Notes Toward the Theory and Practice of Creativity
from the Project Renaissance Perspective

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.


Morphology--photograph by Elan Sun Star
Image courtesy of Elan Sun Star


Alex Osborn sixty years ago launched the world-wide revolution in deliberate creativity. We owe to him the perception and understanding that creativity can be deliberate. It is not limited to the "innately creative," but a trait we all have until/unless it is suppressed, and a behavior and outcome which is readily relearned and trained and practiced.

Our own (Project Renaissance's) observation on this point is that, because so many very different creativity-evoking and problem-solving methods are highly successful, we have clear demonstration that the ability to creatively and ingeniously cope is part of our innate human nature. The seeming inability of most people to creatively and ingeniously cope is a learned artifact in our culture. (How and why it got that way, in our own and in most other cultures, is a topic of social theory and therefore for another day than this one.)

Mechanism proposed by Osborn as to how creativity got suppressed in most of us:  we internalized the message given us by family, playmates, school, business associates, etc., that we aren't really all that good.

Specific aspect of mechanism observed by Project Renaissance:  We were caused, by pressure of the ongoing convenience of those around us, to ignore and not respond to our own ideas. Each time we fail to respond to our own first-hand idea on something, we reinforce the notion that our own ideas aren't worth responding to, and we deepen our UNcreativity. (The counterpart of this is what makes our use of the Portable Memory Bank, or Idea Butterfly -Net, so powerful in building creativity.)

Mechanism proposed by Osborn for building creativity:  don't negatively reinforce it, don't punish its manifestations the way typical groups do to anyone suggesting a new idea. "Suspend judgment." Even cultivate weird and ridiculous ideas to de-sensitize judgment and to clear the way for good ideas to flow — plus, some of the most ridiculous ideas, once on the table, turn out to be the best ones.

Project Renaissance Observations:  We may not be able to actually suspend reflexive judgment on ideas as they come, but we can prevent or defer expression of negative judgment in a group when ideas are suggested, and we can personally avoid giving much energy to negative judgments until it's appropriate to bring them in. (Also, we should look for opportunities to express reinforcive positive judgment on some really good ideas without casting apparent negative judgment on other ideas by lack of such reinforcement.)


Judgment IS needed; the question is, when?

Ideas should flow freely, without being hindered by our internal or external editors. That means, ideas should flow first, so there is something on the table worth judging. Create freely first, judge after.

Osborn likened the human mind to the accelerator, representing creativity, and the brake, representing judgment, in an automobile, pointing out that most people stand on the brake their entire lives and then wonder why they never got anywhere.

Project Renaissance Observation:  Our own metaphor is slightly more direct. Consider creativity and judgment to be like two feet of the mind. Each needs to move freely in its turn. Some people try to hop through life entirely on one foot, but it is far more effective to use both feet, each in its turn. (For more discussion of this point, and for how to counter premature expression of judgment, especially negative judgment, in a group, see Winsights No. 72.)


Models of the Mind

Stemming from Osborn's concept and practice of a profusion of momentarily unjudged ideas in order to get to the best ideas, most creativity programs even today approach creativity quantitatively rather than qualitatively. The one standardized test for creativity, devised by our friend and great educator, the late Paul B. Torrance, measures for how many ideas or responses one can generate rather than how good they are. The only qualitative test devised thus far is an "Expert Panel" system like that used in Olympic diving or gymnastic competitions, and put into practice on a TV game show on creativity in South Africa, the Out of the Box show as devised by creativity leader Kobus Neethling.

The working model for the human mind, in theories and methods of creativity stemming from Osborn's approach, is as a function which has to be disinhibited, flushed out, even shoved and battered into getting around to that eventual best idea or answer on a problem.

Project Renaissance Observation:  While we need indeed to disinhibit and flush out, modern science shows us (and our own practice shows us) that the very best answer immediately appears in part of our mind from the very start of our contact with a problem or issue or question. How can that be?

