The science behind creativity

January 10, 2014

Reflecting on his experience running the exhibition development program at The Glasgow Science Centre, Director of Science, Dr Robin Hoyle takes a look at the mechanics behind creativity and the creative process, challenging the notion that creative ideas materialise without due process.


There was a news piece on Radio 4 a few weeks ago talking about research into the creative processes of artists.  It concluded that artists work at being creative and, far from the stereotype of the eureka moment and gazing into space, they achieve creative ideas by working away at them.

Science is about creativity, almost every discovery has been sparked by the words “I wonder…” and been driven forward by curiosity, creativity and experiment.   The Science Centre aims to capture that thrill and sense of excitement, through the ways and means we use to present science.

Running our exhibition development programme I learned a lot at a very practical level about the work that goes into producing something creative.  It’s complex but we rapidly learned and put in place a few ‘rules of thumb’.

  • It’s mostly work, not mostly luck or inspiration, so plan it just as you do other tasks in your project.  So allow time, particularly at the start of the project.  Doing so also sets expectation regarding creative input and ensures everyone realises that creative thinking is an integral part of the project.
  • Create open networks.  Encourage people to bring their own networks and contacts in, search out ‘local talent’ and be receptive to specialist advice and experience.  The collective output of a well-managed team is likely to be better.
  • Spontaneity and serendipity play a part.  So foster these, be alert to what a chance encounter might deliver for the project, try to make occasions to meet new people and be prepared to ‘enrol’ them.
  • Define the parameters and stay in control.  If you let the assembled team of talent and inspiration loose without these guides, their ideas may create challenges of their own.  Simple examples are things like budget, scope, who or what the project is aiming to affect.  Our recent BodyWorks exhibition had a working title that was “An exhibition that explores the factors surrounding human health and well-being in the 21st century”.
  • Once you’ve defined the destination, then be open-minded about the solutions.  Judge contributions positively and by the benchmarks of the project, not by personal preconceptions.  Shape them by letting the team build on them.  This gives people confidence to share their ‘daft ideas’.


GSC Bodyworks Launch

BodyWorks – floor three of Glasgow Science Centre


BodyWorks”, launched in March 2013, has been significant in contributing to our best year ever.  Creativity underpins the exhibition, from the way humans interact with the exhibits, to the way the interpretation is delivered and through to the overall look and feel of the exhibition space.  Was the effort all worth it?  Well feedback from customers suggest they find it more engaging, it appeals to a broader range of people and they spend longer playing with and learning from it – so in our book a definite ‘yes’.

What’s your experience with the creative process? Do you have a tried and tested process to help reach your ‘eureka’ moment? Let us know in the comments section below.