Psychedelic drugs have a deep connection to the arts, and by now everyone knows Silicon Valley is crawling with illicit drug users. Steve Jobs said LSD helped him innovate during the early days of Apple. Since then, leaders in the tech world felt comfortable speaking to the benefits of psychedelics. In particular, Silicon valley leaders discuss psychedelics as “practical tools for harnessing creativity and solving complex problems."
Bouncing back from adversities like the pandemic requires creative thinking. Therefore, creativity is a fundamental part of building resilience in individuals and teams. Creativity should be a top priority among business leaders and strategists.
Innovation drives the economy, and it can make or break a company or a career. It’s obvious creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand, which is why leaders invest in tools and techniques that drive innovation, such as psychedelics.
The evidence supporting the efficacy of these incredible compounds isn’t just anecdotal. Neuroscience research is finally able to show why psychedelics are associated with enhanced creativity.
Whether for solving complex problems, plotting out strategic growth, or becoming more innovative, psychedelics will eventually play a valuable role in business. This article will provide an overview of the neuroscience research showing exactly how psychedelics create the brain states optimal for creativity. Then, we will discuss specific applications for business leaders and entrepreneurs.
What Makes Psychedelics So Special?
Psychedelics are unlike any other psychoactive agent. They induce non-ordinary states of consciousness that cause us to see ourselves and the world differently. Even in tiny, sub-perceptual doses, psychedelics can lead to important changes to affect and cognition. Those changes can reduce some of the common impediments to creativity, from depression to closed-mindedness.
Generating new ideas, even bad ones, is an essential part of the creative process. As soon as we shut off the inner critic and let our mind roam free, we can free-associate during the early phases of the creative process. When we are in the idea generating stage, we engage what is known as divergent thinking: thinking outside the box.
Flexible divergent thinking is what we engage during a brainstorming session; it is also engaged when we leverage our resources during a crisis.
Divergent thinking and creativity can be detected in brain scans. Neuroimaging data shows the psychedelic state is characterized by “cognitive flexibility” and “unconstrained and hyperassociative mode of cognition.” Hyperassociations are reflected neatly in the famous fMRI images of two brains: one with and one without psilocybin. Taking psychedelics, people are more prone to making connections between disparate concepts.
How do they work? Depending on its mechanism of action, a psychedelic compound may loosen the chains on the brain’s default mode network, responsible for maintaining our stable ego identity and our global schemas. Inhibitions and taboos fly out the window, and we allow into our minds all sorts of weird and possibly wonderful thoughts. We may also enter the elusive flow state when we use psychedelics.
Isn’t It Just A Hallucination?
Under the influence of psychedelics, a person sees reality differently—sometimes literally. You might think that the creativity enhancement is due to hallucinations. However, microdosing studies show that hallucinations are not correlates of creativity. When you microdose, you take such a small amount of the substance that you barely feel it. You certainly do not hallucinate. What’s the point of that? Well, for one, you can still go to work.
Also, preliminary empirical studies have been showing that microdosing leads to enhanced creativity and openness, coupled with increased positive affect and reduced negative affect. Perfect for innovation in workgroups. You don’t need to have an intense trip to gain access to creative states. Perhaps some people react better to the microdose, which can give you just enough to loosen the ball and chain of the ego without letting go of the tether altogether.
Psychedelics may enhance group cohesion. The mind is more malleable in the psychedelic state, making people more open and more empathetic during and after the use of psychedelic medicines. We become less dismissive of our own ideas, as well as those that come from other people. That empathy is critical among diverse teams. When they are administered under clinical supervision, psychedelics have been shown to increase propensity towards positive emotions and reduce negative ones. The trends in the research seem consistent, too, making it more certain that psychedelics will play no small role in creating new ethical standards in the public and private sector.
Deep Learning, Deep Change
The new ideas and innovative solutions that come from divergent thinking do not necessarily require the additional deep thinking that a more profound and lasting change might require. Deep thinking involves the existential questions, which do tend to arise almost universally when people do psychedelics. As they inhibit default mode network activity, psychedelics can lead to profound and “lasting changes” in values, personality, identity, or worldview.
Moreover, the changes that do occur within the psyche tend to be positive, healthy ones—qualified by prosocial behaviors and beliefs. All of this research points to the value of employing psychedelics to drive systems change. Part of the reason for these lasting changes is that psychedelics have a dramatic effect on what a person finds meaningful: what we value, what we pay attention to, and what we spend resources on. For many, the pandemic caused a similar soul searching. Psychedelic-assisted therapies can help business leaders navigate the tricky terrain ahead skillfully enough to emerge at the forefront of the new economy.
Some leaders want to get a head start on envisioning the future so that they retain a competitive advantage. Even if they do not always lead to “great creative feats,” psychedelics do have a proven impact on enhancing creativity in individuals and groups.
Getting that head start requires deep creative thinking, which can be catalyzed by psychedelics. Psychedelic-assisted therapies can be combined with mindfulness and other techniques that allow for honest self-reflection and genuine humility. The leader can better recognize what changes are required “to achieve transformation, systemic change, and a more sustainable future for all.”
Finally, it should be mentioned that psychedelic-assisted therapies may be critical for midwifing creative projects. Because psychedelics are an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health disorders, they enhance individual and group performance. Psychedelics can promote resilience within organizations, enhancing creative problem solving, resourcefulness, flexibility, and adaptability. Psychedelics can breed sustainable organizational cultures and structures that thrive with diversity. Given their ability to stimulate the processes in the brain responsible for flexible divergent thinking, psychedelics can promote global resilience in the face of natural or man-made disasters.
Creative destruction is embedded in the free market economy. Innovate or die. Change your strategy or risk being eaten. Like entrepreneurs, engineers relish innovation. Their products are often market disruptors. Psychedelics are poised to become disruptors, too. Consider how you might start integrating psychedelic-assisted coaching, training, and therapies into your strategy for success.
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