When musicians improvise, their brains turn inhibitions down and creativity up. Scientists set out to measure exactly what is going on in the heads of musicians, using jazz as the constant:
[T]hey go into what we call a “dissociated frontal activity state.” There’s this notion that someone like Coltrane is “in the zone,” he’s far away from the concerns of everyday life. And he is in some other place where all of these novel ideas are flowing out of him.
How does he do it?
The brain really alters itself into this creative mindframe where its purpose at that moment is to generate novelty and to decrease inhibition.
Consider that for a moment: improv decreases inhibition and increases novelty! As I mentioned recently, people are already improvising. With the emergence and adoption of a new set of tools and services, the line between creator and consumer has narrowed and, in many places, blurred completely. And this is the great opportunity for designers (or creators or any kind): to create room for this sort of free flow of ideas in our design process and in the products and services we create for people. Plan for improvisation. Make room for novelty. (These are not oxymorons.)
In the meantime, head over to hear a series on the field of “neuromusic,” research at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and music.