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The Creativity Project: The Habit of Image Streaming

How I unlocked my inner genius using a mental technique.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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:

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 — per­haps — 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 nat­ur­ally visu­al. Without lan­guage, they had to be. 

Many of us use inner dia­logue to reas­on, a lin­ear pro­cess. Linear think­ing has 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?

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 could 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 could wire and rewire itself based on extern­al stim­uli. It sug­gests 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.

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 down my ideas, and the exper­i­ment seemed to work fine.

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

I kept won­der­ing why 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 for 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 pro­du­cing a phys­ic­al response. This cre­ates a feed­back loop.

The feed­back loop informs the baby’s brain about 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.

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

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

Your Actions Form 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 many of them if you 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… 


Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://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.

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