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Creativity and consciousness studies gain attention at U-M

Creativity isn't just for artists, writers and musicians.

Recent U-M studies show that individuals in business and other fields not traditionally identified as relying on creative skills can gain from studies of what sparks creativity in individuals.
Sarath (Photo by Joan Harris)

To promote the study of creativity across several academic areas, the Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies (PCCS) was funded by the Office of the Provost last fall. It grew out of the Faculty Network for Creativity and Consciousness Studies, formed in 2000. It is a cross-disciplinary initiative devoted to the exploration of creativity and its transpersonal and transcendent dimensions.

Ed Sarath, founder and director of PCCS, says, "What interests me, and what I have learned from the program, are the connections related to creativity across fields."

Sarath, professor of music and chair of the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation Studies, participated in a Harvard Law School conference last fall on improvisation and negotiation.

"There is a tremendous amount of interest in the business world about jazz improvisation as a model for creative business negotiation, entrepreneurship and organizational dynamics," he says.

Creative people have suggested a link between creativity and consciousness.

"Creative individuals in many fields talk about heightened states of consciousness, also called flow, or transcendence, or peak experiences—among other terminology—in their work," Sarath says. "These heightened states are characterized by profound mind-body coordination, flashes of insight, lucidity, effortlessness in performance, inner calm even amid outer turbulence, and other features.

Outside teaching, Sarath is active as a flugelhorn player, recording artist, composer and author. He has performed at the Montreux, North Sea, Antibes, Le Mans, London and Montreux-Detroit jazz festivals. He also writes about the creative process and its transpersonal connections.

"Everyone has their own methods for invoking creative states. Some use meditation as a means for preparing for creative work. Others go for long walks. One of the interesting things about the Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies meetings is the capacity to hear colleagues from a wide range of fields talk about their respective creative processes."

Among several initiatives, the program is presenting a guest speaker series, which on March 31 featured Professor Robert Quinn, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship. He is known for his work on the competing values framework—recognized as one of the 40 most important models in the history of business. The series featured world-renowned concert pianist Loren Hollander in February.

"The biggest challenges to creative expression are the conditioned tendencies that become ingrained from years of practice to master the skills of a discipline," Sarath says. "This is particularly so for musicians and athletes. We get locked into habituated patterns of doing, reacting, conceiving, imagining, etc. The solution is to invoke a heightened awareness state that allows us to transcend these patterns."

Some exercises for athletes to enhance creativity include rhythmic exercises. "Sports are very rhythmic in nature," Sarath says. "Many of Michigan's student-athletes do the rhythmic drills to prepare for practice or games. I have them do meditation for mental clarity, mind-body integration and inner quietude, in addition to some of the other qualities.

"On the U-M campus, it is encouraging to identify the wide range of organizations and units with which PCCS would intersect," Sarath says. They include art and music departments, the life sciences, Integrative Medicine Center, Positive Organization Scholarship group at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Department of Athletics, and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.

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