Natural inspiration 11
Being unsociable makes you more creative

"Be creative!"

Could you will yourself to be more creative?

Well, that seems to depend on how expert you are at what you’re doing. A recent study suggests that telling yourself to be creative is a good strategy for the inexperienced, but not so much for experienced artists.

The researchers gathered a group of jazz musicians, both experienced and inexperienced, and instructed them to improvise on a pre-recorded track. Then they were told to repeat the activity, but this time to order themselves to be creative.

The instruction had little effect on the creativity of the experienced musicians, but the improvisations of the inexperienced musicians were significantly more creative this time.

(Needless to say, the improvisations by the more experienced musicians were all rated more creative than those by the inexperienced musicians.)

So, what is going on here?

Two types of thinking

With creativity, there are two types of thinking involved. Type 1 is uninhibited, spontaneous, and associative. Conventional wisdom is that this thinking is the more creative.

In this study, however, the instruction to be creative taps into the executive, controlled mind. This is type 2 thinking.

So, when the inexperienced musicians were instructed to apply type 2 thinking, they were significantly more creative. This study result agrees with creativity expert Robert Sternberg when he notes that creativity is a decision; that if you decide to be creative, you will be more creative.

The scientists speculate that it is the interplay between type 1 and type 2 that leads to optimal creativity. In other words, that you need both types of thinking to be optimally creative.

But what about the experienced musicians?

Experienced musicians may already have achieved the optimum balance between type 1 and type 2 thinking, which is why they did not show a significant increase in creative ability in the study.

Here is another possibility

The command to be creative could have made the inexperienced musicians feel free to try things they never had before, even break some rules. This could be the reason why their subsequent improvisations were rated so much more creative.

Ironically, it would have been the analytical mind (type 2 thinking) that instructed the mind to be more uninhibited and spontaneous, which often leads to more creative efforts.


Rosen, D.S., Kim, Y.E., Mirman, D., & Kounios, J. (2017). All you need to do is ask? The exhortation to be creative improves creative performance more for nonexpert than expert jazz musicians. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 11(4), 420-427.

Sternberg, R. J. (2006). The nature of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 18(1), 87-98.


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