A recent article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in Newsweek examines what works in fostering creativity. Right at the top of the list is movement. “Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward. However, there’s a catch: this is the case only for the physically fit. For those who rarely exercise, the fatigue from aerobic activity counteracts the short-term benefits.” The entire article can be found here: http://bit.ly/acsCPW
Reading the Newsweek article sent me back to Dr. Stuart Brown’s excellent book Play – How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. In the last chapter of the book Brown makes the bold statement that “nations may well rise or fall on the basis of their ability to honor our evolutionary prerogative to play.” One of his concluding bits of advice is Be Active. He writes: “One of the quickest ways to jump-start play is to do something physical. Just move. Take a walk, do jumping jacks, throw a ball for the dog (a double pay boost). Motion is perhaps the most basic form of play. We are designed to start moving when we are in the womb. (The underlining is mine.) …We are alive when we are physically moving.
“Neuroscience research is showing that the fundamentals of perception, cognition, and movement are very closely connected, and that the circuits for higher functions such as planning and recognizing the consequences of future actions require movement.”
Gregg Fraley, creativity and innovation expert, consultant and writer wrote in his blog (http://www.greggfraley.com/blog/) recently about the need for movement activities in the one and two day brainstorming/ideation workshops he leads for corporate clients.
“Resist the urge to cut these activities. In fact, add more. These games and energizers are exactly what the brain needs to get into, and stay in, imaginative mode. According to Pierce J. Howard, author of The Owner’s Manual For The Brain, physical exercise is highly effective in improving the speed of recall, and much research points to an effect on the quality of mental function and the amount of recall. It releases endorphins, the neurotransmitters that relax us into a state of cortical alertness. Humor works as well. Tests of problem-solving ability yield better results when they are preceded by laughter.
Many of the games/exercises used for energizing were originally designed for the theater. The intent is to bring the actor into the present moment, enabling him or her to respond to stimulus authentically. These exercises are time tested and they work well to bring people’s minds into the room – instead of cranking away on other problems and challenges in their lives. Once a state of “presence” is achieved you will have more effective ideation. This state is hard to maintain, however, and that’s why about once an hour you need to refresh. You want people to play with ideas, and these games help establish the environment of playfulness that allows those magic ideas to pop up and be heard by the conscious mind. If you want the magic bullet, play with the magic ball.”
Will our nation get a move on? Or will we continue to sit anchored at desks in schools, boxed in cubicles at work, glued to a screen at home? I don’t believe we can teach creativity. I do believe we can practice it. The challenge is how to incorporate that practice, including the movement that encourages creativity, into our lives. One hopes that in years to come, a creativity consultant such as Gregg Fraley will not be necessary. People will have learned long before, especially in schools, the value of activities and practices that heighten our creative potential.
Or we can be like our ancestor, the sea squirt. Stuart Brown tells us that young sea squirts use their primitive brain to navigate their environment and find food. Then they attach themselves to a rock or a piling and spend the rest of their life there. That “life” includes digesting their own brain. Firmly rooted to one spot for the rest of its life, the creature derives sustenance from consuming its own cerebral ganglia! Can’t be much sustenance from such a little brain. Nonetheless, will our nation get a move on? At the very least, we must help our “squirts” cherish the value of movement and play.