A talented artist borrowed some money from us. He couldn’t repay it, so he offered us some of his work instead. One of his paintings, Rainbow Grass, hangs in our hallway.
It defines my view of the right and left brain at work – our right-brain immersed in creativity while our left-brain frowns in critical judgement.
I’m sad that some neuro-science research has dismissed this as a myth. I’ve now learned that creativity recruits all components of the brain. Still, the painting shows what works in creativity and what doesn’t in critical judgment.
The painter told me he’d completed the work in a few hours. Time had stood still, his brush scurrying over the canvas as if guided by intuition, the shapes, dimensions, and colours choosing themselves — an ethereal experience. Finished, he stood back to survey his work.
He’d painted a little pot next to the larger flower pot of rainbow grass. What a clever idea, he told me, to mirror the rainbow grass in this smaller pot. It sits dead centre in the painting. It’s awful. The brush strokes are stick-like and contrived, the colours are muddy and it’s in complete contrast to the masterful brushwork and lilting hues of the rest of the painting.
This act of painterly sabotage perfectly illustrates creativity and criticism at work — and at war —in one brain. A bit like a PowerPoint presentation.
In a creative state of play, the imagination knows no fetters, submits to curiosity, explores, goes where the path leads it next. There is no right or wrong. But when you start to critique your work, and introduce right and wrong, creativity sputters to a halt.
We guide and activate brainstorms. We inject participants with a revolutionary notion: think permissively; all ideas are good ideas; in this 20-minute free-fall there’s no space for negativity or criticism.
It’s fascinating. In the first five minutes, the ideas trickle. Then, with some encouragement ,a consensual energy and the ideas start flowing. As people start to enthusiastically contribute, the greater the energy, the greater the creativity and innovation. Until . . . someone says, ‘well, that won’t work because . . .’
It is as if a giant extractor fan is switched on sucking the energy and the creativity out of the room in seconds.
Energy of creativity
In the work we do to help people pitch or present based on their purpose-driven stories, we need to harness and sustain the energy of creativity.
It starts haltingly as we explore the context for a communication — the purpose for the work, who they’ll communicate with, and for what intention.
Once folk get into it, like a brainstorm, the energy and creative ideas around how to better communicate why they do what they do for whom start to flow, and this unearths the stories that support the purpose for their work.
We see it all the time. It’s part science and part magic. Because creativity is colourful, entertaining, provocative, energising, and delightful, and stories hold people’s attention.
Play at work
John Cleese says creativity is play at work. You have permission within a defined time and a particular place to engage in something indirectly related to your raison d’etre. Think of a game of tennis, of singing in a choir, or doing yoga.
For this state of play to translate into good communication, we need to put our critical thinking on hold for just a short time. It won’t undermine your insights (facts in context), rather help create an evocative communication around them that excites a response.