Where do ideas come from?

Where does genius reside? Is it learned, or innate? Or does it come from some external force?

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” explores in a TED conference the idea that genius is outside the individual. Therefore, rather than seek inspiration internally, the artist should try calling his or her muse. This ancient idea was lost sometime in the Renaissance as man became the centre if his own world and the idea of rulers appointed by God (Divine Right) faded out if fashion. Gilbert also raises an important point; that this perception takes the pressure off the artist. The artist is not responsible for the outcome – the muse is! All the artist need do is make the necessary preparations for that muse to come. Gilbert proposes that if this theory took hold on a large scale it might tackle the problem of depression and alcoholism/drug dependency within the artistic community.

Koestler said in ‘The Act of Creation’ (1964) that the neurotic “does not get beyond the destructive preliminary work and is therefore unable to detach the whole creative process from his own person and transfer it to an ideological abstraction.”.

So is creativity an internal or external factor?In Deepak Chopra‘s audiobroadcast “The Cosmic Mind and the Submanifest Order of Being” he explores the theory that ideas and memories may not be found in the brain, and that they may be in the nonlocal universal field of consciousness before becoming electrical impulses in the brain. He compares these electrical signals to radio transmissions, and uses this theory to explain coincidences. Chopra uses the anecdote of thinking of a mushroom omelette and being unable to get the idea out of his mind. Two hours later, he finds himself on a plane, being served a mushroom omelette. Chopra explains that this coincidence was because the concept of a mushroom omelette was in the nonlocal unified consciousness before it manifested in his reality.

Certainly many of us have had the uncanny experience of thinking of a friend, and finding simultaneously that they are calling on the phone. But is there any evidence to suggest that ideas originate outside of our minds?

Evidence by William Maddux and Adam Galinsky in their study of how living abroad affects creativity suggests that external factors have a large part to play. Maddux and Galinsky found in their creativity tests that expats were more likely to find innovative solutions to problems, such as negotiating a deal. Their study also included controls for personality factors like openness. The results showed that people who had not lived abroad tended to be less creative than expats, even if they were equally high on the openness trait. It was not the openness that made them creative; it was the act of exposing themselves to new ideas and new ways of living and working.

This concurs with Gilbert’s theories that creativity is not just about who you are; it is equally about the environments and spaces you create for yourself.

So don’t beat yourself up when ideas aren’t forthcoming. Try changing your environment and see if this inspires your creativity. Try preparing for the genius to come and then channel it’s voice. And if all else fails, it’s not you who is inadequate! It’s your Muse.

Genius is outside the self

I have the answer to where my genius comes from.

This week, I have been taking part in a clowning workshop run by Peta Lily.

Our exercises often mean we have to make the audience laugh, and be funny.

Lately I was intrigued by Elizabeth Gilbert‘s theory that genius is not internal, but external, and a sort of muse that we can call upon. (See my recent blog Where do ideas come from? for more details.)

During clowning, I decided to test this theory for myself. In preparation for clowning, the actor should spend a minute being with themselves and getting themselves into the ‘clown state’. This is best described as getting simple-minded and seeing everything as endless potential for enthusiasm.

During this phase, I repeated my exercises to get into clown state, and also emptied my mind and invited genius to come.

The exercise went well. At the end, Peta asked us to high-five each other with the words, “You are a comedy genius!”. I was very aware that the comedy genius was not me, but a visiting muse who had graciously helped me channel the divine comedy.

Later on in the week, I repeated the invitation to genius. I wasn’t always successful or funny.

But what a difference it made to my state of mind! After an ‘unsuccessful’ exercise, I didn’t beat myself up. I wasn’t a failure. The genius just wasn’t up to scratch right at that moment.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s theory has helped me not to take failure personally, and not get too big-headed about my successes.

Why not invite the muse next time you need to get creative?