Shalu Wasu | Feb 17, 2010
The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it. – Dee Hock
The elephant tries several times to get free, but it lacks the strength to do so. After some time, the animal gives up trying, believing that it cannot be free.
At this point, the trainer changes the thick rope to a thin one but the elephant makes no attempt to run away. Even when the elephant reaches adulthood, it continues to be tethered by a thin rope, reconciled to its captivity.
As you grow up and gain experience, you absorb assumptions which then drive your life and limit your choices. They are similar to the elephant‚Äôs thin rope tied to a post. You can break away from them with a simple tug if you want to but you don‚Äôt.
As you acquire more and more experience, your repertoire of blind assumptions grows too, correspondingly limiting your choices. Your experience becomes a hindrance in your being creative.
Here is a list of 15 elephant tethers that possibly hold you back from being creative. Look at them and do identify the ones that apply to you. Are you willing to do something about them and break free?
Tether 1. What will people think?
Your selfconsciousness is one big hurdle in your being creative. You don‚Äôt even try to do so many things in life because you are afraid of making a fool of yourself. You waste a lot of your energy in protecting yourself and presenting a ‚Äògood‚Äô image.
You had no such inhibitions as a child and therefore you were naturally creative. It is perhaps the fear of the unknown and what might happen that makes you selfconscious. It holds you back and hinders your creativity.
When you walk into something in spite of the fear, it simply vanishes because by then the unknown turns into the known. The trick is not to think in terms of conquering fear but being with it.
When you let go of your selfconsciousness, you turn more creative.
Tether 2. But I‚Äôve never had any great ideas!
Most people don‚Äôt have enough opportunities to bring out their creativity. So their creative abilities remain untapped. It seems to make no difference because not being creative is not too inconvenient.
Being creative is actually a search for a better way and in today‚Äôs world most solutions come ready-made. Most of the things that you do have been researched and the ‚Äòbest‚Äô ways to do them have been arrived at.
Most people follow the standard ‚Äòbest‚Äô ways without questioning – how to clean teeth, how to reach office, etc. They do a great number of tasks automatically.
Trying a ‚Äòdifferent way‚Äô may in fact be inconvenient in most situations – driving speed, the route to office, how to tie your shoe knots, standing in the queues, etc.
Most of these automatic ways are perhaps good. By sticking with them, you are able to accomplish many tasks without thinking. They save time but you end up with the habit of not thinking afresh.
Over time, you develop attitudes and assumptions which prevent you from thinking creatively, locking you into the existing ways of thinking and doing things. You become a prisoner of familiarity. You never have great ideas.
As a result, even when the need arises for you to think differently and generate new ideas, you are unable to do so.
Tether 3. What is the right answer?
One of the worst aspects of formal education is the focus on the correct answer to a question or problem. When somebody asks a question, you generally give an acceptable answer instead of an original one fearing it might be wrong.
While this approach helps you to function smoothly in society, it hurts creative thinking. Real-life issues are ambiguous. There is no one single answer to any problem. There can be several answers if only you think about them. They may all be contradictory and yet correct.
Tether 4. I don‚Äôt want to fail.
The fear of failure is something that you learn in school‚Ä¶and it never just goes away. All through school, you perhaps take hundreds of tests, exams, assignments, etc. You are in one big trouble if you fail even once. You are scared of failure.
By the time you finish school, the fear of failure has seeped into your system and you avoid situations which could result in failure. You are extra-careful about whatever you take up. You play safe.
The fear of failure does not let you try new things, crippling your creativity.
Tether 5. That‚Äôs not my area.
Creativity requires finding connections between unrelated things. The diversity of your interests and experiences enhances your ability to find connections.
When you explore completely unrelated areas, you are pleasantly surprised by the interrelatedness of almost everything. You start seeing new possibilities when you discover new connections.
In an era of hyper-specialization, the scope of work is getting narrower and narrower. Loss of creativity is the immediate casualty.
When you just stick to your area, you hinder your creativity.
