The Science of Creativity: Understand and Improve Your Own Creative Process

How to Be CreativeIt might sound preposterous, even a little insulting, to think of creativity as something you can muster and "do better." There is this presupposition that creative people are born that way, and each has a predetermined "amount" allocated to them -- an inherency that decides who creates and who doesn't and to varying degrees. However, PBS' web series Off Book brings to light the misconceptions of creativity, both theoretically and scientifically, and guides viewers on the journey to becoming more creative.

One of the things I love about filmmaking is that it's a combination of so many different art forms -- the art  is part literature, music, photography, theater, plastic, science, and technological. Film is an amalgam of everything, so it's easy to assume that only the most creative people of the world truly master it and flourish. But -- what is creativity anyway?

The distinction between creative people and analytical people (as if they could be so plainly divided) isn't as clearly defined as "right brain/left brain" leanings. Not only that, but one thing author Julie Bernstein suggests in the video, and that most would find as true, is that creativity isn't something you have and execute. It's something you work at. In other words, it's more of a skill that can be built upon and honed, rather than a characteristic that you either have or you don't.

For those who want to bolster their creativity, but aren't sure how to do it, here are some takeaways from the video:


Bernstein describes that each creative person develops a set of tools and prompts that aid each creative venture -- how many times have you jumped to your feet with inspiration, or drank a pint of whiskey when it left you? Whether you're a screenwriter, DP, director, actor, or an all-in-one filmmaker, finding your creative identity doesn't necessarily mean waiting for inspiration to find you, but for you to find it. Get to work! The video shares an excellent quote from painter Chuck Close, which says, "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work."

Be okay with dead ends

Not everything you create will live. That's okay. It really is. We've learned that producing a product is better than imagining a product, but that's not always true. Not every screenplay idea is going to pan out. Not every interesting composition you think up is going to make it inside the camera. The point is to not force a square peg into a round hole. The point is to keep coming up with ideas, working on your craft, until the edges soften, chip away, and eventually fit.


Cognitive science of creativity

What kinds of people tend to demonstrate more creativity? Is it something you're born with? Is it as simple as being a "right brain" person? Not according to Cognitive Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. Based on the latest neuroscience, more creative people demonstrate certain attributes and practices, like being "open to combining lots of different associations that are coming from various different brain networks."

One thing I found interesting (and comforting,) about Kaufman's research is that each different stage of the creative process, Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification, is important and has its own effects. For instance, how often do you try so hard to maintain focus on a project, fighting like hell to not let your mind wander? Don't! Let it! Kaufman says that those who let their minds wander away from a task and then come back to it tend to have more creative ideas when they return. (Take that every teacher I've ever had!)


If you're a screenwriter, you know the expanding void of loneliness that accompanies writing a script. However, filmmaking is a collaborative art form. Sure, each individual focuses on a singular task, but when it all comes together, each artist forms what Computer Scientist Ramsey Nasser calls the "meta-artist," the sum of the skills and perspectives of each individual artist.

Knowing that filmmaking is inherently collaborative, one lesson to take away from Nasser is one of "creative maturity." He suggests that your ideas aren't "you," and any criticism of your ideas aren't criticisms of you. He also says that working with people who differ greatly from you is an important aspect of collaboration, because otherwise, you might as well be working with yourself.

What do you think of the ideas and theories from the video? What do you do to amplify and further your own creative process?

[via Filmmaker IQ]

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Your Comment


I really enjoyed this topic on film making and hope to build my career on this ideas in the nearest feature ,keep it coming.thanks.

October 14, 2013 at 12:56PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Glad Edokpayi

Yup, thanks. Me too, enjoyed the video.

October 14, 2013 at 3:32PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



October 15, 2013 at 7:58AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This is pretty much spot on. Creativity IS a skill that does get better the more you practice it. There may be a few select people who approach reality with the naivety of a child, having avoided being tainted by an educational system rigidly focused on standardization (talk here - and here - and thus, by adult standards, appear to be refreshingly creative, but it is indeed something that you get better at over time and practice.
Furthermore, I'd strongly suggest you check out Edward De Bono's material on the subject as well. He has a very impressive resume, successfully teaching creativity exercises and tools.

October 14, 2013 at 4:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Andreas Kopriva

Great stuff, guys I believe we are able to an throng we put effort into, if you are ever stuck on a project or never started one and just need that motivation read "the war of art" great book google it.

October 18, 2013 at 6:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Really appreciate how you synthesized the video for us in your take-aways. Thanks for sharing!

October 20, 2013 at 6:29PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


great video, food for thought #inspiration

July 10, 2015 at 8:34PM