The Brain, Personality & Creativity

BrainIf you ask someone about what it means to be creative, I’ve found that somewhere embedded in their response is the perception that they are not very creative, or wish they could be more creative.


But what does it really mean to be creative?


Some may suggest that creativity is what is needed for ‘new’, that it is innovation and progress. Others may say it’s the ability to think differently, to come up with novel, albeit useful, ideas, concepts, processes, objects, and so on. Some may link it to expression in art, music, dance, and writing. For me it’s often associated with the kitchen and someone’s ability to cook and master the art of flavour combination.  Whatever the meaning, if we want to be more creative, what’s stopping us?


In 2014, a study was conducted at Beijing Normal University and scientists found individuals with higher levels of grey matter in a particular area of the brain (right posterior middle temporal gyrus – pMTG) were more creative. Interestingly, this relationship was also linked to the personality trait of openness to experience. In other words, there are aspects of our biology and personality that contribute to how creative we are. 


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While we can’t simply change the amount of grey matter in our brains (not yet!), we may be able to enhance our openness to experience, and possibly increase our creativity. I won’t enter into the debate about personality traits being stable over time vs. situational factors, but I will suggest that building self-awareness of our own levels of openness might help us to develop our creativity a little further.


Openness to Experience: a person’s tendency to seek out experiences, and the appreciation of these experiences. This can include:

  •  Receptiveness to fantasy, use of imagination
  •  Appreciation of art and beauty
  •  Openness to emotions and internal feelings
  •  Openness to physically experiencing things
  •  Intellectual curiosity
  •  Readiness and willingness to explore and reconsider one’s values, and those of others

In thinking about these characteristics, there are some things we might be able to do in our everyday routine or activities.

  •  Read fiction – stimulate your imagination!
  •  Visit your local gallery or theatre – take a friend and talk about what you see
  •  Reflect on your day – what emotions did you feel and when?
  •  Say yes – when someone asks you to take a day trip or have lunch in the park, say yes!
  •  Ask questions – asking ‘Why’ doesn't have to be annoying. Allow yourself to ponder – what has made things this way?
  •  Ask questions of yourself – why did I behave that way? What could I do better next time? That person is an authority figure, but was that the best decision?


David and Tom Kelley, authors of Creative Confidence, suggest there are principles and strategies we can tap into re-discover our creative self. Their book also talks about the barriers to creativity and offers ideas for how we can change our problem-solving approach. It would definitely be a good read if this has stimulated your interest. I enjoyed it so much, it might have to be the subject of the next Left Field Book Club review!



The take home message for individuals:

Don’t feel that you are a ‘non-creative’, there are actions you can take and strategies you can use to become more open to experience and develop your capacity for creativity.


The take home message for organisations:

As the world of work becomes increasingly competitive, organisations are continually striving to employ and retain staff that will help them stand out from the rest.  To continue to be sustainable and maintain a competitive advantage, businesses and corporations will undoubtedly continue to benefit from encouraging and supporting creativity at work.


Until next time, go forth and open your mind to your own creative potential!


 - Alex Walsh, Associate Consultant



Check out our event schedule as there are still places at this month’s Creativity and Innovation workshop:




Costa, P.T., McCrae, R.R. (1992). Professional Manual: Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Kelley, T., & Kelley, D. (2013). Creative confidence: Unleashing the creative potential within us all. New York: Crown Business. 

Li, W., Li, X., Huang, L., Kong, X., Yang, W., Wei, D., ... & Liu, J. (2015). Brain structure links trait creativity to openness to experience. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, 191 – 198.