I remember watching the movie, 127 Hours. In a dire situation, facing almost certain death, his hand lodged by a rock against a crevice, the main character in the movie does the unthinkable to save himself – he chops off his own arm! Usually people will behave in the same manner when pushed against a wall, they will find some 'creative', if painful, means to solve the situation. Why is this so? Why can't we be naturally creative and innovative all or most of the time, regardless of whether there is a pressing situation or not?
Famous educator Sir Ken Robinson states that we lose something of our creative abilities through the course of formal education. We literally have our creativity educated out of us! Back in 2013 I attended a 2-day design thinking workshop at the re:publica conference in Berlin that brought me face to face with this reality. For our first exercise, working in pairs, we had to ask our partner 5 times over, “What is creativity to you?”. We found that by the time you got to the fourth or fifth time asking, you had exhausted the superficial definitions and had to really think: "What is creativity?". The workshop turned out to be a landmark event for me. I discovered, that I am a 'creative' despite the fact that somewhere along the course of living, I had come to believe that I did not have a creative bone in me!
Prior to this my imagination of a 'creative' brought up images of 'artistic' people, designers, architects and such. And this is typical of how most of us think: there are two kinds of people in the world – the chosen few, the creatives and the rest of us, the non-creatives – you are either one or the other. But if we have that germ of childhood creativity still locked inside us somewhere, can we learn or re-learn how to be creative?
Tom and David Kelley of IDEO and authors of the book, Creative Confidence claim it is possible! They have given themselves to the task of trying to restore that child-like creativity that many of us have suffered the injury of losing or being hoodwinked into believing we are not 'creative types'. In their HBR article, they argue that there are four fears that block us from reaching creative nirvana. Eliminating these fears leads us to embracing creativity and being more innovative, naturally. In summary, the fears are:
- Fear of the messy unknown:
“Yes, we know it’s cozy in your office. Everything is reassuringly familiar; information comes from predictable sources; contradictory data are weeded out and ignored. Out in the world, it’s more chaotic. You have to deal with unexpected findings, with uncertainty, and with irrational people who say things you don’t want to hear. But that is where you find insights—and creative breakthroughs.”
- Fear of being judged:
“... we self-edit, killing potentially creative ideas because we’re afraid our bosses or peers will see us fail. We stick to “safe” solutions or suggestions. We hang back, allowing others to take risks. But you can’t be creative if you are constantly censoring yourself.”
- Fear of the first step:
“Creative efforts are hardest at the beginning. The writer faces the blank page; the teacher, the start of school; businesspeople, the first day of a new project. In a broader sense, we’re also talking about fear of charting a new path or breaking out of your predictable workflow. To overcome this inertia, good ideas are not enough. You need to stop planning and just get started.”
- Fear of losing control:
“Confidence doesn’t simply mean believing your ideas are good. It means having the humility to let go of ideas that aren’t working and to accept good ideas from other people.”