Let's look at a more accurate view of creativity, with its roots in modern science. The watershed year is 1998, when Brenda Milner, Larry Squire, and Eric Kandel published a breakthrough article in the journal Neuron, “Cognitive Neuroscience and the Study of Memory.”
Kandel won the Nobel Prize two years later for his contribution to this work. Since then, neuroscientists have ceased to accept Sperry’s two-sided brain. The new model of the brain is “intelligent memory,” in which analysis and intuition work together in the mind in all modes of thought.
There is no left brain; there is no right. There is only learning and recall, in various combinations, throughout the entire brain.
Neuroscientist Barry Gordon gives an overview of this newer model of the brain in his book Intelligent Memory: Improve the Memory That Makes You Smarter (Viking, 2003), with coauthor Lisa Berger. He portrays the everyday intelligent memory of human beings as the greatest inventory system on earth.
From the moment you’re born, your brain takes things in, breaks them down, and puts them on shelves. As new information comes in, your brain does a search to see how it might fit with other information already stored in your memory.
When it finds a match, the previous memories come off the shelf and combine with the new, and the result is a thought. The breaking down and storing process is analysis. The searching and combining is intuition.
Both are necessary for all kinds of thought. Even a mathematical calculation requires the intuition part, to recall the symbols and formula previously learned in order to apply them to the problem.
When the pieces come off the shelf smoothly, in familiar patterns — such as simple addition you’ve done many times — you don’t even realize it has happened. When lots of different pieces combine into a new pattern, you feel it as a flash of insight, the famous “aha!” moment. But the mental mechanism works the same way in both cases.
Whether it’s working on a familiar formula or a new idea, intelligent memory combines analysis and intuition as learning and recall.
Just as the intelligent memory concept has replaced the old two-sided brain theory in neuroscience, people in groups need to replace brainstorming with methods that reflect more accurately how creative ideas actually form in the mind, and they don’t need to start from scratch.
Once we understand how intelligent memory works, we find several existing techniques that fit. After all, human beings have innovated for eons. If we study how innovation actually happens, we can learn how to do it more reliably.