Shakespeare in Innovation

13 Sep 2011

According to a recent study published in Big Think, Shakespeare’s use of language excites our brains. Professor Philip Davis from the University of Liverpool School of English looked at brain responses. Our most common brain response time is 400 milliseconds after “experiences, a thought or perception”. These responses are called N400 and they are the most common. However when the professor studied the brains of people exposed to Shakespearean language they had a response called P600, which indicates activity 600 milliseconds after their initial contact with the text. The professor equates this type of response of “a state of heightened consciousness”.

In the process of innovation, this is exactly what we strive for. We strive to be in a heightened sense of thought, exploration and awareness. The brain needs to be turned on and exercised, or it will literally get bored – and a bored brain only throws out ideas that are patterned. Imagine how much more exciting your ideas would be if you could operate your brain to provoke P600 responses rather than the usual humdrum, day-to-day responses.

The professor’s hypothesis is that the Shakespeare’s unorthodox use of linguistic construction interrupts our brain. It tells the brain that this is something that needs further attention. We cannot just sit and read Shakespeare; he forces us to think. He actually interrupts our consciousness because our brains cannot create patterns or make linguistic assumptions. In other words, when we read simple text our brain no longer has to ‘think’, but when exposed to Shakespearean language your brain has to be in the moment, aware, and on. Being innovative is like being a great athlete: you cannot foster an active brain by sitting by and being lazy. Your brain needs activity and stimuli.


Brain Exercise

  1. Read a Shakespearean text, preferably one of his sonnets as they are full of alliteration, metaphor, and linguistic oddities.
  2. Interpret the text in your own words. Write the imagery it creates in your brain, how it makes you feel, possible meanings, etc.
  3. Finally, tackle an idea that you have been considering. Write it out, ask questions and explore it.
  4. Write down the differences in your thought patterns, levels of consciousness, and any new interpretations of the idea.