Deviate from Norm
There’s an objective reality, but our brains don’t see it.
The controversial color-changing dress — blue-and-black dress. Or is it a gold-and-white dress?
This time, imagine sitting in a stationary train. As you gaze out the window, the train on the next track starts to move forward. For a brief second, as you see it glide away, you may feel as if you’re moving backward, even though you’re not moving at all.
Clearly, it’s not just your eyes that are vulnerable to deceit. All our senses can be tricked by the mind.
For the most part, distortions of the outside world are harmless, or even beneficial, because they let us concentrate on more important sensations, like pain or fear.
Information is meaningless without interpretation.
To help this interpretation process, our bodies and brains have evolved to filter out unnecessary information. As a result, we sense only the information we absolutely need. That’s why we only hear certain frequencies, smell certain chemicals, and see what we call “visible light,” which is a narrow slice of the full electromagnetic spectrum.
Our brains learn by interacting with the world.
Ben lost his sight to a rare form of cancer. Shortly after that, he began experimenting with new ways of navigating the world. He developed a strategy of clicking his tongue and listening carefully to the sounds reflecting off the surfaces around him. Essentially, he learned to see using echolocation, just like a bat.
This acoustic adaptation shows just how flexible the human brain can be. With a little effort, and lots of trial and error, we can learn to perceive reality in brand-new ways.
if we continually expose ourselves to new stimuli, our brains will get stronger. We can even learn to incorporate new senses, as was shown in a study from the University of Osnabrück. Subjects were given special belts that vibrated toward magnetic north, mimicking the magnetic sensing some animals have. After wearing the belts for a few weeks, participants had better spatial perception and were more confident in their navigation skills.
Our perception of reality depends on the context.
People are complaining about his royal tapestry factory in Paris. The factory displays vibrant fabrics in its showroom. But whenever a nobleman buys thread to take home, something seems off about the colors. The greens aren’t as verdant and the reds aren’t as rich.
Instead, the problem is in the eye of the beholder. The colorful yarns simply appear more vivid when woven together in the showroom’s tapestries. In isolation, the lack of contrast makes them seem dull.
Essentially, our brains learn what types of information were meaningful in the past, and get better at recognizing that information in the future. But while this is a useful skill, it can also make it harder to perceive things accurately.
We can use our minds to change how we perceive the world.
Our skill in conscious thought doesn’t just allow us to create meaning inside our heads. It also lets us change how we perceive the material world as well.
As this illusion shows, what we perceive in the world is really up to us. Sometimes this happens consciously, like when interpreting art. But often it’s an unconscious process.
Our assumptions about the world both help — and hinder — our thinking.
The fact is that our imagination has limitations of its own, most of which come from our unconscious assumptions about the world.
When facing new situations, we rely on those previously built connections to make sense of the world. So, instead of approaching reality with a fresh mind every single day, our thoughts follow certain patterns.
The problem is that following the same thought patterns all the time trains our brains not to pursue novel ones. It’s in this way that our assumptions limit our ability to perceive the world in new ways.
To think creatively, cast aside your established assumptions.
The first step in developing new ideas is questioning old ones. It sounds straightforward enough, but it can be surprisingly difficult.
Because our established ways of perceiving the world can be so ingrained, they’re practically invisible. That’s why it takes conscious effort to make even small logical leaps, even if, in retrospect, the ideas we come up with seem obvious.
Ditching assumptions opens new paths forward, and the best way to start shaking things up is with lots of trial and error. By constantly interacting with the world in new ways, you’ll find that many of your old beliefs don’t hold up in every situation. Even things that seem completely settled can be turned upside down when put in a new context.
Discover new ways of seeing the world by embracing uncertainty.
The only way to move forward is to embrace uncertainty. And a great way to accomplish this is to pause between your experience and your reaction.
For example, imagine a stranger bumps into you roughly. Your first reaction might be to think, “What a jerk!” This may feel correct or certain, but it’s only a narrow interpretation. If you stop for a moment and embrace uncertainty, you’ll realize that you don’t know the whole story. The stranger might not be a jerk at all, and could be rushing to do a good deed or suffering from issues with balance.
Either way, by acknowledging that you don’t know, you can embrace alternative interpretations of the world. That open-minded attitude is the key to creativity.
An ecology of innovation balances play and efficiency.
Innovation works a lot better when it’s treated like play. So, rather than approaching the tasks of learning, thinking, and doing with a specific objective, it’s better just to enjoy them as activities for their own sake. With this mindset, sometimes called “blue-sky thinking,” you’re more likely to follow your curiosity, try out new approaches, and come up with original ideas.
Once you have a lot of original concepts to work with, you can start refining them to see which ones are useful. This is similar to the process of evolution in nature. First, species will mutate and change in a variety of unpredictable ways. Then the process of natural selection will take over. Bad changes will be eliminated and good ones will stick around, resulting in new creatures perfectly adapted to their habitat.
This cycle of creation and refinement works in any field. Whether you’re a scientist experimenting in a lab or an artist crafting your own personal style, it’s always best to start with unrestrained thought. In other words, when it comes to innovation, it’s best to deviate from the norm now, and worry about the details later.
What we think of as objective reality is actually a distorted picture of our surroundings. We perceive the world through the limited window of our five senses. More than that, the way our brains interpret and understand sensory signals is limited by our internal illusions and past assumptions. To think creatively, you must learn to recognize these processes, consciously work to break free of established thought patterns, and learn to live with uncertainty.