How To Tap Into Greater Creativity (By Learning From An Amoeba)
Everybody has asked themselves at some point,
“How can I be more creative?”
It’s especially important for those of us doing our own thing in the world of entrepreneurship. In a complex world those who can most easily adapt set themselves up for the most possibilities for success.
Whether you call it creativity, innovation or resourcefulness what you’re talking about is your ability to keep pace with the ever-changing world around you. There’s no sign of the world slowing down, but -- paradoxically -- you slowing down may be your best bet to get ahead.
Let’s define creativity
Creativity is the ability to make “what isn’t” from “what is.” It’s taking the resources of the world around you and turning them into something new. That means creativity isn’t something reserved for a certain breed of thinker or artist. It’s something inherent to you too. The degree to which you claim it and cultivate it is the degree to which you can use it to shape the world around you: bringing new art and ideas to life, creating more compelling products or services, connecting with clients and communities.
This is a strange idea for most folks, so here’s how to put it in perspective. If creativity is the ability to engage with and shape the world around you, then it’s something you have in common with every other living organism, all the way down to a single-celled amoeba. See, an amoeba follows the same rules of life that you do, and knowing those rules sets you up for a strong advantage in your relationships and work you do.
What does an amoeba have to do with it?
The amoeba takes in sensory information from its surroundings; molecular cues from food, friend and foe give it a very primitive way of mapping the world around it. Then the amoeba uses its ability to move in order to navigate with that map. It’s working within a constantly changing dynamic of “listening” and “responding” to the world around it. It shifts behavior based on environmental conditions in such a way that it can grow and multiply over time. If it can’t respond to those shifting cues, it doesn’t survive.
Is this sounding more familiar?
You engage in a similar process, albeit at a much greater scale of complexity.
Your nervous system is a highly refined structure that allows you to interact with the world around you through what’s known as a sensorimotor loop. Just like that amoeba you take in sensory cues (through sight or smell for example), process them moment-to-moment and respond with movement (everything from running to catch the bus to typing an email or gesturing while talking).
Imagine: you smell good food, and you head over to grab yourself a plate. You sense your partner is bristling over some comment, so you pause and check in. You see an unmet need in people’s lives, and you make moves to get a new offering in place.
Sensing and acting are inextricably linked, and they feed each other. If sensing is the “cognitive” half of the equation, then acting is the “creative” half. Greater perception leads to greater creativity.
Spur creativity with greater perception
If that’s the case, you may think that you’d want to sense and take in as much information as possible, right? Perhaps. However, you have to keep in mind: all the information in the world means nothing if you’re unable to process it. It’s like a fully loaded buffet. You can have as much as you want, but you’d better be able to digest it or you’re going to regret it.
Luckily your nervous system has an incredible ability to process new information, and as I mentioned at the beginning, slowing down can -- somewhat counter-intuitively -- give you an uncanny ability to get ahead. How?
Well, there’s an interesting law of neurophysiology called the Weber-Fechner law. It states that as the magnitude of a stimulus increases, the nervous system’s ability to perceive changes in the stimulus decreases. What does that mean in plain English? If you’re staring at the sun, and I blink a flashlight in your general direction, you’ll have no chance of telling when I do. However, if you’re in a dark room and I do the same thing, you’ll know exactly when I’m doing it.
You can prime your nervous system to notice changes -- and become more finely cued into opportunities -- when you turn down the volume. In other words: you can sense more when you slow down. As mentioned above, sensing and acting are inextricably linked. Deeper sensitivity leads to deeper creativity.
Try it yourself
Now, ideas may be interesting, but they’re only useful if you can put them into practice. Here’s a simple exercise in “micro-movements” to get a taste of this. It’s weird but effective. Read through the steps once, and then give it a try for yourself.
First, take a moment to check in with yourself. Are there areas where you notice any tension? How alert do you feel? How ready for the rest of the day? How much can you see in your peripheral vision?
Pick a point in front of you to anchor your gaze. Keep your eyes focused on this point for the rest of the exercise.
Without moving your eyes from that point, slowly move your head to the right and left 12 to 15 times. A small amount of movement is fine. Remember: lower intensity equals more information. Is one side easier than the other? Smoother? Able to turn farther? Pause with your nose pointed a bit to the left or right. It won’t matter which direction, but just as your eyes are anchored ahead, keep your nose fixed in whichever direction you choose.
Now turn your chest slightly until it’s aligned with your head, taking it back to center afterwards. Do this a few times, making it a smoother and easier movement each time through.
Keep your eyes fixed on that point ahead of you with your chest facing the same way as your nose. Now shift your weight over to that same side hip and then back to neutral. Repeat this “lean” a few times for yourself.
Let everything go. Check in with yourself once again. Do you notice any small shifts in your body? In your attention? Are there differences between your right and left sides? What else is different about yourself now that you’ve gone through this? What new sense of aliveness are you aware of?
Congrats. By slowing down and tuning in, you’ve given your nervous system a huge dose of new information with just those few, small movements. Even though the changes are subtle, your system is already starting to use them to shift how you sense and engage with the world around you.
Creativity starts with an internal shift, and it ripples out in big waves from there.
I’d love to hear what your experience of this is like. Leave a comment below, and if you enjoyed it, share it with a friend.