Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Removing blocks to Creativity

As if dealing with emotional and perceptual blocks isn't enough, we also need to overcome our cultural conditioning. Cultural blocks are created by attitudes in society and among our peers which have the effect of inhibiting creative thinking. Sometimes these cultural blocks are so much a part of our upbringing that we're practically blind to them.

Here are some of the most common cultural blocks:

"We must be logical about this"
Why is this so? You might need to specify your desired outcome but not the journey. Once in a awhile you might like to ban logic altogether and see what happens. Remember these three things:
  • Logic can solve problems, but creativity often requires a leap of the imagination
  • Creative ideas often don't make any sense at first
  • Just because an idea is illogical doesn't mean its 'bad'
Role stereotyping
Our inherently conservative culture sees to it that most of us grow up with the idea that creativity is not possible without advanced training, higher education, superior intelligence, etc. This is simply nonsense. Also creativity is often seen as the preserve of a particular function within a business.

"Playing is for kids"
Being creative means being willing and able to play with ideas, materials, and even your most basic ideas about reality. Creative thinking is a form of mental play. Relax your grown-up inhibitions and let your mind out to play more often. Also, many of us already work with prototypes which is simply a slightly restricted form of play.

"Fantasy and daydreams are useless distractions"
Early in life, we're taught that fantasy and daydreaming are unproductive and even dangerous to our health. Creative thinking requires that you be able to daydream and fantasize without feeling guilty for doing so. Strive to recognize and get past your conditioning. Those daydreams can also be useful as part of a futures programme where we predict the future many years in advance.

"Though shalt try nothing new"
This is the great unspoken commandment that directs many of our thoughts and actions. While change for its own sake is rarely creative, creativity requires openness to challenging the status quo. Ideas such as the wheel and space travel must have been as a result of trying something new. Just think what you could do!

"Creativity is too abstract"
Well yes and no. The techniques that we use to help generate and explore ideas can be a little strange but we can calibrate creative processes so we know how much return we get for a particular amount of time and effort. Those who like to plan and budget have no excuse for not joining in.

"I don't like to ask questions or criticise"
In many cultures it is not natural to openly question or comment on the ideas of others or examine the status quo. This can prevent progress so you can try and gently nudge people and show that questioning is ok but also we can use techniques with the 'challenging' built in or which concentrate on building ideas. There is no excuse not to embrace creative thinking.


Scott Noppe-Brandon said...

Derek, I applaud you for tackling these “cultural blocks” to creativity. I want to take this opportunity to dispel some similar myths about imagination, creativity’s first cousin (or parent, depending on your perspective). First, imagination is not, contrary to conventional wisdom, something that one either has or doesn’t have; if one can dream or ask “what if,” then one can imagine, and we can all do these things. Second, imagination is not a mystery beyond our comprehension; the fact that it’s complex doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take steps to understand how it works and how we can use it. Third, imagination isn’t unteachable; it can be taught. Many of us don’t want to admit this because it means that in effect we’re choosing not to become more imaginative in our lives and careers. Nonetheless, myriad examples show that there are indeed ways to develop people’s imaginations. Until schools, businesses, and governments acknowledge this, they will continue to limit themselves with artificial boundaries. – Scott Noppe-Brandon, Executive Director, Lincoln Center Institute

Derek Cheshire said...

Scott, imagination is to creativity as intuition is to knowledge i.e. it is all a branch of the same thing but one is internal. Perhaps a version of Nonaka and Takeuchi's knowledge spiral is a useful tool to investigate and remove blockages? It may be that certain industry sectors are limiting themselves but what is interesting to me is that the developed countries all have very well developed barriers whilst developing countries still have great potential in the areas of creative thinking and imagination.

Derek Cheshire