Tether 6. I don‚Äôt like uncertainty.
If you are not confused, you are not thinking clearly – Tom Peters
When people are confused, they feel compelled to resolve the situation quickly, making it systematic and orderly again. They are likely to miss the key issues in their haste to do so.
There is something in the culture or perhaps in the education system, which makes people want to be ‚Äòknowers‚Äô rather than ‚Äòfind-outers‚Äô.
This attachment to ‚Äòknowing‚Äô makes you feel jittery and inept when you ‚Äòdon‚Äôt know‚Äô. This tendency is so engrained that even small kids begin to lose their curiosity in order to become ‚Äòknowers‚Äô.
However, when it comes to creative thinking, not knowing is a good thing and ambiguity is a great thing. Certainty is the enemy of creativity.
If you are certain about something, you don‚Äôt have much leeway to generate new ideas to solve problems.
Tether 7. That‚Äôs the way it is done!
The need for standard ways of doing things is perfectly legitimate. But then it gives rise to an ever increasing number of rules that govern people‚Äôs lives.
While some of the rules are legitimate, some are totally unfounded. They are not very different from the thin rope that tethers the elephant.
Tether 8. Everyone says so.
When all think alike, then no one is thinking. ‚Äî Walter Lippman
The desire to belong is a powerful one and at times it leads to ‚Äògroupthink‚Äô. This herd approach is probably a relic from the cave age. It is important to have a mind of your own in order to be creative.
Tether 9. How can a boss lose face ever?
Bosses are generally hung up on being always right. It is unimaginable for them to be proved wrong. They just can‚Äôt afford to lose face. Such over-protection of their ego hinders their creativity.
Employees almost always tend to go along with bosses. While harmless minor disagreements are okay, they are careful not to have a difference of opinion when it comes to larger issues.
No boss can be creative if he is surrounded by people who can‚Äôt dare to contradict him. He will be provoked into thinking creatively only when his views are challenged by someone.
Tether 10. My work is so boring.
One of the perils of over specialization is repetitive and uninteresting work. It makes you resentful, robbing you of your creative urges.
Tether 11. Smart people respond quickly.
When quick response is valued, you avoid deep thinking missing out on the finer points of an issue. You start giving out readymade answers. In trying to be smart, you sacrifice creative possibilities.
Tether 12. I feel safe when I am like everyone else.
People start off as unique beings. They are very different from each other as children and young adults with their very own likes and dislikes.
Yet, as if by magic, they get into a common mould after they reach their thirties. Their likes, dislikes, wants, needs and goals somehow begin to converge. They seem to become more and more like one another.
As a result, their creative abilities suffer.
Tether 13. I have strong views and firm opinions.
There are people who pride themselves for having firm stands and being inflexible. They have strong views and unshakable opinions. They are too judgmental.
Being judgmental means blocking or ignoring other points of views. It means reducing your options and leaving your mind with much less to work with. It is then reflected in your ability to generate ideas and solutions.
When you are nonjudgmental, you have an open mind. You have more choices. Being nonjudgmental reduces the surface functioning of your mind, stimulating its deeper functioning.
Then you allow your unconscious mind to throw up more ideas into your conscious mind. You are more creative.
Tether 14. Why keep thinking unnecessarily when I have found the answer?
Such is the hurry to find a solution that people are satisfied with the first one that comes to their mind. They stop thinking further.
However, if you don‚Äôt share your ‚Äòfirst‚Äô idea and keep thinking more and more, the subsequent ones are sure to be better.
The more you think, the more the chances to find better solutions. You never know when you will hit the jackpot.
Tether 15. Self-fulfilling prophecy
Two similarly qualified groups of engineers in a company were exhibiting different levels of creativity.
The two groups were alike in all respects. In the research subsequently conducted by the company, there was only one finding.
The difference between the two groups was that engineers on one group believed that ‚ÄòI am creative‚Äô and engineers from the other group believed otherwise.
Filed Under: Growth