Why we need to reclaim our brains

This post was written for the Creative Huddle newsletter, 18th May 2015. Sign up here.

It’s easy to think that we are becoming smarter than ever before. The internet has placed the information of the world at our fingertips, and Google has made it incredibly easy to find both useful and relevant information. We are truly living in the information age, so what’s the problem?


The problem is that the internet is making us lazy. It’s reducing our attention span (so much so, even goldfish can focus better than us). Worse still, it’s making us think we’re smarter than we really are.


We think that all this technology is enabling us to work better, communicate better, and relax better, but there is a real danger that these perceived benefits are all in our minds. This has significant implications for learning: just because you’re reading something online it doesn’t mean you’re learning it.


The problem is that even Google can’t compare with real-world experience. But it’s important to remember that this isn’t a new phenomenon – the eminent philosopher and educationalist John Dewey was arguing for an experiential approach to learning in the 1930s. But in a world in which our daily activity is increasingly mediated by online technologies, it’s easy to think that an increased choice over what we can do equates to empowerment.


So before we become unconscious slaves to the internet, what can we do about it?


The answer is that we need to place much greater emphasis on understanding how our brains work. If we are to navigate this information-rich century, each of us needs a personal understanding of why we do what we do. To coin an educational word, we need to be more metacognitive and really take an active interest in how technology and information are shaping our reality.


If we know that students only remember 3% of a 45 minute lecture, we should really stop talking at them. If we know that constant multitasking is having an adverse affect on our productivity, we need to have both an awareness and a clear strategy to cope with the distractions brought by technology.


What does all this have to do with creativity? It’s been shown that taking mental breaks, especially breaks from technology, can benefit creativity.

If creativity and innovation are in such high demand we need to help people learn how to reclaim their brains from all this distraction. This is especially true at the executive level, where creativity is increasingly perceived as a critical leadership quality.


The more we can increase our conscious awareness of why we are doing what we are doing, the more we are able to develop our own personal strategies to managing our thinking. In a world of work full of distractions, we need to fully grasp the importance of giving our brains more downtime. Understanding the impact of distractions is a critical first step to reclaiming our brains.

We call this approach Productive Creativity.

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