Take a deep breath and imagine yourself in the midst of a towering redwood forest. The trunks are more expansive than a small car, and they reach hundreds of feet into the air. They are so tall, in fact, that they would tower over the Statue of Liberty. As you gaze up at the giants, your life comes into perspective. Your stress melts away and is replaced by an overwhelming feeling of respect and wonder. This is what it’s like to experience awe. It’s the same feeling you get when listening to a majestic piece of music or watch the sunset from the top of a mountain.
Awe is a unique emotion – and one that is often underestimated in the business world. Awe can lead to many different outcomes, including increased satisfaction with life, enhanced critical thinking, increased generosity, and humility. In addition to these incredible outcomes, awe can also inspire increases in creative thinking.
The Research on Awe
A long line of research alludes to the connection between positive emotions and enhanced creativity, and awe is no different. In a recent study, researchers assigned study participants into one of three groups: awe, amusement, or neutral. The participants who drew the short stick and were assigned to the neutral group were tasked with the mundane assignment of recalling the last time they did their laundry. The participants in the amusement group were slightly better off, as they were tasked with recalling a recent joke or funny moment in their lives. Finally, the participants lucky enough to land in the awe group were asked to recall the last time they saw a beautiful panoramic view, like the Grand Canyon. Participants in all three conditions spent time writing about each of their memories in as much detail as possible to make the memories vivid and exciting. After recalling these events, researchers assigned them a cognitive inclusiveness task that required enhanced creativity. The results? People in the awe condition were significantly more likely to think up unconventional associations and solutions than folks in the other two conditions.
This is just one of many studies that overwhelmingly show a significant relationship between awe and creativity.
Awe and Creativity
Positive emotions have magical effects, helping to release us from our negativity and stress to open our minds to new ideas. Clear minds have less thought pollution, allowing them to see new solutions and pathways that were otherwise hidden behind the problematic thoughts floating in our minds. Awe is a shortcut to clearing problematic thoughts from our minds, and even small bursts of awe can increase our creative output.
Creative output is essential to innovation. While you can have creativity without innovation, you cannot have innovation without creativity. This means that our creative potential lies just beneath the surface of our most troubling thoughts.
The next time you’re feeling at a loss for creativity, consider recalling a moment in your life that took your breath away. Be as vivid and detailed as possible, allowing yourself to remember all of the details that gave you a sense of wonder. Then, unleash your creativity.