Facing the blank page: What’s your block to creativity? (Part 2)

[really_simple_share]Is it important to you to be truly creative?  I mean do you want to come up with ideas, solutions and results that are truly innovative and not just a different twist on what you or others have come up with in the past?

In part 1 on this topic, I explored how your assumptions can block creativity by unconsciously creating boundaries around what your mind will allow you to create. (See “Facing The Blank Page” part 1)

Now I’m going to discuss another block to your creativity.  It’s the “elephant in the room” that will severely limit your ability to be creative.

That block is: pressure.

While assumptions limit possible paths for our creativity, a state of mind that puts a lot of pressure on our creativity—any pressure to generate a result—limits our ability to freely explore those paths.

What creativity requires, then, is having a truly blank page to start with—having a state of mind that is open to discovery and is not counting on a result.  Even with a blank page, free of assumptions, how clear your mind is will determine how free you feel to allow your mind to wander away from the predictable and into more unknown and creative spaces.

Generally, at the times when we most want to be creative, however, there is a lot of pressure on us to be “good,” or come up with something really great. These pressures can be:

A) Related to the project itself. For example, do you feel pressure from someone (or from yourself) to get it done brilliantly? Does it feel like if you don’t get this right it’s going to cost you your job or your client?

B) Personal and external to the project. For example, are you feeling pressures in your life to do something great so that you can make money to pay your bills? Are you under the influence of strong emotions—dissatisfaction, frustration, anger, sadness? Are relationship troubles on your mind? Are you thirsty? Are you hungry? Are you tired?  Is there something you want to do next that makes you want to finish this project quickly?

Why does pressure block creativity?

Part of the reason pressure hampers creativity is that when we are triggered emotionally, our physiological response releases chemicals in our body that put us into “survival mode.” Point blank: We cannot be creative in survival mode! When the “pressure to create” puts us in survival mode, we can and will come up with solutions, but they are just automatic solutions based upon our past experiences, and never anything truly creative. Our old assumptions are automatically brought into play because they are quick ways to “cut to the chase” in developing a solution to the creative problem.

Whenever we are triggered emotionally, the options we seem to have for taking action are severely limited (i.e. “fight” or “flight”).  The same thing happens to our creativity when we are under pressure—our options seem limited in direct proportion to the extent we feel the pressure.

For example, if you were stuck at the bottom of a deep ditch, your survival instincts would certainly kick in and try to help you find a way out of that ditch. But you would probably waste a lot of energy doing something obvious and unworkable—like repeatedly jumping as high as you could—before your mind came up with some type of workable solution. But if you were sitting in your living room, talking with your friends about how to get out of a deep ditch, you would probably all have a variety of pretty creative solutions!

Any of these psychological pressures, then, will affect how creative you can be. True creativity requires a sense of freedom, a sense that everything is o.k.—that we will be o.k.no matter what we come up with. To be truly creative requires a sense that nothing is at stake.

Really?  But don’t people generally work better under pressure?

It’s probably true that many people are more productive under pressure. But let’s distinguish productivity from creativity.  For example, a lot of people say they work well under pressure, and some even say they do their best work under pressure.  They probably do get things done when under pressure. Adrenaline makes sure they get the job done and may even focus them enough to make their work concise, complete, and meet all of the requirements of the project. But their results are way more automatic than creative. I’m talking about what it takes to be truly creative and innovative, not just to get the job done!

The adrenaline has them stick to whatever they know is the shortest path to producing a result—which means they approach the project with tons of the type of assumptions I was talking about in part 1 on this topic. All of these assumptions kill the chances of a creative outcome. Truly creative outcomes are only possible when we are more relaxed and open to possibilities than when we are driven by adrenaline; when we have a general sense that nothing is at stake.

Where do the most creative business ideas come from?

How many of the greatest innovations of our time do you think were created under “make-or-break” pressure? Do you think that the best and most interesting apps out there came about when someone said, “We need to come up with a new app. We need to come up with a hit or we will be out of business in three months”? No. The best apps came about when someone wasn’t under any particular pressure to create anything. The best business ideas were conceived by people sitting around chatting about business—not people saying, “We need to come up with a business idea NOW.” Quite to the contrary, it was the open space provided by the lack of pressure that gave them the freedom to create.

A first step to achieving this clear space is to set up an environment where you can be clear. And I don’t mean a quiet work space. I mean, to set up your circumstances so that everything isn’t on the line for the outcome of your creative endeavor! Before you even bother trying to be creative, ask yourself, “How much pressure do I feel to do this a certain way?” Or, “How much freedom do I feel to be creative?”

In reality, how frequently are you able to clear your mind and work on your projects as if nothing is at stake? If you’re like me, hardly ever!

But proceed now with the understanding that the best creativity happens when we can remove the pressures, and feel like everything is o.k., regardless of the outcome of our creating.  Knowing now that your creativity is at stake, do whatever you can to remove the pressure.

The extent to which you can “clear a space” for yourself is the extent to which you can achieve magical results!


[In part 3 on this topic, we’ll look at some practical ways we can clear pressures and assumptions, and free up our own creative process.]

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