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Science Provides The Best Argument For Taking An Improv Class: We Are All Creative "Types"

    Creative experiences are like Lindt's truffles: rich in variety, supplying a dopamine rush that signals "reward" to the brain- just enough reward to give a sense of satisfaction and trigger interest in going for another. While chocolate will always stand as one of life's greatest pleasures, the right "dose" of creative experience has a stronger -and longer-lasting impact. Plus its calorie-free. And no sugar hangover. And that is because with creative experiences we have to work harder and take on more of a challenge to achieve
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
that burst of dopamine than we do biting into a delicious treat.
Some facts about the brain, from neuroscience research about creative experiences published in Science Educator:

  • Because of its underlying adaptation for learning, it grows and reshapes itself in response to challenge, or withers through lack of use;
  •  It prefers to search and discover patterns for itself through active learning;
  •  Its capacities increase in direct relationship to the number of cells composing it, and the number of connections that exist between them;
     The number and strength of neural connections in our brains can continue to be expanded over the course of life. So when it comes to creativity, its not where or when you start, its that you start where you are and continue. This is the soul of improvisation. Do as much as you can with whatever you have. Skills come with practice, and with greater levels of skill come greater possible combinations of ideas, willingness to try new approaches and the inevitable and intensely satisfying burst of dopamine when something novel and interesting emerges. 
   Improvisers learn through experience that whatever creative potential we possess is either enhanced or blocked by the people and environments we engage with. In an interview published in Fast Company, creativity researcher Theresa Amibile reported some important results from her study of what she calls “creativity in the wild,” which used “nearly 12,000 daily journal entries from 238 people working on creative projects in seven companies in the consumer products, high-tech, and chemical industries,” none of whom knew what the study was about. Some of her conclusions can be applied to our understanding of how workplace conditions and interactions influence our capacity to grow whatever creative potential we have and use it in meaningful ways. Here are some points the study found:
  • Creativity and productivity go up when projects that deeply engage us correspond to our skill levels but also stretch them;
  • People are least creative when pressured for time;
  • Creativity requires deep engagement with the problem and an incubation period during which ideas can bubble up.
  • Feelings matter. Creativity is negatively associated with pressure, anger, fear, and anxiety. 
  • Collaboration within teams boost creativity, competition squashes it. Trust and confidence in one another helps teams share and speak openly about ideas.
One of the most crucial findings of this research is that there is no such thing as a creative "type."  "Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells," writes Fast Company writer Bill Breen. "Intrinsic motivation — people who are turned on by their work often work creatively — is especially critical." 
So this is what the science shows us: There are creativity-positive environments. There are people who are very much in touch with their creative capacities and seek out any possible pathway to develop and express them. There are loads of people who have bought into the myth that creativity is the province of a select few so have not discovered nor tapped the well of creative energy that is within. But those individuals have a story that contains clues to what compels them, and what compels them is the fuel to the creative spark. 
      It is not easy to find work environments that capitalize on workers' creativity, so many of us have to find ways to fan the inner flames on our own. The good news is that research published in the Journal of Occupation and Organizational Psychology shows that creative pursuits outside of work "has a direct effect on factors such as creative problem solving and helping others while on the job," according to Kevin Eschleman, one of the study's authors. The research shows that creative activities impact  employees' performance by:
  • Providing a way to recover from the demands of their job; 
  • Recharging mentally and psychologically;
  • Increasing one's sense of control;
  • Providing opportunities to develop skills that can be transferable to one's job;
But the truly surprising finding was that in addition to these personal and professional benefits, there was a true benefit to the workplace itself, expressed in more creative approaches to problems and richer collaboration among the workers. 

The fast track to creative thinking that transfers to real-time problem-solving is, of course, improvisation, which engages the brain in fun, stimulating experiences that supply big, bubbling bursts of dopamine, and trains it to search for what is interesting and useful rather than what is threatening in the space of uncertainty. Applied improvisation is one of the most direct and empowering ways to connect with the unformed energy of creativity and shape it immediately into responses to the world. 

Jude Treder-Wolff is a consultant/trainer and writer/performer. For a schedule of upcoming workshops go to is host and creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS a storytelling show with a twist. Follow her on Twitter


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