Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

The Distracted Creative Mind

If you are easily distracted, you may be a creative person. If you stare motionlessly at a TV watching football games on Saturdays, you may not be a creative person.

procrastinatorAccording to a study by Northwestern University, creatives have trouble filtering sensory information. Their brains are a jumble that spews out creativity.

For most of us, loud noises, squeaky voices and random bangs on cabinet doors are more or less annoyances. For creative souls, these annoyances are the sounds of inspiration.

While the majority of us attempt to hide from annoyances, creatives store them up, which gives them a larger attic of stuff to sift through for a painting, a poem or a video game.

Explained in probability theory, the more litter in your brain means there is a better chance of assembling your junk in a novel way. This could be the long-sought explanation of how trashy novels are conceived.

For restless college students, this distracted creative theory comes in handy. If asked why you are staring out the window, you can blame it on your creative genius, not the nearly naked girl sunbathing on the campus lawn.

The Northwestern University researchers talk about “leaky” sensory processing. The good news for leaky people, they say, is an innate ability to cast a wide net, to field a broad set of stimuli. The bad news is they may need to wear earplugs or opaque glasses to avoid going crazy. Maybe this is why Van Gogh lopped off his ear.

metamorphosis-franz-kafkaThe researchers dredged up a comment about sensory overload from none other than the cheery Franz Kafka, who said: “I need solitude for my writing; not like a hermit – that wouldn’t be enough – but like a dead man.”

Of course, wanting a little peace and quiet isn’t just the province of creative types. Lots of people, after a hard day at work, just want to come home, plop down and chill out. That probably includes a lot of people who spent all day sitting on a beanbag chair, dreaming up ideas for TV ads and trying to explain them to emotionless, potentially comatose clients.

Creativity is not exactly easy to measure. The researchers asked participants in their study to answer the Creative Achievement Questionnaire and submit to testing of their “divergent thinking.” The test involved answering a question with as many answers as you could think of, something like a still-yawning high school student taking an SAT test.

They discovered divergent thinking correlates well with academic achievement, not necessarily creative achievement. People with strong divergent cognition skills were able to block out irrelevant sensory information. People with leaky sensory perception,on the other hand, may flunk out of school because they can’t concentrate on any one thing, but have a real chance of becoming an unemployed artist.

Amy-Ms-Creative-Mind-1bkhy8xIn reality, people probably aren’t in one bucket or the other, but fall along a continuum. Their leakiness may only be triggered by trees changing color in the fall, a Lady Gaga concert or a Big Whopper. What is cacophony one moment is blissful music in another.

The bottom line: If stopping to smell the roses is a good idea, then so is slowing down to hear what is swarming around you. If it isn’t bees, then it could be a life-enriching experience, whether you blog it, Instagram it or play it on a kazoo.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: