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The Creativity Project: The Habit of Image Streaming

How I unlocked my inner genius using a mental technique.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

Image streaming increased my creativity and unlocked my inner genius.

You might be struggling, as I was, to come up with new ideas for your business.

You might have tried many different techniques, but none of them works.

In this article, I will detail exactly how you can use image streaming to unlock your inner genius and become more creative.

Here we go:

Table of Contents

    “There Are No Bad Ideas”

    I’m told I was a creative child, but I lost that flair growing up.

    My lack of creative ideas became a problem at the beginning of my public relations career. I feared being invited to brainstorming sessions.

    During brainstorms, I would sit there, quiet and unable to come up with good ideas. Only rarely would I be able to produce a single idea worthy of further consideration.

    At first, I bargained with myself. One doesn’t need creativity for creativity’s sake, I argued.

    “I can rely on my strategic mind instead,” I thought.

    Big Ideas Gave Better Results

    One client wanted to raise awareness of their recruitment services. My “strategic” line of thinking stated that I should do a SWOT analysis based on data and, based on those insights, position the brand accordingly in the news media.

    I would pitch strategically chosen conflicts to clarify my client’s position to news reporters and editors and get one, two, three, four, or five mentions over time.

    It was always a lot of hard groundwork and patience, but it worked. And it could have worked for the recruitment service, too.

    Despite relying on this “strategic mind” of mine, my best work still came from rare sparks of creativity.

    On a rare whim, I wanted to do something different for the recruitment service. I wanted to know if job applicants lied on their resumes. This had nothing to do with the brand’s position — I was just curious.

    I reckoned that most people lie on their resumes. But no one talked about it.

    We decided that it was a fun idea, and in typical PR fashion, we commissioned a survey:

    It turned out that 4 in 5 would happily admit to having lied on their resume. And this statistic made the news — big time.

    A flash of creativity yielded better and more instantaneous results than my typical strategic process.

    Also, the creative outcomes demanded more praise from both client and employer than my systematic and methodical grind.

    One Is Better Than Zero

    To concentrate on getting better PR ideas, I stopped listening to what my colleagues were saying, and after one hour of blocking out the chatter, then — maybe! — I could come up with at least one usable idea.

    One is better than zero, at least.

    But at this point, my colleagues had energetically produced numerous ideas. And I had just been sitting there. Quietly. The whole thing was depressing and humiliating.

    Solving problems using a strategic process was functional and, combined with the grind, kept me afloat at the agency.

    But, I had to become more creative. But how?

    The Goal: Understand Creativity

    I took the only path I knew to take: I devised a strategic process to solve the problem. I researched information, and I developed a testable hypothesis.

    My first insight was that there are people who constantly produce big ideas. How, I wondered. I wanted to know precisely.

    I quickly realised that people who came up with big ideas also had terrible ideas. It seemed more productive to focus on generating lots of ideas rather than trying only to have good ones pop up in your brain.

    This might be intuitive for most creatives, but this principle was news to me:

    If you generate 100 ideas, at least one will be helpful. If you generate 1,000 ideas, at least one will be big.

    I might have lost my creativity at a young age, but I understood statistics:

    I needed to learn how to have more ideas before learning how to have big ideas. But how do you produce many creative ideas when you struggle to create a single one?

    Quantity Comes Before Quality

    My observation was that creative people are intuitive and often highly visual. They seemed to be able to turn off parts of their brains tasked with logic and linear thinking and instead “see” different ideas pop up.

    Big idea creatives seemed to be able to go with a flow of subconscious visualisation more freely than others as if they knew how to trust and surrender to their instincts.

    I kept reading to find scientific explanations for these characteristics. Finding such answers proved more fascinating than I thought:

    Before we developed human language and inner dialogue, our minds were visual by nature. Without language, they had to be.

    Many of us use inner dialogue to reason, which is a linear process. Linear thinking is not without merit, but we might also be squelching visual notions.

    I read about how many geniuses throughout history have been crediting significant breakthroughs to visual representations that emerged instantly, like a flash of lightning.

    Many geniuses were also highly productive, but their outcomes seemed to be based on quantity rather than quality. This insight is suggested to support the importance of having many ideas as a prerequisite to getting the result of having big ideas.

