We have all heard the myth that we only use 10% of our brains.
But how close is this to reality?
It would be more accurate to say that we only use between 1% – 16% of our brain, at any one time.
This is because of the amazing way that our brain is set up to use energy as efficiently as possible.
Check out this great video (above) which goes into more detail about how the brain is set up to work, and how this evolution has enabled the unique ability for humans to become creative.
You see, the brain sends signals throughout itself by an electrical signal which is, in fact, a stream of charged ions passing across the cell membrane along its length. In order for those same cells to be able to send another signal, this ion reserve needs to be replaced, which requires energy. The way the brain processes energy is through molecules of ATP and glucose.
So if all of the brain were activated simultaneously, it would have spent all of its fuel at the same time and would be unable to send any more signals immediately afterwards. Since the brain is required to regulate almost all of the body’s vital functions, this would lead to nearly instant death.
What is more effective is for the brain to only activate certain parts at any one time, send signals between cells which then trigger the next series of cells to activate. This means that when cells are not activated, they can use energy to restore their ion channels and be ready to be used when needed.
How does this affect creativity?
There are both positive and negative aspects to how this design affects creativity.
Positively, it means that the human brain has the most connections of any being in the universe (that we know of…). And as ideas are created when the brain tries out new pathways of connections between existing knowledge to try and find a new solution to a challenge. Thus, this efficient design allows significantly more potential connections and new ideas than if the brain had to use more energy, like in other animals.
In a human, there are more than 125 trillion synapses just in the cerebral cortex alone. That’s roughly equal to the number of stars in 1,500 Milky Way galaxies
It also means that a large proportion of this random activity can happen spontaneously and unconsciously, which is why so many divergent and original ideas pop into our heads without us actively thinking about a problem anymore. The brain has just continued to work on the problem in the background until it came up with a unique solution that might work.
However, the energy demands of the brain also have a negative impact on creativity.
You see, the brain wants to be as efficient as possible, and this leads it to try to recognise patterns and use memory (efficient) instead of processing new information (inefficient).
In fact, there are numerous experiments that show how your brain will actually stop processing new information if it doesn’t provide immediate value or prevent harm. It will ignore most of what you show it.
The challenge is that getting creative ideas are fundamentally different from the more efficient memories, so you need to force your brain to be creative every now and again.
Otherwise, you will end up running on auto-pilot.
So the moral of the story is, you might only be using 1% of your brain at any one time. Just make sure you are encouraging it to focus on challenging new ideas as often as possible so those 1% can add up to a great new creative innovation.
Latest posts by Nick Skillicorn (see all)
- Podcast S3E29: Roger Firestien – Learning from the man who taught the creative process to the most people in the world - December 18, 2019
- Podcast S3E48: Adam Malofsky – Innovating with your customers’ customer - December 10, 2019
- S3E47: Prof. Keith Sawyer – The Creative Classroom and improving learning outcomes - December 4, 2019
- 3 Dimensions of Innovation: the 23 Capabilities your company needs to succeed - November 28, 2019