Unschool your brain

Unschool your brain - image for article by Greg Alder

The things we learn in life. The truths, the lies, the tips, the warnings, the feelings and procedures and techniques and theories and formulae that confront us daily. The thousands of fragments of information that assault our eyes and jam the airwaves.

It’s estimated we’re exposed to 34 gigabytes of information every 12 hours we’re awake. That’s 105,000 words. 23 words every second. Our daily media consumption is close to 10 hours. On average, we’re exposed to an ad or a brand 5,000 times a day.

So what do we do with all of this information?

If you watch a baby, you can see it scanning the face in front of it, scanning the environment. You can almost see that tiny brain absorbing and trying to make sense of every piece of new information.

How much of this information does a baby store away in its memory? Most of it. It’s all new. The baby hasn’t learnt the value of each new bit of knowledge, so it keeps most of it. It soon learns the important bits – mother, father, breast, home.

At school, in the classroom, our knowledge diet is skewed towards logic, problem solving, facts, mathematics and science. We absorb what we know we’ll need to pass exams. We absorb what we know we’ll need in life.

These pieces of knowledge influence our thoughts.

On average we have 70,000 thoughts every day. We’re not aware of 95% of these thoughts. They happen subconsciously.

One of these subconscious thoughts has to do with the value of what we are learning. Without us knowing it, we have learnt that logic seems to be more important than creative thinking. If creative thinking were important, there’d be more of it in the school curriculum.

So we enter the workforce with this belief. And nothing at work changes our belief. We’re taught procedures, policies, manufacturing processes and mechanical function.

So what’s wrong with this?

Well we live in a society that increasingly expects us to be entrepreneurial and innovative. But the skills we need have been neglected or, worse, actively discouraged in school and on the job.

There’s a role for analytical thinking. But it’s only half of the thinking skills we need to succeed.

The other half of our thinking skills, the neglected half, is the one that lets us find original solutions to our pressing problems. It’s the one that starts the innovation process. The one that launches our careers as entrepreneurs.

That neglected skill is creative thinking. It gives us the ideas that we can then implement. And it’s in the implementation that our logic skills are needed.

There are people who’ll tell you that going to a good school advances your career. The reality is that the education we receive – no matter what school – does the opposite.

So how do you undo the damage of schooling? How do you teach yourself the lost skill of creative thinking? How do you find your inner Leonardo da Vinci?

9 easy-to-say-hard-to-do steps

  1. Believe in your creativity. Picasso: “He can who thinks he can. He can’t who thinks he can’t.”
  2. Find your creative thinking space. Where do you seem to get most of your ideas? Go there.
  3. Set aside creative thinking time. Make time for big picture thinking. Don’t wait for spare time to magically appear. It won’t.
  4. Make creative thinking a habit. Do it regularly. Same time every day or week. No ifs. No buts.
  5. Broaden your network. The wider your circle of acquaintances, the more diverse, more creative the ideas.
  6. Learn creative thinking techniques. These accelerate idea generation. Master these and you’ll soon generate fifty or more original ideas in an hour.
  7. Silence your inner policeman, the one who makes you doubt yourself, the one who censors your ideas before they’re born.
  8. Rediscover your inner child, the one who asks naïve questions, the one for whom nothing is impossible.
  9. Get help. Find a mentor who shares your passion for creativity. Find a coach who can help you rediscover your entrepreneurial self.

Yes, they’re easy to say. Yes, they’re hard to do. At first. Like riding a bike or tying shoe laces, creative thinking – the thinking they didn’t teach you at school – becomes second nature.

With a little practice, original thinking becomes hardwired into your brain.


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