Thursday, December 3, 2009


Since I have apparently been having difficultly with "thinking creatively" I embarked on a mission to try and make myself a little more creative. The first step was to try and figure out why I might be thinking more traditionally and work on moving away from that.

While I was gone for Thanksgiving, I read a great book by Gregory Burns, who is a neuroscientist at Emory. The books is entitled "Iconoclast: a neuroscientist reveals how to think differently." Since I am a scientist by nature, I inherently understand that there is a biological underpinning that is the foundation for the way we think. Gregory Burns breaks this down very nicely and gives a very complete review of how we make decisions in the context of actual biology based on his work and others.

Since the brain uses so much energy in navigating our day-to-day lives, it has adapted over time to be as efficient as possible. As a result, the brain ends up taking a lot of short cuts. These short cuts are usually based on past experiences and what is familiar. It is this adaptation and our comfort with familiarity that is the basis for destroying our own creativity. Because it takes more energy for the brain to reach a novel conclusion than it does for us to base a conclusion on a familiar experience, creativity often suffers.

While the book is a few hundred pages long, this is the basic concept that you need to take away. Fortunately, once you realize how many of your perceptions are based on stagnant experiences, you can try not to fall into the "uncreative trap." Burns recommends putting yourself in new experiences with new people and seeing new things that you can't explain by past experience. Under these circumstances your brain will not be able to explain its circumstance based on past experience and will have to adapt and develop a novel perception of the this enough and your brains default mode can become "develop a novel perception for every situation."

I think I am in a unique place to try to develop creatively. As a scientist, I get new data every day. Instead of trying to place my data in the context of what I already know, I can try to look at it context-free and try and develop my own interpretation. Maybe if I do this enough every day, I will finally make some progress.

Regardless of how much this actually helps me, its an idea and worth a try. I'll let you know how it goes!


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  2. it's great that you are taking the initiative to do so. I found this to be especially true when traveling abroad, which is why I try to make at least one trip abroad every year. Another thing I find very stimulating is learning different instruments, which forces your brain to adapt as well.

    Did you find creativity to be especially important in your interviewing endeavors with the consulting firms? I assume that's usually expressed through the case interviews?

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  4. Fei,

    As I had mentioned in some earlier posts, one for the areas where I was criticized was for not developing enough creative ideas in the summary of my case interviews. I have been trying to explore ways of thinking more "outside of the box." I agree that learning a new instrument or language is probably a good way to remove yourself from common ways of thinking, as is traveling to a new country.

    In the case of preparing for consulting interviews, I think that I may have practiced a little too much and developed more "canned approaches" and lost some of the creative edge. Even though all of my answers were well structure and correct, too much practice might have limited my ability to think creatively.

    It is definitely a tenuous balance...practicing enough vs. practicing too much.

    I will try and improve my overall creativity and problem solving approach this year and see where it gets me. Now is the time to work on things like this!

  5. Hello CC:

    Incredible work on the blog. I read each and every post today and you have done a phenomenal job.

    I am currently pursuing my MBA at Michigan Ross School of Business. I work full-time and go to school in the evenings.

    I am interested in finding out if any part-time students (in other schools) have had successfull experiences at McK, BCG, Booz etc? How about the effect of not showing internship on your resume?

  6. Hi CC,

    Great blog, utterly amazing drive you're showing. I'm a current 2nd year MBA student -- actually recently decided to go pre-med, if I can put half as much time / energy as you have, I think my chances are good.

    In terms of creativity, I would think about playing video games. May sound funny but there are lots of opportunities for creative thinking / problem solving in most games, and games are cheap in terms of time and $ cost.

    However, I'd also look into taking some sort of strategy courses (business strategy or corp strat) at a local university -- my guess is that your problem may be a lack of business sense more than a lack of creativity. After all, these problems eventually become anything but creative and simply a matter of connecting the dots; without the business sense it's nearly impossible to do that. Also, most you're competing with will not only have a business background but also a top-tier MBA and therefore a lot more training in how the business picture fits together.

    Best of luck, we're all pulling for you.

  7. Let me rephrase that -- the creativity I've found with these is more of a cut and paste from other industries -- i.e. if you recognize a certain situation, you can port in the creative solution; the creativity's in picking a workable creative solution rather than an unworkable one. And there are only so many workable solutions at any time.

    Hope that helps, best of luck again and happy new year.