When we talk about brainstorming, we often think of collective thinking sessions between individuals who share various insights.
What we may then overlook is the basic brainstorming that takes place in the brain of every individual, creating new connections from various neural networks.
Thanks to the increasingly rich contribution of the neurosciences, we can now understand this process of internal creativity that gives rise to new ideas.
According to Elkhonon Goldberg in Creativity: The Human Brain in The Age of Innovation, our brain is a complex structure of neurons whose connections are responsible for new mental models.
It includes structural asymmetry, the predominant influence of certain hormones such as dopamine, structural effects, and bursts of activities that help explain the nature of intellectual work.
These specificities define a method of neural brainstorming, which takes advantage of the brain’s creative potential to produce a flow of new ideas.
Here are 4 features of the brain that provide a new method for finding intellectual enlightenment.
Brain Specialization and Novelty-Seeking
The opposition between a more rational, reflexive, analytical left brain, and a more creative, emotional, imaginative right brain has long been known.
It has been established that the right brain, which conducts non-linear and more synthetic thinking, is more responsible than the left brain for new neuronal connections. This vision has since been elaborated and clarified.
Supported studies have shown that new and complex cognitive abilities and tasks rely more on the right brain, while already acquired and familiar abilities will rely more on the left brain.
The brain follows a pattern of specialization in which the right brain responds more to new tasks that require more agility and creativity. The left brain takes over when the task becomes routine.
The left brain also works to manage complex tasks, but only to the extent that these are already framed and established.
This means that to unlock neural creativity, you have to get out of your established routines and let the more creative right brain take over. This is done through exercises that allow you to free yourself from frames of thought and more analytical thinking.
To be creative, you need to put yourself in new situations that activate your right brain.
When you start brainstorming individually, first get rid of your knowledge and thought patterns and ask yourself new questions from unanticipated perspectives.
For example, if you are creating a new marketing campaign, take the perspective of a consumer who would participate in its creation or change roles and take the role of the person who would criticize the campaign.
That way you put your brain to work and can start treating the subject differently.
Prefrontal Cortex and The Value of Generativity
Apart from this structural asymmetry, neuroscientists have put a new emphasis on the prefrontal cortex, a relatively recent evolutionary addition, which assembles the brain’s mental representations like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
By accessing ancient mental content and manipulating them for goal-specific purposes, this part of the brain is responsible for the generation of our ideas, constituting our “memory of the future”.
The singular capabilities of the prefrontal cortex are increasingly the subject of speculation about the nature of its neurons.
The latest contributions of neuroscience seek to define these mental contents manipulated by the prefrontal cortex, revealing the existence of specific neurons capable of simultaneously containing traces of long-term memory.
These particularly long pyramidal neurons are present in the prefrontal cortex and can momentarily copy disparate neural networks. Thus, they make it possible to juxtapose ideas and images from different places in the head for a certain time and to transform them into a new idea.
What they teach us is that the more different ideas we have in our heads, the more we will be able to create something new, because
To conduct neural brainstorming, you need therefore as many different ideas as possible within reach, so that your neurons create singularly original connections.
For example, in your brainstorming, go for quantity by making lists of about twenty, thirty different ideas. Your discoveries will not be based on the use of an excellent idea but the rigorous selection of ideas generated abundantly.
The Role of Dopamine and Salience
The structure of the brain is generally not enough to explain the sparks of creativity through our heads.
Having a creative mind also requires being driven by an internal motivation to design new things, as opposed to a motivation justified by external constraints.
Neuroscientists had to introduce a notion of salience, the ability to distinguish what is important from what is less important. Our brain oscillates between a task network mode and a dirty network mode, depending on whether it is subjected to internal or external attention triggers.
The hormone dopamine has the specific role of drawing your attention to things that are soiled according to our inner concerns and problems. It increases your perseverance and therefore your novelty-seeking behaviors.
As a result, you are most motivated to explore and discover when you can distinguish what interests you intrinsically and when the dopamine hits you.
To push you to be creative, you need to fix you a goal that excites you and makes you want to go further. Cultivate your curiosity and deepen your personal interest in the subjects you encounter.
Before you brainstorm, ask yourself these questions: What is the interest I have in this subject? What is the nature of my desire to solve this problem?
By imagining your true motivation to be creative, you will activate your dopamine circuits and your desire to create.
The Power of Hypofrontality and Hyperfrontality
The activity of the most creative brains is not uniform but oscillates between two states: a period of intense activity of the frontal cortex on a specific task and objective — hyperfrontality; a period of relaxation and wandering of the frontal cortex during dreams and hypnosis.
These two states go hand in hand and make creative work possible.
During awakening or moments of focused and intense activity, the brain makes a conscious effort to think of different solutions and to interlock them together to solve a goal. During a dream or daydream state, the brain relaxes but remains active in another way: the prefrontal cortex starts to make direct associations between a wide range of ideas and images.
In the latter case, the prefrontal cortex can also work on awake objectives but fills the gap between distant connections and takes on more distant perspectives.
It is this same process that pushes creators to the limit of their illuminations and defines the spark of inspiration.
What this tells us is that such illumination cannot come exclusively from focused work or a dream. It comes through a conscious intellectual effort to achieve a goal, which can then be extended and twisted into a state of distraction and dreaming.
To increase your creativity, you need to move from a focused state to a distracted state as often as possible. This is the recipe for true neural brainstorming.
Now it’s your turn to start this process with the help of these scientific facts!
And if you want to master your creativity further, get a checklist of 9 basic reflexes to flex your mind.