    “Write It Down”

    I also found that quite a few historic geniuses tended to write things down.

    What did all of this mean?

    Well, I didn’t know how to practically convince my subconscious to push more brilliance into my conscious mind.

    And I still didn’t know how to produce lots of ideas.

    But I knew how to write things down!

    When researching literature on behaviour psychology, a particular theme seemed to be recurring:

    For any behaviour, you get more of what you reinforce.

    What if writing things down is more than just a quantitative effort?
    What if writing ideas down reinforces a steady stream of ideas?

    I decided to take a quantitative approach to note-taking.

    I pushed myself to write down ten ideas per day for three months. At first, it took a lot of effort and time. But at the end of three months, I was able to jot down 20 ideas in as many minutes — with little effort. Most of them were rubbish, but still. 20 ideas in 20 minutes!

    I was amazed.

    All those scribblings, notebooks, and ideas. Reinforcement works!

    For any behaviour, you get more of what you reinforce.

    Good stuff, yes.
    Complicated territory? Yes, that too.

    Neuroplasticity and Reinforcement

    At this time, there wasn’t much literature on the topic. However, the emerging evidence for neuroplasticity seemed promising.

    Research on neuroplasticity stated that the brain was able to wire and rewire itself based on external stimuli. It suggested that our brain constantly reinforces and eliminates neural pathways.

    So, I assumed that writing ideas down might reinforce neural pathways helpful in generating ideas. I tried rigorously writing down each idea — and I got more ideas as a result.

    Now, please note that I’m not making any claims here. I understand the difference between anecdotal experiences and scientific facts. I know the difference between correlation and causality.

    But I never set out to establish new facts. I only set out to find ways to become more creative. If I got there by tricking my psychology, it didn’t matter. If it worked, it didn’t matter why.

    As I began performing increasingly better during brainstorms, my confidence grew. And confidence is likely part of the explanation, too. I kept writing my ideas down, and the experiment seemed to work just fine.

    But, I still felt that I hadn’t quite understood the creative process. And it was hard work writing down every new idea.

    I kept wondering why the act of writing ideas down was essential to the process. If I stopped writing ideas down, my progress quickly plateaued. I was missing something, I thought.

    Win Wenger and Project Renaissance

    Unfortunately, I could not find scientific literature on what type of behaviours seemed to have a more significant impact (and why) on neuroplasticity. This is where I stumbled upon Project Renaissance and the contrarian ideas of Win Wenger, PhD.

    Wenger had developed a hypothesis that I found to be highly interesting for my line of research: he argued that neural pathways were reinforced by physical feedback only. Meaning: Just thinking about things doesn’t reinforce behaviours. Only physical action does.

    For instance: If you’re thinking of going to the gym without actually going, your brain will interpret this as a waste of energy.

    There was an evolutionary argument to Wenger’s line of reasoning:

    Infants must learn a lot to survive — quickly. But conventional skill development and habit building are too time-consuming. Infants learn differently.

    The Physical Feedback Loop

    In some sense, infants are born with a ” fully wired brain.” This allows infants to learn rapidly by reducing neural pathways instead of creating them. How does this work?

    Imagine a newborn baby. How does it learn to control arms and legs? The baby’s brains send millions of signals, some of which produce a physical response. This creates a feedback loop.

    The feedback loop informs the baby’s brain what controls what. And signals that don’t result in physical feedback and the brain’s synaptic structure are efficiently chiselled out.

    And through neuroplasticity, the physical feedback loop keeps affecting our brain structures throughout our lives.

    Since human language and inner dialogue entered our evolutionary path so late, mental reasoning alone still sits entirely outside of this ancient neural feedback system.

    The feedback loop suggests that most of us might be wasting lots of mental energy on trying to build skills and habits without properly reinforcing them physically.

    Your Actions Forms Your Thinking

    Here’s one way of describing the potency of the physical feedback loop:

    If you get a great idea but neglect to manifest it through a physical act (like writing it down), you send signals to your brain to downsize those synaptic structures to conserve energy.

    If you get great ideas and you manifest them physically, your brain will reinforce those synaptic structures to increase your chances of survival. If you get great ideas but neglect to manifest them physically, your brain will weaken those synaptic structures to conserve energy.

