Research shows that creativity and intelligence are linked with the physical connections in our brains. The image is from cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, who came up with such a brilliant way to express a concept that’s often not that easy to grasp. The image makes a clear point—that knowledge alone is not useful unless we can make connections between what we know. Lots of great writers, artists and scientists have talked about the importance of collecting ideas and bits of knowledge from the world around us, and making connections between those dots to fuel creative thinking and new ideas. This is a really fun, inspiring topic to read about, so I collected some quotes and advice from my favorite creative thinkers about the importance of making connections in your brain. To start with though, I want to look at some research that shows intelligence is closely linked with the physical connections in our brains. The researchers found that, rather than residing in a single structure, general intelligence is determined by a network of regions across both sides of the brain. The study also supported an existing theory about intelligence that says general intelligence is based on the brain’s ability to pull together and integrate various kinds of processing, such as working memory. At Washington University, a research study found that connectivity with a particular area of the prefrontal cortex has a correlation with a person’s general intelligence.
This study showed that intelligence relied partly on high functioning brain areas, and partly on their ability to communicate with other areas in the brain.


Aside from physical connectivity in the brain, being able to make connections between ideas and knowledge we hold in our memories can help us to think more creatively and produce higher quality work. She’s given a talk on this at a Creative Mornings event before, and made some great points.
The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become.
Author Austin Kleon is someone who immediately comes to mind whenever the topic of connections and remixing art comes up. Kleon is inspiring because he’s so upfront about how the work of other people has become part of his own work. When it comes to the field of science, making connections between those dots of knowledge seems to be just as important. Originality often consists in linking up ideas whose connection was not previously suspected.
Most scientists consider that it is a more serious handicap to investigate a problem in ignorance of what is already known about it. Nature no more obeys the territorial divisions of scientific academic disciplines than do continents appear from space to be colored to reflect the national divisions of their human inhabitants.
I’ll leave you with some suggestions for improving your own ability to make connections.


So trying something new and forcing a gentle brain overload can make a dramatic improvement for your brain activity.
As Austin Kleon suggests, take a notebook (or your phone) with you everywhere and take notes.
No doubt you have some great ideas of your own—let us know in the comments what works for you. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.
And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
Being able to read about a wide range of topics is often one of of the most important elements. Kleon is the author of Steal Like An Artist, a book about using the work of others to inspire and inform your own. Start by reading more, reading more widely, and exploring new opportunities for gathering knowledge (for instance, try some new experiences—travel, go to meetups or take up a new hobby).



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