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Strategies of creativity between intelligence and intuition

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“Instructions for making yourself unhappy”, “The situation is desperate, but not serious”, “How to achieve catastrophic success”: it takes creativity, humor and a taste for provocation to name psychology books in this way. The author of these linguistic sparks is Paul Watzlawick, born in Austria in 1921, a psychologist with a Jungian background, persecuted by the Nazi regime, naturalized from the United States and died in California in 2007 after a fruitful but tormented collaboration with Gregory Bateson, an illustrious American psychologist, sociologist and anthropologist. .

Two missed meetings

I missed the meeting with Watzlawick twice. The first in Palo Alto in 1979 because when I passed in that mythical place on the West Coast where Watzlawick worked at the Mental Research Institute I did not even know his name; the second in the early 2000s, when one Sunday afternoon Piergiorgio Odifreddi, a mathematical logician interested in paradoxes, pointed out his presence in Turin at the Hotel Palace but I was unable to go there due to other commitments already made. Yet by that time Watzlawick had become a familiar presence to me through Elena Benaduce, who was taking a short strategic therapy course at the time. On the other hand, those who had the good fortune to know Watzlawick well, first becoming a pupil, then a collaborator for about twenty years and finally an intellectual heir, is Giorgio Nardone, founder of the Center for Short Strategic Therapy of Arezzo, a city that in this area since 1987 has become a sort of Italian Palo Alto with followers all over the world.

Let’s start with Bergson

A few days ago Nardone published with the publisher Ponte alle Grazie “Creating from nothing. Learning to invent and to invent oneself ”(120 pages, 14 euros), a title that is not only extremely explicit but even redundant. Creativity is a theme that Giorgio Nardone has often skirted in his books and it is above all a talent that he continuously exercises in his activity as a psychotherapist. This time, however, he put it at the center of an essay oscillating between theory, anecdotal and popularization.

The perspective from which Nardone attacks the argument is outlined from the very first lines in a quote from the French philosopher Henri Bergson, Nobel Prize for literature in 1927: “There are things that only the intelligence is able to search for, but that gives it will never find itself. Only instinct could find them, but instinct will never seek them “. Where “instinct” must be understood in the sense of intuition, a skill of the mind that Bergson himself defines as “the instinct that has become disinterested, self-conscious, capable of reflecting on its own object and extending it to infinity” (“L’évolution créatrice “, 1907).

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Two powers to combine

Modern biology and neuroscience have covered Bergson’s smooth philosophy with cracks and dust, but there is still a valid message in those words. Intelligence makes use of observation, measurement, calculation but in itself it is not creative: at most it is innovative, because it works on acquired data by putting them together with a precise pragmatic objective. Intuition, on the other hand, is capable of creating because it moves freely and casually without rigid objectives, but precisely for this reason it often does not translate into concrete achievements. Combining the power of intelligence with that of intuition opens the way for creativity.

Disappointing academics

If we look at much of contemporary academic research, the picture is bleak: it obtains abundant and rigorous results but aimed at publications useful for a career, it essentially serves to rise to the chair, while creative research is inspired by curiosity and disinterest, and patience if he does not pay immediately with a position as full professor. The fact is that culture and intelligence do not always coincide with a strong creative capacity, indeed, sometimes the two things contrast with each other.

Intellectual Quotient

Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, “devoted himself for pure pleasure – writes Nardone – to the study of brilliant people, that is, those who had demonstrated superior mental abilities, and largely inherent in creativity and inventiveness”. Galton’s work (to whom we also owe the analysis and use of fingerprints in criminology: we are in full scientific positivism), had the merit of anticipating the study of tests to evaluate the Intellectual Quotient (IQ). Unfortunately, this research then crystallized in psychometry leading to “retain intelligence what is measured by the IQ test: as if time were only what can be measured by a clock”. The measure is only interesting if we remember that “intelligence proceeds in conscious logical sequences” while “intuition is an unconscious response to stimulating perceptions”. Which brings us back to Bergson’s quote.

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A bifurcation

Here the two highways of creativity separate: a methodical form that develops applicative inventions and a visionary form that broadens the horizon of knowledge. To give an example, on the one hand there is Bach, an analytical mind, who composes by making meticulous corrections on the staff, on the other Mozart, a synthetic mind, who first plays his music while having fun and only at the end transcribes it into a score. Moving on to the technical-scientific field: Edison and Steve Jobs assemble contraptions, turntables and mobile phones, while Einstein creates relativity by imagining riding a ray of light and Heisenberg retires for a few days to the island of Heligoland and there he has the lighting that he it suggests the fundamentals of quantum mechanics, those that represent the positions and behavior of electrons around nuclei – things visible only to the mind’s eye. Heisenberg was then 23 and a half years old. He had arrived in Helgoland with a head full of confused problems, he starts again with the feeling of having clearly seen “through the surface of atomic phenomena a strangely beautiful internal world”. The murky water was suddenly clear. We are in June 1925, seven years later the young man would have won the Nobel Prize in physics.

Gardner, De Bono, Buzan

The theory and practice of creativity in the second half of the twentieth century went through various stages that Nardone reviews. Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences: we would have at least seven different types, not all equally developed, as a whole the intelligence resembles an irregular polygon. Edward De Bono develops the technique of brain storming and “thinking hats”: a group of creatives find themselves improvising ideas starting from any starting point, it can be, says De Bono, the last word at the bottom of a newspaper page opened at random, and the solution emerges from a “lateral thought” that emerges in the chaos of extravagant answers. Toni Buzan proposes to build mental maps, a geography of data and concepts to stimulate creative intuition. Elkhonon Goldberg points out that in old age a creativity develops deriving from the repertoire of situations and solutions accumulated with experience.

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The constants of creatives

Despite the variety of perspectives, Nardone captures some constants. Creativity is essentially the gift of looking at problems from unprecedented points of view: the thinking of the divergent grasps what the “convergents” will never see. To do this it is good to lower the level of inhibition, to leave the field free to serendipity. It is necessary to cultivate the predisposition to change, not to remain slaves to one’s Masters, to feed the curious child who is in each of us (if scholastic conformity has not suffocated him). We need to broaden our gaze to the “new neighbor” without any prejudice. Remember that fun and humor are essential components of the creative act.

Have (at least) two interests

It helps to have a hobby to cultivate in your free time, an interest parallel to that in your own professional discipline. The second interest arises at an amateur level, but it’s not bad if little by little it reaches a professional level. Two activities are better than one and three are better than two. For Nardone the parallel interest consists in practicing martial arts. It is good for the body and the mind. Many solutions of his strategic psychotherapy inspired him by the moves of those very ancient oriental arts.

Be wary of Artificial Intelligence

The Internet is today a powerful stimulus for creativity, but it often becomes a tool that flattens and homologates with copy-paste, the forced acceleration of the cognitive process, the distraction and emotional disturbance of social networks. Nardone also warns against Artificial Intelligence. Entrusting the solution of problems to computerized algorithms “goes in the opposite direction to that of learning to invent. It is the paradox of the creator who delegates the task of creating to his limited creature ”. And be careful: to live means to invent yourself. It is no coincidence that the epilogue of the book is a quick biography of Watzlawick in which Nardone highlights how many times the psychologist who left Austria relaunched his existence in different directions. Between chance and necessity, because constraints are also useful, indeed, indispensable for expressing one’s creativity in the best possible way.

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