“The mind is like an iceberg,” said the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Indeed it is, and that especially holds true for the creative mind. Today and in two weeks’ time, let’s talk about icebergs. Specifically, how they can help us understand the three states of human creativity, why we need to shift towards promoting and utilizing the more advanced creative types, and how we can best achieve this aim to collectively rise to and resolve the massive challenges of humanity.
A brief word on icebergs for a start
Suppose you’re cruising on a ship in the Polar sea. Sooner or later, you’re likely to encounter an iceberg. But what we see of the iceberg is only its tip. But did you know that by far the largest part of it isn’t visible? A whopping 90 percent of an iceberg is under the waterline and hidden in the sea.
All people spot and focus on the tip of the iceberg (well, that is, if you do not happen to be the captain of a luxury passenger cruise liner named the Titanic). Some people are also aware of the massive body of the iceberg below the waterline. But almost all people overlook another, even larger element involved: the sea. An iceberg is floating in, and thus is an integral part of, the Polar sea. (Sadly, we may lose many icebergs to the sea in the coming decades because of global warming and climate change).
Why the human creative mind is like an iceberg
We can distinguish three types of creative thinking (and related creative cognitive activities) that are easiest explained by likening them to an iceberg. These are conscious creativity and subconscious creativity, which we can further specify into an individual and collective component.
The tip of the iceberg is a synonym for coming up with novel, original and meaningful ideas by actively engaging in creative effort with your conscious mind. When you ideate (as we call such conscious creative thinking and striving at Thinkergy), you either bounce ideas off each other in a group (brainstorming) or use different types of creativity techniques that engage your conscious mind.
Typically, these creativity techniques introduce one or more triggers to reliably propel your conscious thinking to a new starting point. From there, it’s comparatively straightforward to come up with fresh ideas. These triggers either invite you to follow a specific scheme (such as constructing a morphological matrix), or shift your perspective (such as looking at your challenge from the stereotypical viewpoint of your local culture or one particular foreign culture), or provide you fresh stimuli for free associations (such as words, images, videos). Almost all of these creativity techniques inspire conscious creativity. (We discussed the inner workings of creativity techniques in an earlier blog article titled Understanding triggers to unlock creativity techniques).
Just as the vast bulk of an iceberg is hidden below the waterline, a vast idea reservoir and creative potential resides in your subconscious mind. But because this is hidden and not directly assessable, most people use this enormous untapped pool of ideas only passively, if at all.
You can access this individual subconscious idea repository by performing the creative cognitive principles of imagining and incubating. And the ideas flowing out of your subconscious mind are often more original and novel than those generated through conscious ideating. No wonder that Albert Einstein noted that: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
Just as an iceberg is connected to and an integral part of a greater ecosystem (the Polar sea), so is our individual (subconscious) mind part of a greater entity of human consciousness. The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung called this phenomenon “collective unconscious.” Eastern spiritual masters like Osho or Maharishi Mahesh Yogi labeled this the “superconscious” and “the unified field of consciousness.” And in this field of superconscious creativity is where breakthrough ideas reside.
Why breakthrough thinking flows from superconscious creativity
When you’re lucky to experience a Eureka moment, you’ve opened your mind widely to connect to and tap into this vast field of superconscious creativity. Many geniuses and scientists who experienced a Eureka reported that they received a breakthrough idea from an outside, or even divine, source beyond their own mind. For example, the German composer Johannes Brahms noted: “Straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God.”
Likewise, the English novelist E. M. Forster noted, “In the creative state a man is taken out of himself. He lets down as it were a bucket into his subconscious and draws up something which is normally beyond his reach. He mixes this thing with his normal experiences, and out of the mixture, he makes a work of art.”
To experience these advanced creative states, you need to have worked on an ambitious challenge for a longer time. (For example, Einstein had spent close to a decade thinking about relativity before having his Eureka that led to the formulation of his theory of special relativity. I got the breakthrough idea of how to operationalize a crucial construct in my research model after working for almost two years on my Ph.D.)
Moreover, you need to have unblocked your mind and opened the channels through which superconscious creativity can flow. You need to have cultivated an open genius mind (in line with the mindsets of my Genius Journey model) so that you can get into flow states and activate the principle of incubation. (We discussed this in an earlier blog article titled Incubation: A walk on the mysterious side of creativity that is also part of my upcoming first creativity and innovation book titled The Executive’s Guide of Innovation.)
Interim conclusion: Creativity is more than meets the eye
“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water,” said the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. For once, Freud was right indeed, although we learned that even nine-tenths of an iceberg hides below the water line. Today, I explained how the three parts of the mind (the conscious, unconscious, and collective unconscious) relate to the three types of creativity (conscious, subconscious, and superconscious creativity). In two weeks, we will continue our discussion by checking out how the three states of human creativity are represented in the business literature on creativity and in creativity training programs.
- Would you like to learn more about how to develop your mind to open up to the more advanced forms of subconscious creativity? Then take a look at Genius Journey, our creative leadership development program.
- Or have you become interested in our related Genius Journey training programs or general creativity training courses? Contact us if you would like to learn more.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2020. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on October 22, 2020. It will be reprinted in the business section of the Bangkok Post within the coming weeks.