So You Think You're Not Creative?

by Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

Our excuse for not being original is that we "simply aren't creative, and never have been. We can't come up with new ideas! It isn't in us! Creativity is reserved for the artists of the world, those that march to a different drummer, those from another planet. Creative people are born with a bent to think differently, and are lucky to be unique and gifted."

The truth of the matter is that we are all creative. We all have the same physiology of the brain, the organ where innovative ideas are born. Our brains are made up of two major lobes, weighing a total of about three pounds. The anatomy of the brain includes the gray matter, white matter, the corpus callosum, glial and neurons cells, etc. The neuron cells carry the electrically charged data and are connected to one another by synapses – the little chemical junctures across which neurons pass "notes." Synapses grow richer and stronger the more we use them. At the same time, the synapses that see little use begin to wither. This synaptic pruning gives rise to the trite saying "use it or lose it" and explains how habits, both good and bad, are formed.


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We have all heard the myth that we use only 10% of our brain. Though this is an alluring idea, it is so wrong it is almost laughable, says neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. We use all of our brain, even though we sometimes question where our mind is. When we fail to notice a blatant class V cavity, or forget an appointment, or arouse defensiveness in another staff member by our unintentional gruffness, we see evidence that momentarily our brains, although not turned off, were not there. It is at these moments that we wish for an upgraded wiring system for our brains, so we can avoid mindless mistakes!

We become more insightful by learning to access the right hemisphere of the brain, which is considered to be the more creative hemisphere of the brain. The physiological reason for this is that dendrites (the transmitters and receivers of messages) in the right hemisphere have broader access to the left brain and the cortex of the brain than the left hemisphere has. This gives the right hemisphere access to increased data stored in other parts of the brain, enabling associations for new innovations. From these associations comes the famed "eureka" moment – the insight offering a solution or a new idea.

However, there is a natural link between the two sides of the brain. For example, we may note a patient's face is swollen through our visual right brain; we know how to treat the infection with our logical left brain. Perhaps we can't quite put our finger on a condition that a patient presents, and in the middle of the night, we wake up with the answer. We will be more insightful about a puzzling problem when we practice engaging our right brain regularly.

The field of neuroscience is considered the new frontier. With the use of EEGs, MRIs, and brain scans, scientists can now see some of what happens in our brains when we transform mental flab into mental fiber. Recently, the American government announced Project BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), designed to help unlock the mysteries of the brain. It is hoped that a new tool will be developed that might detail how the brain learns, which would help us tap into our holistic right brain for new innovations and discoveries.

The challenge is to access the right hemisphere through regular exercise. In fact, because genes for creative genius are only attributed to one-third of a person's ability to be creative, there is much room for mental exercise to increase the level of "whole-brain" creative thinking. Yet, our education system teaches us predominantly in left-brain learning.

We recognize left-brain thinking in our dental training. We are taught as dental professionals to be precise, accurate, detail oriented, and to look for one right answer. Looking beyond the obvious isn't nurtured. Science and math are predominately left-brain functions, as are the verbal skills to communicate. Yet, although verbal skills are left-brain activities, it is the right brain that gives our language color.

Our creative brain has no limitations. Picture a child with a box. The child can imagine anything about this box … it can be a car, house, fort, spacecraft, or a chair. A toothbrush can become a microphone, a magic wand, a digging tool, a hairbrush, or a broom for the child. She is not constrained by what is, but blossoms in the joy of her own imagination. A condition known as hemispheric synchronization, a highly creative state where both hemispheres of the brain are excited, is the norm for children. Evidence suggests that our educational system tones down this natural state so that children might better conform to traditional teaching methods.

So what happens in the "eureka" moment when there is a sudden insight? EEGs measure the spike in gamma brain wave activity, which occurs 300 milliseconds before the answer comes. Gamma waves indicate a binding of neurons as far-flung brain cells connect in a new neural network, as when an association occurs. This happens in the same part of the brain that enables us to understand metaphors and get jokes. These gamma waves, like a good joke, emit pleasure, and we thus experience joy. In this highly creative state we are said to be in the state of flow. There is heightened activity in the corpus callosum. According to the Monroe Institute, a leading research organization in neuroscience, we experience hemispheric synchronization, the same creative condition as our imaginative children, because of this heightened activity.

Isn't this interesting? Indeed, we are all creative and when we train our creative mind to engage, breakthroughs occur in dentistry, business, and life. Creativity researcher Frank Barron says, "The creative person is more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, crazier and saner, than the average person. In other words, a creative person is paradoxical. He or she is also eclectic, quixotic, and mercurial, making it as difficult to pigeonhole and, thus, it's as difficult to define the creative personality as it is to define abstracts like the concept of truth."

Aren't you glad that you are creative!

DOROTHY GARLOUGH, RDH, MPA is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change in both the dental and corporate worlds. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at

Resources for this column

The Great Courses – ISBN: 1-59803-733-1, Optimizing Brain Fitness – Professor Richard Restak
The Economist Magazine, April 6-12, 2013 article Mind-expanding (America's neuroscience initiative) page 92
Innovation Management -
The Monroe Institute –
Drive - ISBN: 978-1-59448-480-3, Daniel Pink, Riverhead Books, 2009

True or False

1. Creative people are born that way: It is simply in their genes.
2. We use only 10% of our brain.
3. Neuroscience is considered by scientists to be the next great frontier.
4. Hemispheric synchronization is a heightened state of creativity found only in children.
5. Dental personnel would benefit from "whole" brain training.

Answers: 1. False 2. False 3. True 4. False 5. True

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