We all have the capacity to learn and be creative. The difference between the best and the rest is that those who learn how to nurture and think with the whole brain are the most successful. For many years, psychologists identified creativity and intelligence as fixed traits. Over the last 20 years, significant developments in neuroscience indicate that the capacity to learn and to be creative is actually a skill that we can nurture and grow. Just like you master a golf swing through effective practice, you can also master the way you learn and apply that learning to maximize professional and personal growth.
We can’t really improve our ability to learn unless we have a basic understanding of how the brain works. Let’s start with some basic neuroscience. What if you could see how learning happens in the brain? The human brain has more than 100 billion cells, called neurons. Brain neurons begin forming about four weeks after conception and begin to grow dendrites with those first stimuli in the womb. A newborn’s brain grows dendrites at an incredible rate as the baby begins to discover the world. We get an explosive growth of dendrites until about the age of ten before the brain begins its pruning process. Dendrites that haven’t made connections die off. That growing and pruning process continues throughout our lives.
Here’s the key: dendrites can form only from existing dendrites. In other words, we can learn only by building upon existing knowledge. The more we learn, the more dendrites we grow. The more dendrites we have, the greater capacity we have to grow more dendrites and to learn more. Think of dendrites as branches on a tree. At the mastery level, dendrites are thick and strong like the trunk of a 100-year-old oak tree. As a novice, our dendrites look like the spindly branches on Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
Besides the number of branches on our trees, what separates the geniuses from the rest of us? In large part, it may be the way in which geniuses can engage the whole brain and make deeper connections. After Albert Einstein died, his brain was removed and photographed from multiple angles to determine why he was able to “see” what most of us can’t. As recently as 2013, a team of scientists in China discovered a significant differentiating attribute of Einstein’s brain. His corpus callosum, the largest nerve fiber bundle that connects the left and right hemispheres, was thicker than average. More simply, Einstein’s two hemispheres were freakishly well connected. This enabled him to think, learn, and process new information with his whole brain.
When we engage the whole brain, we create the conditions necessary to connect new ideas with prior knowledge, emotions, and sensory input to create deeper meaning. Experiential learning, or learning through a reflection of doing, experimenting, and exploring, enables us to strengthen that bundle of nerves that connect the two hemispheres and engage multiple parts of the brain to build bigger, stronger networks of dendrites.
So, if you want to grow your corpus callosum to genius-like proportions, engage your whole brain by using multiple senses with intentionality. Music, movement, colors, images, emotions, and social interaction have all been proven to impact cognition, memory, and creativity. When we engage multiple parts of the brain, we make deeper cognitive connections and create the conditions for enlightenment, creativity, and innovation. Understanding that your inner genius is rooted in the integration of the two hemispheres between your ears is the first step. Learn how to connect them and use your whole brain to unleash your inner Einstein.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is the founder and principal of The Andrick Group. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and master’s degrees in Instructional Technology and Educational Administration. Throughout her career, Melissa has taught students from kindergarten through college, authored more than a dozen books, and developed countless instructional materials to improve teaching and learning. Currently, Dr. Hughes develops and delivers professional development workshops across the country to increase our capacity to learn, unlearn, and relearn for greater professional success and personal satisfaction.