In the book, our colleagues from around the world share stories about their own creative practices. We’ll feature a story or two on a regular basis here, beginning with incubation, something we all struggle to find the time to do.
During the incubation phase of the creative process, your unconscious mind combines new things you just recently learned with your existing body of broad knowledge. Your brain works to sift through all of that information and make larger meaning, to draw new connections. This is called associative thinking. You have to allow some room for your brain to do this work, though; it requires a quieted, unfocused mind. That means setting aside periods of time where you stop concentrating so hard and let your thoughts wander. Here’s the word from some of your colleagues about their incubation strategies:
I like to play guitar and get together with friends to “jam.” There’s nothing like the focused and transcendent jamming of my beloved Allman Brothers Band. But it is also a way for me to scratch the itch of doing something a bit more free-form and loose. It gets the juices flowing nicely. —Bob Beatty, Vice-President for Programs, American Association for State and Local History, Nashville, Tennessee
Sometimes I just get really stuck. So I turn off the computer, leave my work behind, and head out in search of nature, either in my neighborhood or at the beach. I focus on the sounds of the birds, the wind, the smell of the honeysuckle, and suddenly the ideas start flowing. —Conny Graft, Evaluator, Williamsburg, Virginia
When I have trouble thinking through an idea, I generally start doodling. The doodling is both relaxing and liberating. It can also serve as a mini Rorschach test, which opens up my mind about the problem. —Lauren Silberman, Coordinator, Museum Assessment Program, AAM, Washington, DC
For me, nothing beats walking my incorrigible dog. Getting out, away from my desk, clearing my mind, and not thinking about the challenge at hand actually helps me see the challenge more clearly. My best insights come when I am blocks from home. (Remembering them when I get home . . . now there is the real challenge!) —Susie Wilkening, Senior Consultant and Curator of Museum Audiences, Reach Advisors, Quincy, Massachusetts
I’m a big fan of mini brainstorming dance parties (or anything else that gets you out of your head and your body moving). Whenever I have something that needs creative thought, I spend five to ten minutes thinking, turn on a song, dance around the room, and then sit down and think again. Moving my body frees my brain, and often moves my thoughts in new directions. —Kate Bowell, Museums Askew, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany
What’s your strategy for encouraging your brain to incubate?