    As I was reading about his somewhat esoteric findings on Wenger, he had more to say on the subject:

    What if our language-driven inner dialogue fails to tap into available subconscious resources? What if significant reserves of ingenuity and creativity reside in us subconsciously? It’s a beautiful idea, for sure.

    Welcome To Crazy Town

    Wenger suggested that the subconscious parts of our brains, being “ancient” from an evolutionary perspective, might not “speak” human language. Instead, he proposed that these parts of our brains communicate visually. This is why dreams are primarily visual, for instance.

    To unlock our inner ingenuity, we must tap into these ancient parts of our brains. We must find a way to condition our conscious mind to visualisations bubbling up from our subconscious depths.

    Wenger suggested a form of meditation, image streaming, which was then reinforced using pen and paper or a tape recorder.

    Okay. Welcome to crazy town, I thought.
    How did you end up in this new-age space?

    Still, easy enough to put to the test.

    The Practice of Image Streaming

    I started practising image-streaming. I sit down for a few minutes, and I close my eyes. Unlike meditation, where you practice letting go of thoughts entering your mind, you wait for visualisations to enter your mind.

    You then stay with whatever visuals manifest, examining them in detail using your inner eye. Directly afterwards, you write down your observations.

    You begin by examing one visual per session. As you get used to the practice, visuals flow more freely. They also become more vivid in colour and detail. You can do lots of them if you also write them down directly afterwards.

    Image streaming is a simple habit. You sit down, close your eyes, and relax. If you’re familiar with meditation, that will help. Instead of letting thoughts pass, you pay attention to any imagery that presents itself mentally.

    After a short session, you describe any images you encountered as detailed as possible into a tape recorder or onto a notepad or a word processing document. Whatever works for you.

    A Profound Personal Shift

    For me, the results of combining visualisation with note-taking have been breathtaking.

    Daily, I now see the visuals of problems, solutions, ideas, concepts, complexity, patterns, music, texts, and people. Before I started practising image streaming, I didn’t see anything. I only heard my inner voice talking linearly in a language I could understand.

    The difference is difficult for me to explain, but the experience of seeing most things as visuals instead of hearing them as words is profound.

    It could be that image streaming works because I think it does. One personal anecdote doesn’t constitute evidence. But even if I’m wrong about the physical feedback loop and image-streaming, I’m still happy to reap the benefits personally.

    Still, as a theoretical framework for increasing creativity, image streaming is conceptually interesting — and further testable.

    Thinking of it, I better write this down…

    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
    Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

    18 COMMENTS

    1. Thanx for sharing that Jerry! I can really relate to both what you´ve done excersing the creative muscle and your path to balance between linear thinking (left brain) and non-linear (right brain) – I obviously entered on the same journey from analysis to creativity when I started my now long term endeavour to understand the patterns beneath how ideas spread between minds.

      I´ve noticed that I´ve all to often blurted my inspirations out in the form of conversations instead of writing or drawing them down – which really bothers me, since some of my best ideas have lost energy that way! I´ve started using Google Drawings to jot ideas down crudely, but quickly and your description of the process fits perfectly for me. The trick is to get i down immediately – and after I while I notice that the intervals between ideas effortlessly increases if I continue with that practice.

      Yesterday evening I for the first time for a long period started doing it again and visualized a model for how social media fits into the wider context of marketing and IT – a diagram that took me maybe 5 minutes in total to sketch up and adjust (just like it was already there in my mind – a pre-existing form within the rock waiting to be chiseled free, amazingly enough). In this case it feels like my experience of using the left brain approach helps by creating direction and structure to the actual inspiration that comes from the just letting go and allowing the image to appear as you describe:

      https://docs.google.com/drawings/pub?id=1FqxR2lij2D9TnkSqyOos7_FyKPY1hx42hS8EpSgiKoA&w=960&h=720

      I´m reading Per Robert Öhlins book “The Mental Orgasm” (available in Swedish only still, though) for the third time – if you describe the excercising of the ability here, he in that book describes the practice. The subject and the current research into how this all works together with the amazing possibilities for being creative powered by the Internet truly is energizing!

      • And here´s the link to a short introduction to Per´s book that (I forgot to mention it, but it was therefore I came to think of it first) also notes that brainstorming sessions suck for creativity.

