Here’s my measure of creativity. Try it before reading on. Time yourself. Let’s say 30 seconds. You are going to think of 5 words. Your goal is to come up with 5 words that are as unrelated to one another as possible. Go.

Via Jonah Lehrer, I found this article that would give some backstory to my test. I will paraphrase, but it’s worth reading the article. First of all, our memory is understood to work by passive association (as opposed to conscious recollection.) You have a thought or an experience, and memory conjures up a bunch of potentially relevant stuff. Then, subconsciously, a filter is applied which sorts through these passive recollections and finds the ones that are most relevant and allows only these to bubble up into conscious processing.

Now, there are patients with damage to areas of their brain that effectively shuts off this filter. When you ask these patients a question, they will respond with information that is no more likely to be true as it is to be completely fabricated from related memories, or even previously imagined scenarios. These people are called confabulators.

The article discusses how especially creative people with perfectly healthy brains achieve their heights of creativity by reducing activity in that area of the brain associated with the filter. The suggestion is that creativity is the result of allowing into consciousness those ideas that less creative people would inhibit on the grounds of irrelevance. And this makes sense when you realize that thought does not “create” anything that wasn’t already buried in there somewhere. Observationally, what distinguishes a creative person from the rest of us is that the creative person says and does the unexpected, “outside the box,” “out of left-field” etc.

It reinforces the view that creative work doesn’t come from active “research.” At best you can facilitate its arrival.