“Creativity is one of the best things we human beings are capable of,” Holman said. “And creativity is all about connection.”
According to Holman, there are five ways to connect that encourage people’s creativity.
The first is culture.
While there’s a myth that exists of the lone creator, wiling away the hours in a laboratory or a studio, waiting for the next great idea.
Solitude is not conducive to creativity, however, Holman said. Instead, what humans crave is culture and connection.
To illustrate this, Holman told the story of two skulls – neanderthal and homo sapiens. Neanderthals possessed bigger brains than homo sapiens, yet neanderthals died out and homo sapiens remain (at least for now, Holman noted). Scientists wondered why.
Because, they concluded, homo sapiens had smaller brains but bigger cerebellums and the cerebellum is where the higher processing skills of language and social abilities take place.
“The reason the neanderthals died out is because, scientists posited, they were rubbish at sharing ideas,” Holman said. “If a neanderthal hit on a new discovery, they would keep it to themselves. Home sapiens are very good at sharing – today we call that culture. If we didn’t share ideas, we’d still be living as we did 40,000 years ago. Culture is a glorious melting pot.”
To glean the benefits of that culture, it helps to immerse ourselves in it. Learning new things generates new ideas while nothing comes of nothing, or, as The Clash drummer Joe Strummer put it, “No input, no output.”
To be at our most creative, we need to “expose ourselves to as much stuff as we possibly can,” said Holman. “The more diverse your interests, the more creative you are likely to be.”
Similarly, collaboration promotes creativity. “There’s a connection that exists between collaborators,” Holman said. “Creativity depends upon diversity—the more diverse your collaborators the more fruitful the collaboration is likely to be.”
While being and working with others sparks our creativity, so does stepping away from the computer and going for a walk.
“There’s a creative connection that exists between different regions in our brains,” Holman said. “For a long time, people thought the brain existed in two distinct hemispheres – with the left operating as our inner math teacher, and the right as our inner hippie. We now know that this is not true.”
Instead, there are whole brain networks at work that are critical to creativity. One of those, the default mode network, does its best work when we’re not actively trying to think about or accomplish anything.
“We used to think that when we were at rest, our brains were at rest too. But this is not the case. When our brains are in neutral, all kinds of stuff is going on,” Holman said. “If you want to make the most of the creative capability of your brain, you have to make time in your process to step away from your desk, from the problem you are working on. You often think you should work harder, but often it’s the worst thing you can do.”
Connection to a concept is another way to light our creative fires, and even less intuitively, we get creative when we try to link two unrelated concepts.
For example, Holman said, Harry Beck was an electrical engineer who worked on the London Underground in the early 1800s at a time when the London Underground map accurately represented distances between stops.
But Beck realized that while that map was accurate, it was not particularly helpful. Riders just needed to know what train to board to get to where they wanted to go. As an electrical engineer, Beck often worked with electrical circuit maps. When he looked at them, he realized that they might present a more straightforward way to present routes to riders. And thus the modern subway map was born.
And finally, there’s the connection that exists between all of us.
As the French artist Marcel duChamps said, “A work of art is completed by the viewer,” making the viewer a participant in the creation of that piece of art.
“Work is not fixed, it changes and mutates depending on the viewer,” Holman said. “If the work resonates with us, we can’t help but feel a connection back to the audience.”
That connection is so strong that it can even manifests physically in audiences, with the hearts of movie viewers or concert attendees tending to synchronize over the course of the performance.
“This is why when you’ve seen a great film or concert, you feel this kind of connection to your fellow audiences when you come out,” Holman said. “If you’ve watched a great TV show or read a great book, you can’t wait to share it with your loved ones.”
In a society that’s increasingly divided and polarized, connection through creativity is ever more important.
“There’s a capacity of creativity to reach across those artificial boundaries and connect through the shared experiences of art, literature, poetry, cinema and dance,” Holman said.
Or, as musician Brian Eno once said, “one of the great feelings is to stop being me for a little while and start being us.”
To learn more about Holman’s philosophies on the importance of creativity, you can check out his book, “Creative Demons and How to Slay Them.”
And to hear more sessions like this one, tune into Promax’s Festival of Virtual Content at 9 a.m. PT/4 p.m. CEST every Wednesday through November 1.