Innovating Through Artistry

The brain experiment that went wrong

In Creative Support, WEBSITES & BLOGS on November 11, 2008 at 9:08 pm

I have to thank WordPress for this one, I stumbled into this blog and it’s simply creative, funny and terrific! It is called The Dictionary of Specific Generalities and run by Dave Birss from London. Dave is one of the founding partners of Unchained. Unchained is a guide to the best independent shops. “All unchained shops are unique, one-offs. None of them are multinational chains, they’re owned and run by real people with a passion for what they sell. Have a look to find anything from the little hidden gems to first-of-a-kind, world-famous boutiques.”

Pretty cool guy with a great blog and creative entrepreneurial business. Here is a recent post, from Nov 6th, that inspired me to want to share it with you:


Many years before Unchained, when I was still an eager young advertising copywriter, I decided to do a little experiment to see if I could make myself more creative. My thinking went like this: to be creative you need to break out of established patterns and do things differently – so if I applied this principal to every area of my life, I’d become more creative in general.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So I duly embarked on my little experiment. I would try to do even the most mundane things differently every time to see what happened.

When I woke up in the morning, I’d randomly pick what side of the bed I got out of (sometimes slipping out of the bottom of the covers to make it interesting). I’d then decide what order to do my ablutions. And I’d brush my teeth in a different way – sometimes starting by scrubbing my top left molars, other times starting by polishing my incisors. I’d put my clothes on in a different order (but always underpants before trousers) and vary my route to the office.

This would go on all day, trying to make sure that I didn’t slip into any pattern. I would even pay attention to my vocabulary and try not to use linguistic crutches like ‘cool’, ‘no way Hosé’ and ‘that’s the badger!’ Patterns were the route to formulaic thinking, after all, and that didn’t have a place in my life. No sirree.

I did this for months and got better at it as time went on. Every time I saw a pattern emerging, I’d break it. The one habit I got into was pausing before I did anything so that I could do it differently to the way I did it last time.

I must have been an infuriating bugger to everyone around me.

On the plus side, the experiment worked. I did indeed feel more creative. I was coming up with more ideas – although I don’t know if I actually came up with any better ideas – but I felt a bit more sparky and innovative.

But there was one drawback. Quite a big drawback: I was no longer a fully functional human being.

I realised it one day as I stood in the kitchen trying to work out how to make myself a coffee. What equipment was needed for this task? Where could I find it? In what order did I use it? Everything had become a conscious decision and I was wasting a lot of time and energy doing everyday tasks that I previously didn’t need to think about. And that meant that I had less time and energy left to actually use my mind in a creative way.

I discovered something that I’d learned about during my university psychology courses. The mind automatically bundles tasks together to allow you to operate in autopilot. Most people don’t think about how they make a coffee – they just do it and can hold a conversation while their hands get on with the well-trodden tasks. I had broken most of these little task bundles. And it was making my life harder and harder to live.

It took me most of a year to feel pretty much back to normal again. And I wouldn’t recommend that you try anything as stupid as this yourself.

Has anyone else buggered about with their mind in a way that they shouldn’t have? I’d be interested in hearing your story.

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