At PCDworks, we love to nerd out over how our brains work, for obvious reasons. Simply put, without the brain, there's no innovation. The deeper our understanding of our mental processes, the more efficiently we can harness our creativity, leading to groundbreaking solutions to complex problems.
An enlightening episode of PBS NOVA titled "Your Brain: Who's in Control?" highlights a key concept that guides our Immersive Ideation™ sessions: The brain's self-monitoring function is crucial for everyday life, but it also places a leash on our creativity.
That's why we take our clients out of their regular routine, environment, and physical space and invite them to our serene campus, where they can fully immerse themselves in a completely different state of mind.
Conscious Control Might Be Killing Your Creativity
The prefrontal cortex, nestled in the frontal lobe of our brains, plays a significant role in maintaining control over our thoughts and behaviors. From impulse control to strategic thinking, it keeps us on track, making us functional, social beings. This control is critical in numerous contexts but doesn't always gel with creativity.
To be truly innovative, you must relinquish your focus on control and evaluation (that critical voice telling you that your ideas are stupid and would never work anyway). The prefrontal cortex's controlling, analytical, and critical features can make us too self-conscious, insecure, and cautious. Excessive self-monitoring can leave us feeling nervous, second-guessing every thought and interaction—especially in the presence of peers or self-assured “experts” who might judge us for potentially unorthodox ideas. This heightened self-consciousness stifles the creative process.
The Creative Sweet Spot for Innovation
Often, conscious control makes us perform worse, especially in situations where it is normally second nature to us and we enter a flow state. Do you think a Jazz musician can come up with these riffs on the spot by overthinking or by letting the music grab them and simply following where it leads?
Creativity thrives on playfulness, improvisation, surprise, and making unexpected connections.
Some research suggests that reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex may be associated with increased creative output, possibly because it allows more spontaneous and less constrained thinking. A study by Charles Limb and Allen Braun found that when jazz musicians improvise, they show deactivation in the prefrontal cortex and increased activation in the motor and sensory areas of the brain. This suggests that releasing conscious control (linked to the prefrontal cortex) fuels creative expression. Limb also participated in the PBS NOVA special where he explained that this is true for musicians as well as athletes whose physical high performance has become subconscious and second nature: "Free throw shooters that are able to shoot 99% free throws, all of a sudden, when you tell them you're going to get a million dollars if you make the next one […] you're more likely to choke. If you inject conscious control over something that's much better just to be left to its own subconsciousness, your performance gets worse."
When we fear being judged, we feel threatened and afraid of failure and rejection, which can put us in a fight or flight state. The more threatened we are, the more anxious and overwhelmed we get, which can lead to a total shutdown. Nothing kills creativity faster.
Real innovation is risky, because it requires us to put ourselves out there in front of peers and opens our ideas up for ridicule and dismissal. At PCDworks we address this barrier to innovation by creating an environment of psychological safety that encourages participants to let go of self-monitoring and embrace their creative flow. When clients arrive at our campus, we start with a family style dinner and drinks to get to know each other as people. We create a non-threatening atmosphere that’s conducive to leaving our egos at the door and engaging with humility and curiosity.
Our immersive ideation sessions on the PCDworks campus create the conditions for creativity helping clients give up some of their conscious control in exchange for entering a flow state encouraging creative release. Our prototype shops and labs stimulate experimentation and improvisation, offering opportunities to test ideas in a low-risk setting. Our campus and facilities provide opportunities to relax and disconnect from our regular schedules to foster more spontaneity and deep work.
The journey from the structured order of the prefrontal cortex to the wild spontaneity of creativity can be a daunting one. At PCDworks, we make that journey not only accessible but deeply rewarding, opening up new avenues for innovation. Understanding our brains allows us to leverage our mental processes for maximum creative output, transforming ideas into truly disruptive solutions.
PS: We're not hating on the prefrontal cortex. It's essential for sifting through and rigorously evaluating all the "out there" ideas we come up with in our immersive ideation sessions. It’s a matter of order, not importance. First, we ideate, then we let our analytical prefrontal cortex poke holes in everything, so we're only left with the solutions that will work in reality.
You can learn more about our innovation process here.
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