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The Link between Brain, Stress and Creativity

Stress Baba Shiv: How Do You Find Break­through Ideas? (Stan­ford Busi­ness):

  • If the brain is expe­ri­enc­ing high­ly phys­i­o­log­i­cal­ly arous­ing emo­tions asso­ci­at­ed with stress, then our first instinct will be to stay away from excite­ment and seek com­fort instead. Stud­ies have shown that pri­mates under stress, for exam­ple, will not pur­sue new ter­ri­to­ries or mates. Under stress, humans also hang on to the famil­iar. Once the brain calms, how­ev­er, it becomes prone to bore­dom. It will then begin to seek arousal in the form of dopamine, from the excite­ment path­way. This is when both you and your baboon friend will seek out new ter­ri­to­ries.”
  • Stud­ies show, how­ev­er, that stress is a poor moti­va­tor. In his best-sell­ing book, Think­ing Fast and Slow, Princeton’s Daniel Kah­ne­man explains why. Of the brain’s two basic neur­al path­ways, the first — from anx­i­ety to calm — does not inspire out­side-the-box think­ing. Work­ers are so inse­cure and stressed that they creep along in ter­ror until they find safe­ty. The goal, then, is to get work­ers engag­ing the sec­ond path­way — from com­pla­cen­cy to excite­ment — which is much more like­ly to trig­ger inno­va­tion. That shift is achieved pri­mar­i­ly through pos­i­tive rein­force­ment: encour­age­ment, respect, and enhanced respon­si­bil­i­ty.”
  • Democ­ra­tiz­ing where inno­va­tion can come from, encour­ag­ing grass-roots ideas, and uti­liz­ing social recog­ni­tion are pow­er­ful meth­ods for encour­ag­ing inno­va­tion. But the most inspir­ing method is, as Gand­hi affirmed, to “be the change.” A man­ag­er who takes time to feed her own cre­ative side well is the one who knows how to elic­it the cre­ativ­i­ty of oth­ers best.”

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