        For me the only settings that work is extremely intense and half-directed-half-open conversations that I´ve had with very few people, actually you, Johan Ronnestam and Per Robert Öhlin are more or less the only ones.

        On those occations I think that the cognitive and creative patterns match and thus a wave form is created – somethin Johan use to illustrate with how one idea climbs the next like the spider in the childrens song “little spider” (you know, the finger movements) ;-)

    2. Thanx for sharing that Jerry! I can really relate to both what you´ve done excersing the creative muscle and your path to balance between linear thinking (left brain) and non-linear (right brain) – I obviously entered on the same journey from analysis to creativity when I started my now long term endeavour to understand the patterns beneath how ideas spread between minds.

      I´ve noticed that I´ve all to often blurted my inspirations out in the form of conversations instead of writing or drawing them down – which really bothers me, since some of my best ideas have lost energy that way! I´ve started using Google Drawings to jot ideas down crudely, but quickly and your description of the process fits perfectly for me. The trick is to get i down immediately – and after I while I notice that the intervals between ideas effortlessly increases if I continue with that practice.

      Yesterday evening I for the first time for a long period started doing it again and visualized a model for how social media fits into the wider context of marketing and IT – a diagram that took me maybe 5 minutes in total to sketch up and adjust (just like it was already there in my mind – a pre-existing form within the rock waiting to be chiseled free, amazingly enough). In this case it feels like my experience of using the left brain approach helps by creating direction and structure to the actual inspiration that comes from the just letting go and allowing the image to appear as you describe:

      https://docs.google.com/drawings/pub?id=1FqxR2lij2D9TnkSqyOos7_FyKPY1hx42hS8EpSgiKoA&w=960&h=720

      I´m reading Per Robert Öhlins book “The Mental Orgasm” (available in Swedish only still, though) for the third time – if you describe the excercising of the ability here, he in that book describes the practice. The subject and the current research into how this all works together with the amazing possibilities for being creative powered by the Internet truly is energizing!

      • And here´s the link to a short introduction to Per´s book that (I forgot to mention it, but it was therefore I came to think of it first) also notes that brainstorming sessions suck for creativity.

        For me the only settings that work is extremely intense and half-directed-half-open conversations that I´ve had with very few people, actually you, Johan Ronnestam and Per Robert Öhlin are more or less the only ones.

        On those occations I think that the cognitive and creative patterns match and thus a wave form is created – somethin Johan use to illustrate with how one idea climbs the next like the spider in the childrens song “little spider” (you know, the finger movements) ;-)

    3. Thanks Jerry. For me it has a lot to do with not being afraid. Not being afraid of bad ideas. Also trying to create groups and environments where ideas are encouraged.

      • Yeah, I’ve often wondered why ingenious thoughts and insights often come from the same people, and that these people often comes in clusters.

    4. Thanks Jerry. For me it has a lot to do with not being afraid. Not being afraid of bad ideas. Also trying to create groups and environments where ideas are encouraged.

    5. It’s a lot about creating those feedback loops that will make the brain repeat a good trick, isn’t it? Then you can try out different methods to make your brain do just that. I think you are absolutely right about the need for physical feedback – after all, the brain is part of the body.

      I have tried a method where I _don’t_ write things down. That’s because I get ideas very easily and I want to force my brain to hold on to a set of thoughts, turn them around and see which ones are really worth going after. I have ntoiced that good ideas have a way of coming back, and the second time they are often better. Then I grab them and nail them onto a piece of paper or babble about them to myself or some other poor soul. The ideas turn to histories and can then be made to happen.

      Ok, I just realized I should blog about this myself, instead of going on and on here :)

    6. It’s a lot about creating those feedback loops that will make the brain repeat a good trick, isn’t it? Then you can try out different methods to make your brain do just that. I think you are absolutely right about the need for physical feedback – after all, the brain is part of the body.

      I have tried a method where I _don’t_ write things down. That’s because I get ideas very easily and I want to force my brain to hold on to a set of thoughts, turn them around and see which ones are really worth going after. I have ntoiced that good ideas have a way of coming back, and the second time they are often better. Then I grab them and nail them onto a piece of paper or babble about them to myself or some other poor soul. The ideas turn to histories and can then be made to happen.

      Ok, I just realized I should blog about this myself, instead of going on and on here :)

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