Creative Thinking

by Jayne Cormie

Mental barriers to creativity

The following are the top six thoughts which stifle personal and organisational creative thinking:

‘I’m not creative’

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!

Henry Ford

This links to the myth that creativity is a natural talent. Many people think that they are not creative. The truth is that we are all creative. Some people are naturally more creative than others, but we can all have very creative ideas. The problem is that as we grow older, we learn to inhibit our creativity for various reasons, often because this side of us is stifled by the cultural environment. This is illustrated in the chart below, which shows that the percentage of creative brainpower we use declines the older we get (and note that by the time we are adult, while we may be using up to 20 per cent of our creative brain power, we are only generating two per cent of truly original ideas).

However, by regularly exercising your creative brain, you can regain the levels of creative brainpower you enjoyed as a child and reclaim your personal creativity.

‘I don’t have time to think’

Modern life consists of continuous daily pressures which leave us with too little time to do what we need to, let alone think! But there are many ways in which you can use time creatively in order to make space for thought.

An interesting study into organisation directors revealed that their best ideas do not come to them at work... 48 per cent do their creative thinking while travelling!

When do you have your best ideas?

Your environment can dramatically influence your thinking. Have you ever sat in your office staring at the walls for hours on end, waiting for that eureka moment to strike? The above research shows that only 14 per cent of the best ideas occur at work. So get out of your box and try a different space to be creative in. For example, visit a local museum, stroll through the park, take a drive through the country, go to the seaside and stare out to sea or visit a different culture.

How can you use your time more creatively to think more creatively?

‘I’m not paid to think’

Do you ever say to yourself, ‘I’m not paid to think!’ or ‘I would be creative but...?

This mind-set is common in organisations where people are responsible for completing specific jobs within a specified time. The physical challenge of getting things done on time means that it is easy to become task focused, just to keep on top of things. Fire-fighting becomes an everyday activity. This leads to the belief that the job of ‘thinking’ is for other people, especially if the organisation doesn’t encourage initiative or reward new ideas.

The fact is that it’s everyone’s job within the organisation to think. That means you! How could you improve productivity? How can you work more efficiently? How can you do more with less?

Being creative in the work environment requires courage – the courage to think creative thoughts in the first place, the courage to make time to think and the courage to communicate those thoughts to the business. It is all too easy to make excuses and just sit back and wait for someone else to come up with the ideas. Well, now is the time to get off your ‘but’ and start thinking creatively.

‘What if I fail?’

Show me someone who hasn’t failed, and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t tried hard enough.

Albert Einstein

Fear of failure is one of the biggest barriers to personal success, whether it be related to creativity or life in general. Ironically, those who fear failure tend not to take risks and as a result, they don’t succeed as much as those who don’t fear failure so much. There are many examples of this in life. Think about Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time. He missed more shots than anybody else in history. Thomas Edison had 9999 failures before finally succeeding on his ten thousandth attempt at inventing the light bulb. The first Harry Potter book was rejected by many publishers before J K Rowling finally secured a publishing deal and Harry Potter became a worldwide phenomenon.

So if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! (And remember, learn from your failures.)

‘It’s too risky’

Have you ever stopped yourself from doing something because you thought it was too risky, only to regret it later? Or maybe you’ve taken a risk and then wish you’d done it sooner because it wasn’t all that bad after all!

A reluctance to take risks holds so many people back from trying new things and thinking new thoughts. It’s far easier to stick with the tried and tested rather than stepping outside our comfort zones and doing things differently. We erect these invisible ‘terror barriers’ to stop ourselves from doing stupid things which we might later regret: everything on one side of the terror barrier is safe, but stepping over to the other side means having to take a risk in order to do something new.

However, risk-taking has been identified as a core characteristic of creative people. So the willingness to take risks is essential for individuals wanting to be more creative.

Think about how tolerant you are to taking risks and how willing you are to step out of your comfort zone to try new things? What could you do to expand your risk-tolerance levels?

‘I don’t like change’

This barrier to creativity is closely linked to the fear of failure and the aversion to risk. People who don’t like change are happier operating within their comfort zone and therefore tend to be less open to creativity and new ideas. Such individuals rarely challenge themselves to think or do anything which threatens their sense of ease and security. They see a new idea like a bad dream which won’t go away. However, it is usually because they don’t fully understand the idea or the benefits it will bring to the business.

It is easy to spot when closed minds exist within organisations, because whenever a new idea is presented, the following typical phrases will be heard. These are just some of the many killer phrases which people use to thwart change:

  • It can’t be done
  • It’s too risky
  • We don’t have the resources
  • We tried that before and it didn’t work
  • It costs too much
  • It’s against organisation policy
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
  • It’s too radical
  • We don’t have the time
  • It’s not my job.

How many of these phrases have you heard within your organisation? Or maybe you have used some of them yourself? How open are you to new ideas and how can you encourage others to be more open minded?