Priming and Creativity

Continuing with the idea of priming, Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds researches the work of Jens Forster from the International University Bremen in Germany.  Forster asked people to participate in simple creativity exercises in environments that were specifically controlled and measured.  Forster began with an activity to mentally prime individuals by asking them to think about a certain stereotype, and measuring their creative ideas.  Following his mental priming experiment Forster executed a visual priming experiment. As Wiseman explains,


“Forster asked participants to take a standard creativity task (“think of as  many uses for a brick as possible”) while seated in front of one of two specially created art prints .  The two prints were each about three feet square, almost identical and consisted of twelve large crosses against a light green background.  In one picture all of the crosses were dark green, while in the other print eleven were dark green and one was yellow.  The researchers speculated that the unconscious mind would perceive this single yellow cross as breaking away from its more conservative and conventional green cousins and that this would encourage more radical and creative thinking.  The results were astounding.  Even though the participants didn’t consciously notice the picture, those seated in front of the “creative” picture produced significantly more uses for the brick.  A panel of experts judged their responses as far more creative.  The message is clear: if you want to fast track a group or and individual to think more creatively, use the power of visual priming.”


I find this experiment and idea to be really inspiring.  I have created my own simple art prints and placed them around my desk at work to help me generate more creative ideas throughout the day.  Prior to reading Wiseman’s book and beginning to listen to podcasts like Debbie Millman’s Design Matters, I never thought of myself as creative, but Forster’s experiments shows that everyone can be creative, especially if we prime ourselves for creativity both mentally and visually.

The Beauty of Creation

The last section of William Vollmann’s letter in James Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, which I highlighted is a section on creation.  The short piece of advice reads, “Anyone can be an artist of sorts.  At the very least, trying to create something beautiful will help you see beauty in other created things, and that will make you happy.” I like this quote because it encourages everyone to do something creative, not because making something beautiful will make you rich, but because it will help you have a deeper appreciation of the world.

I believe that Vollmann’s quote applies to any creative process. This blog has helped me appreciate good writing, trying to create my own podcast (The Blue Pulse Podcast) has helped me appreciate other people’s creative podcasts, and being creative in more traditional artistic ways has helped me find a new appreciation for art.

Vollmann’s quote is a reflection of increased awareness in the world.  Prior to setting off on a creative journey it is easy to take well produced and high quality art for granted.  The creative process does not look so difficult from the outside and it is easy to simply accept the world as it is without peering past the surface to see the hard work and effort required to create the world we see.  Diving into art and creativity gives us an up close and personal view of the effort required to transform ones craft from rudimentary to outstanding.  As one gets started they see how much work is truly required to establish something meaningful, and as each small step or obstacle towards a goal is revealed, the respect for those who create grows.

I believe that this respect for hard work grows as we grow and strive for new goals.  The creative journey is a wonderful example, but as I have left college and entered the working world I have begun to appreciate just how hard others work.  I am truly fascinated with individual stories of reaching goals, and what I have come to learn is that the most successful people often work very hard with seemingly little support and recognition for about ten years before they reach the levels they would hope for.  This is true of career journeys as well as creative journeys, and while I don’t always agree with the paths and goals that people set out for themselves, I can respect the dedication and effort required to reach those goals.

In the end, Vollmann’s observation is powerful in the sense that what you begin to appreciate as you dive into the design world, the world of art, and the hidden world of individual creativity, is the drive and effort of others to produce meaning in the world.  Great art serves more than the creator, but everyone else in society.  By creating something that makes others pause to think, you put additional value in the world.


Bruce Benderson talks about living a full life, even if others are critical of the way you live, in his letter to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice.  The quote from Benderson that I highlighted is, “Art is the radical decision to enjoy yourself at all cost.” When I reflect on this quote what I love is the idea of having a craft (drawing, writing, singing, bowling, etc…) and fully embracing and enjoying myself in the moment of executing a craft.  Benderson encourages us to think of our art as play, which to me means that we are always willing to try something new, change our approach, and look at things from new perspectives, because in the end our goal is not success as outsiders may define it, but the goal instead is a fullness that comes from expanding ones talent.

In his message is the idea that we can work our way forwards in our art or craft by remembering what it is we enjoy about the craft, and what pushed us to begin the craft.  I think we can also take this message and apply it to other areas of our life. Reminding ourselves what we love about our loved ones, the city we live in, and the job we have may help us appreciate those things.  I just finished a book called 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot written by Richard Wiseman. In his book he writes about the scientific backing to strategies, ideas, and myths that are popular in self-help communities. What he pulled from scientific literature on happiness is the idea that people who sit down and write out their thoughts about what they love in another person or what they are thankful for in their life tend to be happier and have stronger relationships.

I think we can combine these two ideas and start to develop a greater appreciation for the life and craft that we have. We can focus on why we do what we love to do, and what we enjoy from the jobs we do to sustain ourselves and family.