure of the evening before. Sometimes I don’t even think about the problem, I simply take a stroll and something comes up to my mind. And when it comes to titles I invent the best ones while on a tram, maybe because it feels so relaxing to me”.
The AUDE team wishes to add one more hint to the above list – search for inspirations.
A new idea can be inspired practically by anything.
“In my case it’s reading, watching and analyzing what’s trendy and new. I try to follow inspiring topics, surfing the Internet and reading various magazines. Everything I’ve read and seen helps me to invent new topics” says Bożena.
It’s worth to try, to look for new solutions in illustrations, fonts and habits, because this allows you to stay fresh – and fresh attitude is often most important and more attractive to clients than polished up solutions.
Also Marcin points to the importance of observation: “It’s important to watch much of other people’s work. Not to copy their solutions, but to learn their way of thinking. Very often bold and unusual solutions give you courage to depart from your own habits and try something new, something you would normally not have the guts or confidence in to choose it. It’s good to stay away from routine, which is more and more difficult as the time passes by and you gain more and more experience. It’s always worth to try, to look for new solutions in illustrations, fonts and habits, because this allows you to stay fresh – and fresh attitude is often most important and more attractive to clients than polished up solutions”.
I am deeply convinced that how I perceive the magazine I edit is affected by the experience I have been gaining throughout my life: the books I’ve read, conversations I’ve had, travels, meeting people.
Iwona, on the other hand, talks about the power of word: “I am deeply convinced that how I perceive the magazine I edit is affected by the experience I have been gaining throughout my life – even subconsciously. And I don’t mean just professional experience. It’s the books I’ve read, conversations I’ve had, travels, meeting people. The accompanying emotions are triggered with the sound of the word. Then there come associations and it’s like a domino – first element connects with a second, the second one with the third and so on… I am a book-reading addict – because of the beauty of the story and the unexpected connections between words”.
And maybe this is where the Internet can be helpful – looking for inspiration. In this distracting flow of information and incentives, every now and then there appears something valuable that draws our attention: something that suggests almost a ready solution or provides a useful association. If you know how to search and choose, the never ending access to countless sources – which opens in front of you as soon as you open your computer – can be used in a good way.
*Network of advertising agencies considered the most creative and most effective in the world, according to ADWEEK and Advertising Age.