  1. Only two percent of your brain, by volume, associates consciously in words and word-concepts. Sixty to ninety percent of your brain, by volume, associates by sensory imagery, nearly all of that process conventionally beyond our consciousness. Nearly all our creativity, and nearly all our understanding, originate in that sensory-associating majority of the brain in which are stored either all or at least a staggeringly huge number of our experiences and awarenesses. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of the associations and insights struck by this majority part of our brain ever reaches consciousness.

  2. That conscious two percent of your brain has been trained down to the speed of the language you speak. Speed of communications in the rest of the cortex, as measured point to point, is some ten thousand times faster. Speed of communication in the main parts of the brain, the "limbic" brain underlying the cortex, is some ten thousand times faster than in the cortex, some ten million times faster than the part of the brain through which we think and experience consciously. This difference in speed enables the sensory-associating majority of our brain, a large part of which is in the limbic, to sort seemingly instantaneously through our vast number of experiences to find the key associations which are the bases of understandings and insights.

By trying to force everything through the sharp linear focus of our verbal conscious brains, while ignoring other, subtler awarenesses, we are cut off from the very vast majority of our own effectiveness. Involvement with the arts is one way to connect up with some of our subtler awarenesses; involvement with creativity and creative problem-solving is another direct way.

By discussing our issues in groups where we have to keep waiting our turn to speak, mentally rehearsing how we are going to say something when we finally do get our chance to slip in a word edgewise, we are likewise cut off from 99.99999999999999999% of our effectiveness. We don't have to forego the stimulus of group discussion, only conduct most of it in pairs or in very small "buzzgroups" under simple, clear directions (see the example system of methods for this set forth at Dynamic Format). This approach has enabled the historic benefits of Socratic Method to be applied so broadly and open-endedly that everyone within any sized group can "be a Socrates" to themselves and to each other, drawing each other out in depth and detail, at length, on their respective deepest and subtlest awarenesses, on any currently focused topic.


Connecting up better with our senses
  1. Sensory imagery is an especially sensitive and accurate way of tuning in to parts of the ongoing associative regions of the brain wherein, beyond consciousness, we do our real thinking, perceiving, and choice-making. A complete curriculum on this aspect of the Project Renaissance program is set forth in extensive detail, starting at Image-Streaming. (For full curriculum benefit, we recommend that you click through to each linked article as you come to it there.)

    We refer to this aspect as "Einsteinian," after the "Deep Thought" discovery method which Albert Einstein was one of the first renowned scientists to make popular, wherein he set his interior imagery loose and running on a spontaneous basis, its contents free of conscious direction unlike in conventional daydreaming. He — and we — observe such imagery as closely as possible to see what we can discover from it. The moment we focus on a problem, opportunity, question or issue, by reflex the majority part of our brain, sorting through our experiences to associate relevant sensory images, shows us in our imagery — if we but bother to look at it — the best available answer or insight for that situation.

  2. By paying more attention to our perceptions, as distinct from what we think we know about things, the better our chances of solving problems and coming up with productive new ideas.

An important Project Renaissance Objective:  Of the hundreds of creativity-involved and creative problem-solving methods now in successful professional use around the world, every one of them is successful precisely to the degree that it somehow moves its practitioners beyond what they think they know about the problem situation, to the fresh perceptions needed wherein to find the best answer. Indeed, the main problem faced by any system of creative problem-solving is how to move beyond what we expect the answer ought to be, so we can see what is.

So, to become more creative:

  • Attend and examine ideas before judging them.
  • Capture your ideas AS they occur, with a "flash snatcher" or pocket pad or recorder of some sort, kept with you at all times and used at all times.
  • Go with your immediate first impressions on whatever stimulus, examine them and see what they lead to.
  • Pay more attention to your perceptions, and somewhat less to what you think you know about a given problem-situation, especially if that has been a problem for some time despite various efforts to resolve it.

