Who Killed Creativity? How Can We Get Creativity Back?

How not to be fooled by magic: 1) Neuroscience


By Andrew Grant – author of “Who Killed Creativity? And how can we get it back.”(Wiley)

If I reveal what’s happening behind the scenes in magic tricks, will you still respect me by the end of this article? The illusions and mysterious mind games magicians use often astound us. And yet the most apparently impossible tricks can often have the most simple explanations. This is why magicians have a strong code to never share their secrets and never do a trick twice. If we have the opportunity to unpack the methods behind a magicians tricks, we may not only find the explanations for their illusions, but I believe we can also discover some deeper implications for true creative thinking.

Is magic – magic?

Whilst I’m not a professional magician, I have a few amateur tricks up my sleeve that I like to pull out in our creative thinking keynotes and workshops. Even with my basic abilities I have been able to “fool” (I will define “fool” later on) audiences into thinking I can read their minds. I can appear to write a number down and telepathically transfer that number to an audience member. I can have an audience member choose a shape that I say I have predicted, and then I can ask them to find that number under their chair or table. And I can even guess a volunteer’s favourite colour, number, car, holiday – or anything else I may ask them. (see video https://whokilledcreativity.com/videos/from-the-book/). The odds of this happening by chance are very low.

So how do I get the 100% hit rate I can get? Perhaps I can really read minds? No, there is actually a more logical explanation. What I am able to do (which professional magicians can do extremely effectively) is to direct an audience’s attention to one restricted area while I, the magician, work in a much broader area – outside the ‘box’. This is the simple premise behind all magic tricks and our best definition of creative thinking. The ability to look for solutions way beyond boundaries set up by our current environment, habitual ways of thinking, and standard ways of doing things etc. (Note here that the restricted environment can be mental, physical, or metaphysical models)

Try this quick magic trick

Before you read any further let me see if i can ‘fool’ you with a magic trick – right now in this article. Do allow yourself some time to appreciate how this trick could so easily deceive your brain before you focus on finding the simple answer. I’m sure you will be keen to go back and do it a second time, and it’s usually this second look that will open up your broader working memory, and at this point the simple misdirection of the initial trick will most likely no longer fool you. This trick is a fun one to perform live, as in the short moment of initial awe, before people can work out how it’s done, I can make an audience think I have influenced them all. Through the trick the audience believes they have all independently chosen the same single card from a group of 6, and then that I can make that card miraculously disappear. (click the picture to be taken to the magic trick )


How does this trick work? You are deliberately directed to focus on a single card, and so you do not think to take in the other five. If you looked at all six you’d see how it was done.

If you look at this a few times you should be able to work it out, but what I’d like to explain is why it works from a neurological perspective and why it’s so important for creative thinking. The Director of the modern day optical illusion center Lottolabs, Beau Lotto believes that “The whole concept of an illusion is predicated on a misconception. We see not the world ‘as it is’ – but we see the world in a way that proved useful in the past. Our brain constructs what it knows by searching for useful patterns in sensory information and then associating those patterns with a past record of their behavioral relevance, and then using that information to guide behavior”.

Learn to thrive, not just survive

Survivalist researcher Laurence Gonzales explains why people are fooled by magic and have trouble being creative. He says that, “We construct an expected world because we can’t handle the complexity of the present one, and then process the information that fits the expected world, and find reasons to exclude the information that might contradict it. Unexpected or unlikely interactions are ignored when we make our construction.”

Within this quote lies the main reason why many of us struggle to use creative thinking. If we can learn to see the unexpected, we can often start to see creative solutions that were possibly there all the time but we may have been blinded to. When our brain does this it can restrict creative thinking. Of course we need this normal pattern-seeking brain behavior to survive normal everyday day life. Without patterns and ‘norms’ our brains cannot make sense of the huge amount of stimulus that comes in each day. But there are times when we need to let go of these pattern-making predispositions. There are many tortured souls unable to know when or how to switch between these two states. And there are those who have been driven to creative insanity by not being able to relax into familiar patterns. The key here is that we need to know when and how to actively access our creative brain, and when to simply leave it running more passively in the background.

Most people need to create a box or a set of parameters to work within and then tend to look for solutions inside this space. There is nothing wrong with this, but the research shows that a creative genius goes way outside the boundaries and in some cases even has no box or a’ less intact’ box (which may explain why many creative geniuses have often bordered on the edge of eccentricity and madness).


The bottom of both pages are the same shade of grey. http://www.lottolab.org/beaulotto/downloads.asp

How to pick pocket in broad daylight

Derren Brown, the master of mind tricks, is so good at what he does that he can tell a person he is about to pick their pocket and then get away with doing it right under their nose, even after he has raised their awareness that it is about to happen. So how does he do this? If you watch him carefully he overwhelms his victims with a barrage of information that serves as a distraction, for example handing them a drink bottle whilst talking, then asking for the drink bottle back, at the same time as asking for instructions on a map, showing the time etc – constantly changing the conversation and focus. The brain simply cannot process all the information at once, so it is forced (in this case by the magician) into a specific area. We will call this the box. The brain tries to work with step-by-step linear logic, but the way the world works (and what Derren Brown creates) is not linear. The working memory can only hold about 6 things at once, so when something new is bought to attention something else has to go.

We have been fortunate to work with some of the world’s most creative companies, and yet when we survey our workshop participants only about 10% of participants say they are functioning to 100% of their creative ability. Often this can be due to the fact that their brains are simply overwhelmed by the amount of information they are exposed to and need to deal with on a regular basis.

A creative mind must first find the creative space to open up possibilities away from distractions, and then it will be able to look for solutions outside of the system, for new paths. Getting out of the system, or changing the frame of reference, will help to open up new possibilities. When unfiltered information reaches the conscious awareness of people who are open to being creative, and when they can process this information without being overwhelmed, it can lead to exceptional insights.

Don’t be fooled by the magician’s tricks – or the norms and standard expectations. Start to look outside where you have been directed to look. A whole new world might just open up.

Want to see again some of Andrews magic tricks? Look at the accompanying video



1 Comment

  • Comment by Rob — November 22, 2012 @ 7:49 am

    When we go and see a magician perform, we know we’re being tricked
    and duped – we know it’s a planned deception – and if we never find
    out how the magician performs the tricks, hey: it doesn’t matter,
    because we’ll always know it was an illusion, a game. It wasn’t reality,
    but it was fun.
    Moment by moment, however, due to another type of deception, we
    can be fooled into believing that who we think we are is real – but it’s
    also an illusion; it’s just a chat show going on in our head.
    Within people, there’s the knowledge that the chat show isn’t the truth,
    that it’s causing them to be misled from the ultimate nature of who
    they are, at any given moment.
    If you can sense this knowledge within, you have a sense that you need
    to honour yourself in order to be true to yourself. You sense that you
    need to learn to connect with what you know to be true – your purest
    self-expression – and put an end to the deception.

    To your purest self, Rob. learnx.net ‘Infinite Talent’.

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