“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water,” said the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Two weeks ago, in part 1 of this two-article episode, I shared with you how the three parts of the human mind (the conscious, unconscious, and collective unconscious) relate to the three states of creativity (conscious, subconscious, and superconscious creativity). Today, let’s continue and deepen our exploration into the creative mind by checking out how the three states of human creativity connect to the basic types of human brain waves, how they are represented in the business literature on creativity and in creativity training programs, why we need to advocate and effectuate a shift towards the more advanced creative states and practices, and how we can get this change started.
How the states of creativity relate to human brain waves
Brain waves are oscillating electrical voltages in the brain, measuring just a few millionths of a volt. Brain scientists generally distinguish five human brain waves, oscillating at different frequencies and relating to distinct states of mind — gamma, beta, alpha, theta, and delta waves (see also the chart below):
- When we engage in creative thinking consciously, our brainwaves typically shift between gamma mode (where the frequency of human EEG waves is higher than 35 Hz, and we may describe the related brain state with the words concentration and problem-solving), beta mode (12-35 Hz; active mind, external attention, busy yet relaxed), and ideally alpha mode (8-12 Hz; relaxed, passive attention, reflective and restful).
- In contrast, when we engage in subconscious forms of creative thinking (such as engaging in daydreaming or making imagination trips), our brains typically oscillate either as alpha or theta waves (4-8 Hz; deeply relaxed and inward-focused).
- Finally, our minds are also in one of these two unfocused, (deeply) peaceful brain wave states (alpha or theta) when we get lucky to experience a Eureka moment of superconscious creativity where we receive a breakthrough idea from the collective unconscious.
What does this connection between the different brain wave and creativity states mean?
While conscious creativity techniques (and training programs) are based on focused activity and fast-paced thinking, the subconscious forms of creativity flow in an opposite mindset (unfocused presence and calm relaxation). We may also say:
When we consciously create, we DO things and DO think. But when we subconsciously create, we simply ARE — and thus ARE OPEN to receive ideas flowing from a subconscious source.
How the three states of human creativity show in the relevant literature and in training programs
When we scrutinize business-oriented creativity books and training programs, we can notice an interesting phenomenon:
- Roughly 80-90% of the books in the domain of business creativity deal with contents relating to conscious creativity. Likewise, 90% of the creativity techniques featured in these creativity books cater to conscious creativity where we ideate alone or, more often, as a team. Fewer than 10% of creativity techniques discussed in business books play on subconscious creativity where we typically imagine. Hardly anyone talks about or features creativity techniques or principles relating to the principle of incubation that allows us to tap into the collective unconscious where breakthrough ideas reside. (Funny enough, you’re more likely to come across subconscious creative thinking strategies and approaches in books that judgmental, critical business people would discredit as “new age” or “spiritual”).
- The same holds for creative thinking training programs, where typically more than 80-100% of the contents and activities focus on training people in conscious creativity. In contrast, subconscious creativity is only discussed and practiced at the margin, if at all.
In other words, almost all educational contents and formats in business creativity focus on the tip of the iceberg, and neglect or, even worse, are unaware of the iceberg and the sea. What can we expect to get if almost all creativity contents focus is on conscious “creative perspiration” and almost none on subconscious “creative inspiration”? Many more conventional “me too” ideas and few if any unconventional, game-changing breakthrough ideas.
Why humanity needs big ideas to rise to its challenges
“Humanity is in its’ final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in the Universe,” noted the American architect and systems theorist, and inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller already a few decades ago. In the coming two to three decades, humanity needs to resolve several massive challenges to ensure that we continue to exist and thrive. These challenges include climate change, sustainability, clean energy, overpopulation, aging societies, labor distribution, rising debt levels, and technological singularity.
To pass the final exam, we need to develop bold new solutions that shift the dynamics towards a more sustainable and conscious type of doing business and living. We need breakthrough ideas that represent revolutionary departures from the status quo. Will those 90% of techniques and training programs that focus on conscious creativity enable us to come up with these groundbreaking solutions? Nope, because the genuinely game-changing ideas tend to be not the result of conscious creative thought.
How to learn to harness all three states of human creativity
I am confident that we can rise to the occasion and out-innovate humanity out of these massive challenges. However, it requires a sufficiently large number of people (at least 10%) to collectively move to higher levels of consciousness (check out this article here to find out more about what level you might be operating on now) and make subconscious creativity a celebrated part of business and human capital development initiatives. How can we gain access to and strengthen our subconscious human creativity? We need:
- More and deeper books discussing subconscious creativity — how it works, how to cultivate it, how to activate it, and how to make it part of our daily work and lives.
- New training programs that focus on teaching subconscious creativity and complement the existing ones that teach conscious creativity.
- To develop more creative leaders who have cultivated creative mindsets that open their channels towards the most advanced subconscious creativity (based on the principle of incubation).
To sum up, we need to elevate human consciousness and embrace all three states of human creativity (conscious, subconscious, and superconscious creativity). Or put in the context of our metaphor: Stop just focusing on the tip of the iceberg. Instead, start embracing in its entirety (the tip, the berg, and the sea).
- Would you like to learn more about Genius Journey, our creative leadership development program that opens your mind to the more advanced forms of subconscious creativity?
- Or have you become interested in our related Genius Journey training programs? Contact us if you would like to learn more.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2020. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on November 5, 2020. It will be reprinted in the business section of the Bangkok Post within the coming weeks.