Pole-Bridging Effects in the Brain

More on this last:  Your perceptions are also a major, powerful route to building not only your creativity but your intelligence. Both creativity and intelligence have been correlated with how rapidly perceptions or stimuli in one part of the brain light up other regions of the brain. If that happens slowly, the initial part of the brain completes its processing and in effect the message passed on to the rest of the brain with the stimulus is, "Don't bother with this one, we're done with it already."

However, if you have other parts of the brain grabbing for the stimulus before the initial part of the brain can complete its part of the process, the message passed along is very different: "Well, we've dealt with A, and have some interesting stuff so far on B, but there's all that going on with C, D, E and F you might want to check into." In other words, the faster that information travels through to other regions of the brain, the more aspects of any situation you will characteristically see, the more ways you can cope with that situation, and the more reward to the parts of your brain where you get to appreciate such matters. Thus have we derived Project Renaissance's theory of Pole-Bridging in the brain:

Externally express together in one combined activity the functions of various parts of the brain, combined such that they require coordination between them. Sensory feedback from externally expressed activities is faster than is the feedback from internally expressed activities, where prehistoric survival conditions never put as much of a demand for speedy responses. (It's the difference between "those pretty stripes look like ... A TIGER! RUN!" and "Oh, I think I may be getting a headache.") So combining into external activities, games even, the functions of various regions of the brain, and coordinating those activities from external sensory feedback, drives those various regions of the brain into a tighter phase relationship, one where they learn to characteristically pass along communications to each other more rapidly, bridging between these "poles" of the brain.

  • Hence, build creativity AND intelligence by practice of activities such as Image-Streaming and/or learning to sight-read and play music, which exercise various disparate regions of the brain together — and create better communications bridges between those various "poles" of the brain.

  • Also hence, practice Improvisation, generally and in the special form of Improvitaping, which we now see improving both intelligence and creativity in at least these three ways —

    1. Pole-Bridging effects result from linking such diverse responses as arise wherever in the brain to action in rapidly changing and unexpected situations.

    2. From our work with Improvitaping, we've come to appreciate that the phenomenon there not only places a premium on and builds articulation, but it is at base a sensory process in which one is constantly flowing into responses to try to somehow make one's dabblings sound like "a real piece," while in the feedback conditions that are defined by that process. The sensing is not only rapid but subtle, whose practice accordingly heightens one's ability to deal with subtle matters, an aspect of intelligence. See also discussions of rapid-flow-with-feedback, as described at Feeding the Loop.

    3. Any practice building perception, including especially subtle perceptions, results in a higher sustained level of stimulus and feedback driving the brain, cumulatively over time to higher and higher levels of intelligence. "Brain plasticity" refers to the brain's changing its structure, shape, size and mass over time to better handle the type(s) of information or stimuli it has been dealing with the previous year or so. We suggest you Google "brain plasticity" to discover how many thousands of scientific studies now demonstrate this phenomenon.

— So it is not only a matter of specific techniques to run your answers out past the editors, or to let your inner vision show you your answers and discoveries. By practice of these connection-making techniques; by practice of deep-felt arts and art experiencing; by practice of Improv and other rapid-flow-with-feedback procedures; by practice of pole-bridging activities; and by practice of whatever sharpens your sensory perceptions and heightens your focus with your subtler perceptions, you can render yourself to be profoundly more creative and significantly more intelligent.



The vastly greater part of your mind and brain operates outside the focus of your conscious attention. Thanks to Alex Osborn and others, we've known for more than a half century that creativity is something which can be learned and practiced deliberately, once we can temporarily suspend inhibiting factors. Not only are there hundreds of effective methods for this, but for heightening creativity and mental function by a number of different principles and mechanisms. We hereby cite to your attention rapid-flow-with-feedback; Improvisation generally and in particular Improvitaping; and various forms of Pole-Bridging in the brain, as opportunities for further major investigation and advance.


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Win Wenger

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