By Dean Whittaker

One of the most powerful tools each of us posseses is our imagination. “Imagine” by Johan Lehrer explores “How Creativity Works.” He reports on the brain research that is allowing us to understand the creative process and where our “aha” moments come from and how to cultivate the soil in which the seed of idea sprouts. Lehrer reminds us of the function of both sides of our brain, the left being the repository and facts, figures, and formulas while the right contains the ability to connect seemingly unrelated data.

The author reminds us of the importance of play in the creative process. It is that period in which we suspend our critical frontal cortex’s blockage of impulses that allows us to make unexpected discoveries through “free association” as done on the stage of Second City’s Improv Theater. When we are free of criticism, our creativity soars.

When we “sleep on it,” our minds turn into Improv artists. When we fall asleep, the prefrontal cortex shuts down, and the censor goes quiet. Have you ever noticed that flash of insight just before you wake up in the morning? That is your mind at play during the night coming up with those connections of new ideas and thoughts.

Another aspect of creativity the author points out is the “Outside.” My solutions to problems that have stumped the experts for years come from someone outside of the field. The reason often being that they didn’t know that it couldn’t be done. One of the benefits of working with the “20 somethings” in my company is the insight they bring with fresh eyes and ears. Interns from our local college have challenged our way of doing things and have brought critical changes in our processes along with breakthrough ideas.

Out of the inability to solve complex problems, major companies have turned to “crowd-sourcing.” Using the website, companies like Eli Lilly and Proctor & Gamble have solved problems by offering rewards for solutions to problems that their massive R&D departments staff with hundreds of scientists have been unable to solve. Solutions have been found in days by “outsiders” that looked at the problem through a different lens. It was those people at the fringes of the field that were most likely to come up with the solution.

What if we harness the creativity of a group of individuals focused on a single purpose? The complexity of today’s issues often requires knowledge and experience from a vast array of fields. Think of it like making a movie. Our ability to collaborate, and the strength of our networks, determine the quality of the production. My company is experiencing this now as we join with other small companies that bring their skill sets to solve particular aspects of the assignments our clients present. The ability to form the “dream team” to address the challenges we select to pursue gives us our competitive edge.

Understanding the magic of creativity does not make it less magical. My new mantra is, “play, learn, and teach.” I still marvel at this amazing tool we have all been given called our imagination. Learn to trust it, and let it inform your decisions through play.