More and more studies are confirming that a crisis actually boosts creativity. It’s easy to see why we all live in a state of constant frustration. CNN reports that we consume about 74 gigabytes — nine DVDs worth — of data every day. And that’s not counting personal problems, career challenges, and other obstacles. But the Wall Street Journal confirms that “having your world turned upside down sparks creative thinking.” How?
The journal puts it in the context of why so many immigrants like Victor Hugo, W.H. Auden, Vladimir Nabokov, Nikolas Tesla, Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein have shown extraordinary signs of genius:
Several studies have shed light on the role of “schema violations” in intellectual development. A schema violation occurs when our world is turned upside-down, when temporal and spatial cues are off-kilter. In a 2011 study led by the Dutch psychologist Simone Ritter and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked some subjects to make breakfast in the “wrong” order and others to perform the task in the conventional manner. Those in the first group—the ones engaged in a schema violation—consistently demonstrated more “cognitive flexibility,” a prerequisite for creative thinking.
This suggests that it isn’t the immigrant’s ambition that explains her creativity but her marginality. Many immigrants possess what the psychologist Nigel Barber calls “oblique perspective.” Uprooted from the familiar, they see the world at an angle, and this fresh perspective enables them to surpass the merely talented. To paraphrase the philosopher Schopenhauer:
In other words, having your world turned upside down can often be the best spark for your creativity. That’s not to say that getting fired, experiencing a divorce, moving to another city, having a health setback, or other crisis is a pleasant experience. But it does mean that even the most difficult challenges we face can cause us to re-think how we see the world, and plant the seed of a new perspective.
During your next crisis, remember that it could be the key that could completely change your world for the better.