HARVARD University has many prominent professors specializing in innovation and creativity. In my search for experts in these areas, Dr. Shelley Carson of the psychology department emerged as a renowned lecturer and practitioner who authored the book, Your Creative Brain — Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity and Innovation in Your Life.
My son Brent and I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Carson in May 2018 at Harvard. She exudes passion and confidence in her belief that creativity is for everyone. I read her book and had the chance to validate what I read at our meeting. Dr. Carson said, “Creativity is a vital resource for meeting the challenges, dangers and opportunities of fast changing climate of 21st century. Creative idea or product needs to be novel or original and has to be useful or adaptive to at least a segment of the population. Creativity is for everyone — not just for artists, poets and musicians; nor an elite activity. Creativity is an important trait of leaders. And creative behavior is sexy.”
She is a dynamic international speaker in the business and academic communities. I invited her to speak in Manila before the Harvard and business communities, which she gladly obliged. The topics she has covered in the past are: “The Neuroscience of Creativity,” “Enhancing Creativity and Innovation in Your Business and Personal Life,” “Creativity and Mental Illness: The Mad Genius Controversy,” “Creativity and Risk-Taking,” “Creasilience: Using Creativity to Increase Our Psychological Resilience,” “Why Do We Create?” and “How Creativity Adds Meaning to Our Lives.”
As a civil engineer with master’s degrees in business and public administration, I have a low tolerance for ambiguity in life. I analyze problems and solutions through logic and mathematical equations but would always be stressed out looking for the one best solution. Reading Dr. Carson’s book gave me hope in solving problems in a creative and enjoyable mode. I began to understand the brain neuroscience in working on the arts, technology, investments and politics.
I struggled early on in my life to control stress coming from my desire for perfection. When I was at Harvard, I took a short course in acrylic painting of still lifes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. This was my way of countering my life of an overachiever. This was an eye opener for me. When I was tasked to paint a lush green bush in the courtyard of the museum, my first impulse was to divide the canvas into two equal sections. Then I painted the branches and leaves symmetrically on both sides of the center of the canvas. Each leaf was precisely of the same size, color and orientation. My teacher saw my struggles and knew I was not enjoying the experience. Her advice — let go and enjoy. So I did. In the end, my painting turned out to be a collage of bushes, all floating in the air, painted with different brushes and with lively and happy colors! Enhancing my creativity and letting go was a happy transformation, which I could relate to Dr. Carson’s book.
Dr. Carson introduced the concept of “brainsets.” She identified them based on her acronym Creates – Connect, Reason, Envision, Absorb, Transform, Evaluate and Stream. In her book she noted that “creatively productive individuals are able to access specific brain states that others may find difficult or uncomfortable.” They are able to switch among different brainsets depending upon the task at hand. It is possible to train oneself to access creative brainsets and to switch among them even if it does not come naturally at first. Dr. Carson thinks of brainsets as the biological equivalent of mindsets in that different brain activation states can actually affect the way one perceives the world, the memories one has ready access to, and the way one goes about solving problems.
In her book, Dr. Carson provided exercises to train her followers and readers to hone each mindset. She trained us to move out of our “mental comfort zone.” I particularly enjoyed the exercise on Absorb brainset that is used in preparation (information gathering and problem finding) and incubation (insight) stages. This brainset is attracted to novelty but delays judgment. It occurs during alpha (restful) and theta (drowsy) activities. The exercise on Envision brainset evokes memories and mental images — pictorial and diagrammatic to create ideas and use of hypothetical thinking (what if) that could be perceived as difficult and foolish. The exercise on Connect brainset allows one to be an idea-generating machine without concern on how they will play out, encourages divergent thinking to generate multiple solutions to one problem or dilemma, and improves the speed of thought. Thank you, Dr. Carson, for making a difference in this world. (website: https://www.shelleycarson.com/)
Rosario Calderon is a philanthropist, engineer and entrepreneur in the field of energy, environment and technology innovation.