The three cognitive requirements for the creative act

I’ve been working my way through Iain McGilchrist’s recent work, The Matter With Things. It’s, of course, phenomenal. But, at the same time, massive and dense.

It’s so dense, in fact, that I’ve been chipping away at it since the beginning of the year when the two-volume book arrived.

Chapter eight is devoted to the idea of creativity and the creative act. I’m grateful for it because McGilchrist helped me understand creativity in a new way. It’s so good, I have read it twice in order to get everything I can from it.

For instance, I’ve often thought of creativity as the act of creating something, the doing or producing of a piece of creative—writing an article, producing a video. And, this is partially true, but there is something more. Enter the creative act; the moment of vision or insight that comes to us whole, like a flash of lightning.

I never really thought about that as part of the process, but rather took it for granted that ideas, visions, and insights just happen. I focused on the creative process as something that needs to happen after the flash.

I probably focused on the production piece because really that’s where I’ve struggled the most in life. Sure, I’ll have all kinds of ideas and insights, but I find actually turning them into a thing that others can engage with hard.

McGilchrist shares three requirements for creativity to happen and these three requirements can act as a sort of framework. The three requirements are:

  • Generative
  • Permissive
  • Translational

I’ll break these out in subsequent notes, but essentially for creativity to happen you need specific things—requirements—in order to: 1. generate insights and visions; 2. permit these insights and visions to come forward; and 3. translate these insights and visions into something concrete, like an essay or movie.