The left hemisphere gives names to objects in order to reduce and simplify them. One nose is like another, for example, so when we're asked to draw one, we retrieve the symbol we have for "nose" from our memory, reproduce it and move on.
The right hemisphere, by contrast, is visual rather than verbal. It's capable of seeing more deeply and subtly than the left, immersing itself in what's actually there, in all its richness. Once you learn to do that, Edwards told us, drawing what you see is -- relatively speaking -- a breeze.
Sure enough, by the fifth and final day of the workshop, I was able to produce a self-portrait that was undeniably me, and surprisingly realistic. After several months of practice, I was able to draw myself with a significant degree of skill, and even expressiveness. I had effectively begun to learn a wholly new and non-verbal language.
But what did that have to do with creativity?
A little more than a decade ago, I switched careers, and began collaborating with a sports psychologist, to define what makes it possible for people to perform sustainably at their best. Over the years, working with other colleagues, I've turned these ideas and strategies into a curriculum that my company, The Energy Project, delivers today in corporations, government agencies, schools, hospitals and public workshops.
Our curriculum is grounded in a series of ancient and enduring universal principles and it's buttressed by the findings of modern science. But it's also been profoundly shaped by a series of insights and intuitive leaps I've had about how to work in ways that are more productive, sustainable and satisfying.
To nurture and sustain my own creativity, I've followed a systematic process and it's one I believe anyone can learn.
Over the past hundred years, researchers have reached a surprising degree of consensus about the predictable stages of creative thinking. It was Betty Edwards who first pointed out to me that the stages move back and forth between right and left hemisphere dominance:
1. Saturation: Once the problem or creative challenge has been defined, the next stage of creativity is a left hemisphere activity that paradoxically requires absorbing one's self in what's already known. Any creative breakthrough inevitably rests on the shoulders of all that came before it. For a painter, that might mean studying the masters. For me, it involves reading widely and deeply, and then sorting, evaluating, organizing, outlining, and prioritizing.
2. Incubation: The second stage of creativity begins when we walk away from a problem, typically because our left hemisphere can't seem to solve it. Incubation involves mulling over information, often unconsciously. Intense exercise can be a great way to shift into right hemisphere in order to access new ideas and solutions. After writing for 90 minutes, for example, the best thing I can do to jog my brain, is take a run.