Where do ideas come from and how can we be more creative?
(904 words)
IELTS Reading Questions:
Matching Information and Summary Completion

In times gone by, it was believed that creative ideas came from outside of a person, like from The Muses in Ancient Greece – goddesses that visited people and gave them ideas. And, although it doesn’t fit with current scientific thinking, some people still like to think of creativity this way.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert, for example, believes that this might be a better way of thinking about creativity. In her TED talk, she describes how the poet Ruth Stone would sometimes feel a poem coming to her over the fields and would have get a pen and paper so that when the poem came through her, she could write it down. Why not think about creativity coming to us from outside, Gilbert asks, as it makes as much sense as anything else, and it actually protects the artist from some of the negative effects of failure and success. 

The modern, scientific view, however, is that creativity is something that happens within us. Neuroscientist Charles Limb says that although creativity is magical, it’s not magic – it’s a product of the brain. He says that, although we don’t know much about how the process works, brain scans have shown that certain parts of the brain are more active when people are creating. For example, when musicians are creating music, parts of the brain involved in self-expression are more active, and other parts (those involved in self-monitoring) are less active.  

Wherever creative ideas come from, some people are more creative than others, and there seems to be a connection between our childhood experiences and how creative we are. In his study of ninety-one very creative people, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly found that most had either had difficult childhoods or creative and supportive parents who exposed them to new ideas. Among the most creative, there aren’t as many people ‘in the middle’ who had normal childhoods, he says. However, many of us could be more creative, so what can we do to call on the muse or access whatever it is in our brains to increase our creativity? 

One thing we can do is give something a try. According to psychologist Adam Grant, many of us don’t bother to try because of fear of failing or looking stupid. He adds that creative people (original thinkers) also have fears and doubts, but often they’re even more afraid of failing to try. In his TED talk, he gives the example of Elon Musk, who believed that Tesla wouldn’t succeed but felt that it was so important that he had to try. Grant says that the people who succeed the most are often the ones who try the most, as generating more ideas increases the chances of creating something original. 

Writer Stephen Pressfield says that (for writing) making a start on something is key. He argues that writing is not hard; sitting down to write is hard. But once you commit to doing something and make a start, all sorts of things will happen to help you – you get out of your own way and allow the angels to come in and do their work, he says. Having a regular writing routine also seems to be important. As horror author Stephen King says, don’t wait for the muse to give you inspiration; just make sure she knows where you’re going to be at a certain time each day, and, at some point, she’ll start showing up to help you.  

Taking a break can also be helpful, especially if you’re stuck; ideas might come while you’re doing something else, like taking a shower or going for a walk. CEO Larry Kim suggests moving around, as physical activity has a positive effect on creativity. If ideas don’t come, the old tip, ‘sleep on it’, might be good advice, as it seems that dreams help with the creative process. According to sleep scientist Matthew Walker, Paul McCartney woke up with the song Yesterday in his head, as Keith Richards did with the introduction to Satisfaction. Walker explains that when we are dreaming our brains are making new connections between things, which helps us to wake with solutions to problems. 

Other tips Kim offers for increasing your creativity include doodling, sketching, and getting outside your comfort zone by taking a class and learning something new. As a way to test your creative powers or warm up your creativity, he suggests trying the 30 Circles Test: draw 30 circles on a piece of paper, and give yourself one or two minutes to turn as many circles as you can into objects (e.g. a face, a clock). Most adults can’t get to 30, Kim says, partly because we tend to self-edit. But it might be worth trying – as Adam Grant says, if you can learn to generate more ideas, it will increase the chances of one of them being a good idea.  

For me, making a start on something (often writing things down) and then doing other things seems to work. Whether from other parts of my brain, dreams or muses, good ideas often come days or weeks after writing something down. However, like what happened with this website, some ideas take even longer to fully form. Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, explains that often people feel like there is an interesting problem in the back of their mind, but they can’t quite get what it is, and then it comes into view over time. 

IELTS Reading Questions for Creativity:
Matching Information & Summary Completion.

Sources and links from Creativity

Elizabath Gilbert’s TED Talk about creativity.
Charles Limb’s TED Talk about creativity and your brain.
YouTube clip of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly talking about creativity.
Adam Grant’s TED Talk about original thinkers.
– Stephen Pressfield’s book The War of Art on Goodreads
– Stephen King’s book On Writing on Goodreads.
Matthew Walker’s website. The information in this article came from his book Why We Sleep.
Article by Larry Kim on Medium about ways to be more creative.
Stephen Johnson’s TED Talk about where ideas come from.
– Image by Chris Martin from Pixabay 

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Amine wazir

    Creativity is something related to brain accompanied with proper khonwledg: wither it com from outside sources like observation, proper training or it is something in ones inner thinking.

    1. Nick

      Thanks for the comment, Amine.
      Personally, I also believe it’s something happening in our brains (and the unconscious is an interesting part of that – dreams etc.), but I don’t know for certain, and the idea that it might come from somewhere outside is an interesting one.

  2. Masroor

    Dear Nick,
    I think the answer of question 2 should be poet instead of poem because to me, poem cannot travel across the landscape.

    Would you please explain to me?

    1. Nick

      Hi Masroor.
      Poem is correct.
      You will see in the article that Ruth Stone is a ‘poet’, and she writes ‘poems’.
      Ruth’s idea was that she didn’t think of the poems; the poems came to her (sometimes from across the fields). I realise that that might seem strange, but that was her view of creativity and where the poems came from – the main idea of that paragraph is that some people think that creative ideas come from somewhere outside.
      Hope that helps.

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