Creative Networks

Creative Networks. Image courtesy meo from Pexels

How does the brain produce creative thought?


Recently, my 13 year old niece had an interesting English assignment. She had to write a story about a well-known villain that would cause the audience to see the villain in a new light. She was having trouble coming up with ideas so she sent a group text to her aunts and uncles seeking inspiration. Because I love my niece, and because it was a good distraction from a complex task I had been working on, I spent some time brainstorming potential story ideas and was surprised how energizing the activity was.

Have you ever wondered what is going on in your brain when you are engaged in a creative work? A series of papers has explored this question across a range of creative tasks. The papers report similar patterns of brain activity.

A blog post on The discusses one of these studies. The study uncovered the “high-creative network”, a series of brain connections used in generating original ideas. Regions of the brain active in the “high-creative network” belonged to three specific brain systems:

  • the default network that is activated when people are engaged in spontaneous thinking such as day-dreaming;
  • the executive control network used when people need to focus their work or evaluate; and
  • the salience network that acts as a switching mechanism between the default and executive networks.

Interestingly, these networks don’t usually fire together, yet in people who excel at creative tasks they do. The theory is that people who excel at creative tasks may have a brain that is better able to run two brain networks at the same time. We can all think of creative people who act a little differently, and this study suggests they may be wired differently. (I think my creative sister-in-law, who grew up in a family of engineers, would agree).

What does this mean for people and organizations wanting to increase their creativity and their ability to innovate? I can see some important applications.

  1. Use a creative network. When you have a problem that requires a novel approach, follow the example of my niece and tap into a creative network. Use your network of people as a creativity network. Often, at our training workshops, participants find that talking through a problem with a colleague from a different area gives them a creative boost.
  2. Want improved creativity? Focus on collaboration. If the brains of creative people are better able to manage the spontaneous thinking (default network) and structured thinking (executive control network) then a creative organization needs to create teams with the skills and processes in place that allow people with different thinking strengths to work together and collaborate.
  3. Facilitation can help with creative problem solving. The “high-creative network” involves the network in the brain that switches mechanisms between spontaneous thinking and evaluative thinking. If your team is having trouble solving a creative problem, an experienced facilitator can bring your ideas together.

Researchers say that further research is needed to explore whether practice helps people increase the connectivity within these brain networks. While neuroscience researchers are engaging their creative networks to devise studies to examine this, I plan on trying my hand at more creative tasks. Already this week I have found that creative tasks such as writing a blog posts, applying neuroscience to organizational effectiveness, or re-telling the Little Mermaid so people view Ursula the sea witch more sympathetically, are engaging and also really fun.

The Power of Passion


As a consultant I have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of workplaces in a wide variety of industries. I love the variety inherent in my job. Each project is interesting in its own special way – but I confess, there are some projects I enjoy more than others. A project I am currently working on has been particularly positive experience. I feel particularly “engaged” – so I thought I would unpack why I feel this way. What can this project teach me about increasing morale and employee engagement in the workplace?

This project is part of an initiative that people are passionate about. People are eager to lend their time and talents to the project because they believe in it. This project has to do with a core part of their work – a part that is complex and difficult. Although change in this area is also complex and difficult – those involved in this project believe deep down that change is possible and necessary – and that the hard is worth it. I have found that that kind of passion is catching.

So what is the impact on me and upon my work? First off, I find all tasks related to this project more enjoyable – even the very detailed work I often find difficult. I find myself more willing to work at odd hours to meet tight timelines. Now – I am often willing to work odd hours; the difference is with this project I feel happy about it.

Amy Anderson of Forbes magazine writes, “I believe that when we are passionate about something we have more energy, we work much harder, we get more creative, we search more diligently for solutions when difficult problems arise, and we inspire others who work alongside us”.

Clearly, passion is something that all leaders should think about.  So what are you passionate about?