Dr  Shelley Carson has devised a useful framework for developing your creative brain, based on findings from neuro-imaging, psycho-physiological studies, and her own research at Harvard.

Carson outlines seven different “brainsets,” or mental frameworks, that facilitate original thinking along with tips on how to cultivate these states of mind. Depending on your personality, some of the brainsets below may feel more comfortable than others. The idea here is to expand your mental horizons by venturing into your discomfort zone.

The seven brainsets which make up the CREATES model:

  1. The Absorb Brainset, involves opening one’s mind up to new information and insights from the environment and from other areas of the mind.
  2. The Envision Brainset, involves thinking visually and imagining hypothetical “what-if” situations.
  3. The Connect Brainset, involves seeing connections between disparate concepts or objects.
  4. The Reason Brainset, involves planning, making decisions, and solving problems in a logical and sequential way.
  5. The Evaluate Brainset, involves judging whether an idea will be useful and appropriate to take forward.
  6. The Transform Brainset, involves turning one’s slightly negative feelings (of disappointment, discontent) to express oneself in creative work.
  7. The Stream Brainset; the flow state of being “in the zone.


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Creatively-productive individuals are able to switch among different brain states depending upon the task at hand.

Absorb: When you access the absorb brainset, you open your mind to new experiences and ideas. You become receptive to more of the information coming in through your senses from the environment and to information from within your own (usually unconscious) thought processes. You view your world in a nonjudgmental manner, and everything fascinates you and attracts your attention. You are open to insights and the “aha!” experience that has led to so many exciting creative ideas in the past.

Envision: This is the brainset of imagination. When you access the envision brainset, you think visually and with your senses rather than verbally. You are able to see and manipulate objects in the theater of your mind. You use the mental format of “what if?” to envision not just how things are but how things could be.

Connect: This is the brainset of divergent thinking, where you generate multiple uncensored solutions to open-ended problems. This brainset allows you to see the connections between objects or concepts that are quite disparate in nature. Because the ability to combine and recombine remote bits of information into new and useful ideas is the essence of creativity, this brainset may be one of the most useful tools in your creative brain’s toolbox. The ability to generate multiple solutions is combined with an upswing in positive emotion that also provides incentive and motivation to keep you interested in your creative project.

Reason: In the reason brainset, you consciously manipulate information in your working memory to solve problems in a logical and sequential way. You can use this brainset to generate ideas or to plan and make decisions about how to execute an idea. Even though the trial-and-error method of this brainset may be slower and more effortful than generating ideas from the absorb, envision, or connect brainsets, reason-generated ideas have the potential to be just as creative. This is the brainset in which Thomas Edison worked as he invented the electric lightbulb. Charles Darwin, who is certainly considered one of history’s most creativethinkers, also wrote about his painstaking trial-and-error development of the concept of his origin of species. Even Bob Newhart, the accountant turned award-winning actor and comedian, originally worked from this brainset.

Evaluate: This is the state in which you consciously judge the value of ideas, concepts, products, behaviors, or individuals. It is the “critical eye” of mental activity, and it is necessary for deciding which of your creative ideas is worth pursuing and for constantly monitoring your creative projects to make sure they meet yourcriteria for usefulness and appropriateness.

Transform: In this brain state, you find yourself in a self-conscious and dissatisfied—or even distressed—state of mind. Many highly creative writers, artists, musicians, performers, and scientists have transformed the negative energy generated in this state into great works and great performances. Even though you are painfully vulnerable in this brainset, you are also motivated to express in creative form the pain, the anxieties, and the hopes that we all share as part of the human experience.

Stream: This is the brain state of flow, where your thoughts and actions begin to stream in a steady harmonious sequence, almost as if they were orchestrated by outside forces. In this brainset you improvise to produce creative material, such as jazz improvisation, narrative writing (as in novels or short stories), sculpting or painting, and the revelation of scientific discovery. Spending more time doing things you love increases positive mood. It also enhances intrinsic motivation and has a beneficial effect on creative thinking.

The CREATES model is based on three findings that have substantial scientific support: first, creatively-productive individuals are able to access specific brain states that others may find more difficult or more uncomfortable to access second, creatively-productive individuals are able to switch among different brain states depending upon the task at hand and third, it is possible to train yourself to access these creative brainsets and to switch flexibly among them, even if this does not come naturally to you at first.

Creative Brain

Reference: Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life by Shelley Carson, (Jossey-Bass, 2012) Available at Amazon.

Dr Shelley Carson:https://www.shelleycarson.com/your-creative-brain/the-creates-brainset-model (retrieved June 13, 2019 )

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