The Magic & Neuroscience of Creative Thinking, Part 1 of 2.
By Andrew Grant
Saturday, 24th November 2012
If I reveal what's happening behind the scenes in magic tricks, will you still respect me by the end of this article?

The illusions and mysterious mind games magicians use often astound us. And yet the most apparently impossible tricks can often have the most simple explanations. This is why magicians have a strong code to never share their secrets and never do a trick twice. If we have the opportunity to unpack the methods behind a magicians tricks, we may not only find the explanations for their illusions, but I believe we can also discover some deeper implications for true creative thinking.

Is magic really magic?

Whilst I'm not a professional magician, I have a few amateur tricks up my sleeve that I like to pull out in our creative thinking keynotes and workshops. Even with my basic abilities I have been able to "fool" (I will define "fool" later on) audiences into thinking I can read their minds. I can appear to write a number down and telepathically transfer that number to an audience member. I can have an audience member choose a shape that I say I have predicted, and then I can ask them to find that number under their chair or table. And I can even guess a volunteer's favorite color, number, car, holiday - or anything else I may ask them. (see video www.whokilledcreativity.com/videos/from-the-book ) The odds of this happening by chance are very low.

So how do I get the 100% hit rate I can get? Perhaps I can really read minds? No, there is actually a more logical explanation. What I am able to do (which professional magicians can do extremely effectively) is to direct an audience's attention to one restricted area while I, the magician, work in a much broader area - outside the 'box'. This is the simple premise behind all magic tricks and our best definition of creative thinking. The ability to look for solutions way beyond boundaries set up by our current environment, habitual ways of thinking, and standard ways of doing things etc. (Note here that the restricted environment can be mental, physical, or metaphysical models)

Try this quick magic trick

Before you read any further let me see if i can 'fool' you with a magic trick - right now in this article. Do allow yourself some time to appreciate how this trick could so easily deceive your brain before you focus on finding the simple answer. I'm sure you will be keen to go back and do it a second time, and it's usually this second look that will open up your broader working memory, and at this point the simple misdirection of the initial trick will most likely no longer fool you. This trick is a fun one to perform live, as in the short moment of initial awe, before people can work out how it's done, I can make an audience think I have influenced them all. Through the trick the audience believes they have all independently chosen the same single card from a group of 6, and then that I can make that card miraculously disappear.

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(click the link www.whokilledcreativity.com/articles/magic to experience your own magic trick - choose a card and we will make it disappear - )

How does this trick work? You are deliberately directed to focus on a single card, and so you do not think to take in the other five. If you looked at all six you'd see how it was done.

If you look at this a few times you should be able to work it out, but what I'd like to explain is why it works from a neurological perspective and why it's so important for creative thinking. The Director of the modern day optical illusion center Lottolabs, Beau Lotto believes that "The whole concept of an illusion is predicated on a misconception. We see not the world 'as it is' - but we see the world in a way that proved useful in the past. Our brain constructs what it knows by searching for useful patterns in sensory information and then associating those patterns with a past record of their behavioral relevance, and then using that information to guide behavior".

Learn to thrive, not just survive

Survivalist researcher Laurence Gonzales explains why people are fooled by magic and have trouble being creative. He says that, "We construct an expected world because we can't handle the complexity of the present one, and then process the information that fits the expected world, and find reasons to exclude the information that might contradict it. Unexpected or unlikely interactions are ignored when we make our construction."

Within this quote lies the main reason why many of us struggle to use creative thinking. If we can learn to see the unexpected, we can often start to see creative solutions that were possibly there all the time but we may have been blinded to. When our brain does this it can restrict creative thinking. Of course we need this normal pattern-seeking brain behavior to survive normal everyday day life. Without patterns and 'norms' our brains cannot make sense of the huge amount of stimulus that comes in each day. But there are times when we need to let go of these pattern-making predispositions. There are many tortured souls unable to know when or how to switch between these two states. And there are those who have been driven to creative insanity by not being able to relax into familiar patterns. The key here is that we need to know when and how to actively access our creative brain, and when to simply leave it running more passively in the background.

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CAN YOU SEE IT?: Both pages in this diagram are the same shade of grey. http://www.lottolab.org/downloads.asp

Most people need to create a box or a set of parameters to work within and then tend to look for solutions inside this space. There is nothing wrong with this, but the research shows that a creative genius goes way outside the boundaries and in some cases even has no box or a' less intact' box (which may explain why many creative geniuses have often bordered on the edge of eccentricity and madness).

Have you learnt to access the pwer of creative thinking in a constructive way? As you learn to redirect your focus and explore outside of the standard norms or expectations, you will discover the creative opportunities that can really challenge and change individuals and organizations.

Watch Andrew Grant (author of Who Killed Creativity?") direct a live audience's attention to think inside the box, while he demonstrates the power of magic & creative thinking 'outside the box'. Look carefully and you might see how it's done!


Andrew and Gaia Grant work with a number of the major hotel chains such as; Starwood, Four Seasons, Marriott, Aman Resorts, le Meridien developing creative thinking and innovation.

Andrew Grant is the CEO of Tirian, author of ‘Who Killed Creativity?', and creative designer of Tirian programs which are sold under license internationally.

Andrew has worked on leadership and team development for top executive clients in multinational companies throughout the world for more than 15 years and is a recognized leader in the field. He has been in high demand as a keynote speaker and has shared the stage with top international speakers such as Stephen Covey, Jonas Ridderstrale and Bob Nelson.
Andrew has been a keynote presenter and executive level facilitator in over 15 countries, and has successfully worked with over 30 different nationalities.

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