Our Brains Use Sensory Experiences To Produce Genius New Ideas

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Photo: Flickr/Maxine Chermat

Want to come up with great new ideas?You have to learn more about more things, says trends analyst Cecily Sommers, writing on FastCompany.com.

To increase our creativity, she says, we need to be “routinely introducing new information, people, settings, sensations, and experiences in order to expand our databank of memories”:

“In this way, we create more flexible and varied mental models that our brains can use to fill in the blanks of the future. With a richer store of memories, we are able to imagine a vast range of possibilities, appreciate the web of factors affecting a given issue, and make more of the associative links that prompt consideration of different scenarios. This is your best defence against—and preparation for—unforeseen events and opportunities that will likely impact your business.

Whether you’re looking for the next big idea or a fresh perspective, solving an innovation challenge, or hunting for an emerging technology, market, or business model to invest in, it is absolutely essential that you begin by immersing yourself in new material. New research, new disciplines, new sources, new experiences, new inputs, new approaches. It’s this simple: To have an authentically new idea, you must begin with new inputs. If you don’t, you can—truly—do no better than produce another version of what you already know.

The big payoff is what happens when new information collides with established memories. As your brain tries to make sense of the incoming data, it looks around for what’s familiar, linking the new to the old. And suddenly your perspective changes: That’s the moment of ‘Aha! I’ve never seen it that way before!’ Indeed you haven’t. Without the new input and the new synaptic connections it stimulates, there’s no physical way that you could have seen it that way before.

You see, the much-coveted Aha! is the result of a mental mash-up. If you understand that a neurological collage is what makes insights pop, you can be intentional in how you embed insight-generation into the design of your problem-solving process.”

Read more here.

I’ve often written about how children need to build a broad base of factual knowledge in order to develop their thinking skills. As Sommers suggests, that’s true for adults, too.

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