Creativity Element 12: Variety, divergence, and experimentation

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Creativity Fourteen is a series of articles that explores the value of creativity for individuals and teams, starting from the fundamental principles.
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A useful way to think about the creative process, used in many models, is to see it in terms of expansion-convergence phases, alternating in sequence. The expansion phase happens when the analytical eye is closed and we are free to explore even the weirdest ideas, regardless of their going toward the goal or not. When we talk about creativity, we often refer to this phase specifically, even if we’ve seen the many factors that are at play in the full extent of the creative process.

It’s called expansion because we start from a single point and then we add anything that comes to mind to it: entirely different approaches, variations, evolutions, opposing ideas, unrelated things that have a connection for some reason, and so on. It’s an explosion of variety.

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”
— David Ogilvy

The richer this moment is, the wider it goes and the deeper it digs, the more material it provides to evaluate during the convergence phase, and the more likely it is that a good idea would appear.

Limited exploration might still lead to good results, but leaves us with the question of how much better it could have been if we had given more space and time to exploration. Sometimes we can get to good results even with little exploration, but mostly because we are leveraging on our own previous experience instead.

Our own experience can also have impact on the weight we give to the exploration phase. A short exploration phase can still lead to good creative ideas in the end because we borrow from past experiences, our life, and even past creative explorations. This depends heavily on how many of our previous explorations led to ideas that weren’t used, and from my personal experience while it can be of great use, it’s also a resource that can exhaust itself if not refilled. The general take is that the exploration phase has to exist, even if it might not be happening right at the same moment as the creative work.

There’s also correlation between creativity and the brain’s default mode network (DMN): a set of brain regions that are interconnected and anatomically defined, which is commonly associated with our resting state and mind-wandering. Unsurprisingly, there is evidence about how the resting state of this brain network is an important contributor to the creative process.

Activities that augment diversity and free our mind all enrich the expansion phase.