The Magic of Creative Thinking and Directed Attention.
By Andrew Grant
Monday, 28th January 2013

How to pick pockets in broad daylight and open up the mind -

Derren Brown, the master of mind tricks, is so good at what he does that he can tell a person he is about to pick pocket them and get away with doing it, even after he has raised their awareness that it is about to happen.

So how does he do this? If you watch him carefully he overwhelms his victims with a barrage of information that serves as a distraction, for example handing them a drink bottle whilst talking, then asking for the drink bottle back, at the same time as asking for instructions on a map, showing the time etc - constantly changing the conversation and focus. (see video www.whokilledcreativity.com/articles/magic2 )

In a situation like this the brain simply cannot process all the information at once, so it can be manipulated by the magician. The successful magician is able to confrol someone's focus so that it remains inside a specific area. We will call this the box. The brain tries to work with step-by-step linear logic, but the way the world works (and the scenario Derren Brown creates) is not linear. The working memory can only hold about 6 things at once, so when something new is bought to attention something else has to go.

We have been fortunate to work with some of the world's most creative organisations, and yet when we survey our workshop participants only 10% of participants say they are functioning to 100% of their creative potential. This can be due to the fact that our minds are constantly overwhelmed by the amount of information we are exposed to and all the challenges we need to deal with on a regular basis, so we are kept inside "the box". That is, we remain restricted by such things as current expectations, habitual behaviours, and standard systems and procedures, and never get the chance to explore other ideas and options.

In order for someone to be creative they must first find the creative space to open up possibilities away from distractions, and then it is possible to look for solutions outside of the system, for new paths. Getting out of the system, or changing the frame of reference, will help to open up new possibilities. When unfiltered information reaches the conscious awareness of people who are open to being creative, and when they can process this information without being overwhelmed, it can lead to exceptional insights.

Moonwalking gorillas and survival

A famous experiment design that has been repeated many times in different formats asks the audience to watch a video and count the number of routines performed by a sports team in a certain period of time, eg the number of basketball passes between a specific team. Typically in this experiment something unusual walks across the screen during the exercise, but the audience often misses seeing it completely.

For example, in the basketball version a moonwalking gorilla passes right through the middle of the game - but the experiment participants rarely see it as they're so focused on counting the number of passes! This reveals how our thinking can become limited if our attention is directed in a specific way. Comedian Lawrence Leung ran a whole 30 min documentary on this concept, and had a gorilla appear in every scene. Even though the viewers are alerted to this concept, most viewers still miss seeing it!

People who are creative are able see what's on the peripheral and not look just where others tell them to look, or where their attention is directed.

Laurence Gonzales takes some implications from this concept beyond creative thinking and applies them to survival. He believes that people who survive while lost in the wilderness, or who survive terminal diseases such as cancer in the face of such a definitive diagnosis, are usually constantly questionning the system and confronting the standard expectations. These people are often considered notoriously difficult. The medical staff observes that they are "bad patients," unruly, troublesome. They don't follow directions, they won't settle for standard answers and they're generally annoying. And yet these people are the survivors.

The simple premise behind all magic tricks, and a useful definition of creative and 'survival' thinking,is the ability to look for solutions way beyond boundaries set up by our current environment. The restricted environment can be a mental, physical, and/or metaphysical construct, and learning to think beyond these apparent constraints can be very challenging.

Can we teach creative thinking?

People can learn to be creative when they are taught how to think outside the "box", or outside the norm. When a control group was set up for the moonwalking bear experiment the viewers in this group usually saw the gorilla simply because there were no expectations set. If these viewers were asked, "Tell me what you see?" curiosity was aroused, and had a whole range of interesting observations. While being asked to "count the passes" produced a closed system where over up to 80% of viewers failed to see the unusual event, the majority are able to discover something unique.when their minds are opened up and the possibilities are created.

Researchers point out that most people tend to take in information as confirmation of their current mental models, so we keep building on our set expectations rather than building new models from new ideas.

Solving today's problems requires being open to new ideas. It's the individuals and organisations that get into this new space first that are the most rewarded. Today's success is no excuse to sit back, since as soon as one sits back others are ready to overtake. Being creative is not a one off event but a constant vigilant mindset. We have worked with many groups to show how these skills can be trained, and how systems can be built that support innovation in the organisational culture.

Have you learnt how to think outside the norm? Are there systems and structures in place within your organisation that will support open creative thinking and innovation? Send us your comments on the website : www.whokilledcreativity.com/articles/magic2

Don't be fooled by the magician's tricks - or the norms and standard expectations. Start to look outside where you have been directed to look. A whole new world might just open up.

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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