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I have done a lot of reading over the years about the creative brain and how it works. 

There are excellent pieces of work out there that talk in-depth about this topic, however, I have attempted to simplify these insights into something I can more readily and easily use as a parent.

So here is my attempt to explain how the brain works, using the expert insights of others, to help other parents and caregivers raise creatively confident children!

Note: Most of the following content is informed by cognitive scientist and humanistic psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, professor at Columbia University.  I have listed a full set of references at the end of this article.

The Creative Brain Networks

Creative thinking is a full brain activity!  It is not just a special function derived from the right-hand side of the brain!

Many researchers and scientists have discovered that the brain has 3 core networks. 

1)  The Default Network or The Imagination Network1:

“The Imagination Network enables us to construct personal meaning from our experiences, remember the past, think about the future, imagine other perspectives and scenarios, comprehend stories and reflect on emotional states – both our own and those of others.”1  It is heavily involved with the inner stream of consciousness and is highly active during rest and when looking inward.  This network activates and communicates across various parts of the brain.

It’s the network that allows the brain to do previously untried things and where daydreaming & reflection happen!

2) The Executive Centre Network:

“The Executive Network" has been linked to a diverse range of cognitive processes, including fluid reasoning,…analogical reasoning,…abstract mental flexibility, evaluation of creative ideas, memory retrieval, moral decision making, “reality monitoring”…and metacognition”2.  This network predominantly engages cortexes and poles at the front of the brain, the prefrontal parietal network, and is associated with consciousness.  Its architecture enables general intelligence, inhibition and executive function critical for novel, goal-directed problem solving2.

It's the network that helps us do the fiercely focused studying, reading and practicing that gives us mastery!3” It’s where decisions are made!


3)  The Salience Network:

“The Salience Network…works by toggling between the anterior insula and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.  It helps you to monitor the world around you using multiple information streams, and helps you sieve some of that out, concentrating only on what you need.3” “It also plays a critical role in processing pain, emotion, reward, and motivation.4

It’s the network that moderates interactions between the Imagination and Executive networks!

When we create, these different networks that activate the whole brain, dance together in what Kaufman, S B, and Gregoire, C call a “cognitive tango”.

At the beginning of the creative process, “the imagination and salience networks are highly active”.  As we begin to refine our ideas and collaborate with others, “the executive network becomes increasingly more active”1

Essentially, to realise our creative potential, these 3 networks in our brain need to work in concert together, to generate original ideas, filter out the best ones and make them happen!

“Creative people are particularly good at exercising flexibility in activating and deactivating these brain networks…even on a neurological level, creativity is messy!” 1


Key Takeaways for Parents:

I have found deep-diving into how the creative brain works hugely valuable as a parent!  It has shown me:

  • We are all biologically wired to create!  We all have the potential to come up with an original idea that no-one else can!
  • Focus needs to be applied to developing capability across each network i.e., it is important to keep space for daydreaming and divergent thinking amongst our children’s busy academic schedules
  • There must be something we can do as parents to help build our children’s flexibility across the different brain networks to enhance their creative potential

In fact, I have become deeply curious about the specific actions I can take as both a person and a parent to exercise creative brain functionality. 

To discover more, listen to my podcast with Dr Shelley Carson, psychologist at Harvard University, to learn about creative brain neuroscience and specifically how different creative brainsets can be activated to generate ideas!  

For now, know that your child has the biological ability to think differently.  We are all natural born thinkers!



  1. Kaufman, Scott Barry, Gregoire, Carolyn, “Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind”, ‎ Tarcherperige, Reprint Edition, 2016
  2. Kaufman, Scott Barry, “Ungifted”, Basic Books, Member of the Perseus Books Group”, 2003
  3. Kluger, Jeffrey, “This is your brain on creativity”, The Science of Creativity, Time Magazine Special Edition, 2018
  4. Crawford, Lewis, “The Salience Network”, Omniscient Neurotechnology,