Wired to Create: A book review by Bob Morris

Wired to CreateWired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregory
Perigee/An imprint of Penguin Random House (2016)

A brilliant explanation of creativity as a habit, as a way of life, and as a style of engaging with the world

Years ago, John Kotter told me during an interview that one of the greatest challenges to change agents is to change their thinking about change. I was again reminded of that as I began to work my way through Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregory’s brilliant examination of “the mysteries of the creative mind.” In the Preface, they cite these observations by Francis X. Barron: “The creative genius may be at once naive and knowledgeable, being at home equally to primitive symbolism and to rigorous logic. He is both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner, than the average person.”

Several dozen creative geniuses immediately come to mind as I re-read those comments. However different they may be in most respects, all of them seem (at least to me) to share a quite unique talent for seeing or hearing works of art that have not as yet been created. Their imaginations and intuitions enable them not only to connect “dots” that no one else has as yet recognized but also to connect “dots” that do not even as yet exist. Kaufman and Gregory cite an abundance of research and share what they have learned from it.

For example, “Creative people are hubs of diverse interests, influences, behaviors, qualities, and ideas — and through their work, they find a way to bring these many disparate elements together.” However, that said, the Berkeley study indicates that “the ingredients of creativity are too complex and multifaceted to be reduced to a single factor” and this new way of thinking about creative genius “gave rise to some fascinating — and perplexing — contradictions” that are best revealed within the narrative, in context. It can be noted now that the creative process draws on the whole brain” and many different neural networks can be involved, including the default network” of the brain that Kaufman and Gregory characterize as “the imagination network.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Kaufman and Gregoire’s coverage:

o Intelligence as related to creativity (Pages xxii-xxiii)
o Play (3-13)
o Passion (14-29)
o Thomas Edison (25-26 and 179-180)
o Hard work and passion (26-29)
o Daydreaming (30-44)
o Solitude (45-57
o Intuition (58-80)
o Expertise (66-67 and 78-80)
o Neurological aspects of creativity and direct stimulation of the brain (76-77)
o Openness to new experiences (81-98)
o Neurological aspects of creativity and dopamine (85-87 and 89-90)
o Nonconformity (90-91)
o Outsider’s mind-set (94-98 and 176-178) o Bias against creativity (170-172)
o Mindfulness (99-121)
o Meditation and distraction (108-111)
o Neurological aspects of creativity and mindfulness (111-114
o Sensitivity (122-144)
o Adversity (145-162)
o Viktor Frankl (147-148 and 150-151)
o Conformity (172-175 and 181-185)
o Steve Jobs and Apple’s “Think Different” campaign (163-164)
o Thinking differently (163-186)

After interviewing 40 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Denise Shekerjian wrote Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas are Born in which she observes, “What harnesses the idea of vision to the creative impulse is the notion that dreams unleash the imagination. And taking this one step further, where the dream addresses some greater good, there is an even stronger tendency to take risks and make the innovative leaps necessary to accomplish its goals. Limit yourself to your own private world and you’ve limited your creativity by worrying about how to protect what you’ve got and how to get what you’re missing. Get yourself out of the way in pursuit of some greater good, in response to a strong pull of mission, and you’ve liberated the mind.”

I commend Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregory on Wired to Create while acknowledging that no brief commentary such as mine could possibly do full justice to the information, insights, and counsel they provide in it.

With all due respect to “the mysteries of the creative mind,” however, I wholly agree with them that almost anyone can live and work much more creatively than they do now. “Creativity isn’t just about innovating of making art – its’ about living creatively. We can approach any situation in life with a creative spirit. We all have the capacity to dream, explore, discover, build, ask questions, and seek answers – in other words, to be creators.”

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