The successful learner understands the value of reviewing concepts and ideas, because knowledge is cumulative. So let us take a moment to offer a quick review, before forging ahead in the learning process.
You should understand that these same types of barriers can also present themselves with regard to decision making and problem solving. We do not want to be ridiculed or belittled. The same can be true when attempting to solve a problem or making a decision. If people are giving off negative vibes, we are less likely to be open to communication.
In this article let us consider four more barriers to creativity and strategies to overcome them.
Obstacle #5 – Unwillingness to Challenge the Obvious
Often human foibles have been identified. We do that not because we want to demonstrate how flawed and incompetent humankind might be, but rather to point out some of the most obvious deterrents to a fulfilling life, in which you have command of your mental and emotional assets. Barrier five is just such an example.
All too often, it is natural for humans to be told something is a certain way and accept the statement at face value, never thinking to explore it in greater depth to understand the purpose behind it, or if it is a notion with merit.
For example, in a staff meeting, the teachers were complaining for the hundredth time about the lunch routine and how disorganized it was. Principal F. listened with patience, and when one staff member suggested that the lunch times be staggered – a truly viable idea – Principal F. dismissed it outright, because the idea had come from a junior staff member and was not one he had thought of himself. As the instructional leader, acceptance of the idea might be a poor reflection on him, so no further discussion of the idea was allowed, and anytime it was revisited he continued to reject it.
Moreover, this barrier can be translated to mean that we are often mentally lazy and will "reach for the lowest hanging fruit," or the most obvious answer, instead of exploring options at greater length. The creative person would do just the opposite, starting with letting an idea stew until it had legs, and then massaging it to become an entity unto itself. Overcoming the barrier of challenging the obvious is much like other avoidance techniques. The best way to address it is to be reflective, recognize that this is the path that you continue to take, and acknowledge that it has not served you well.
Then approach the next idea, and the one after that, with the mindset that you will not go directly to the obvious answer, nor dismiss an idea because it came from someone else and was not your own. Take yourself to task, calmly and deliberately acknowledge that there is often more than one solution to a problem or decision, and that the last one you will consider is the most obvious. Instead, you will think of three different responses – or four – or choose a number to get started with, but make yourself be creative. Once you start recognizing that you always lean toward the easiest solution, you will begin to develop the skill to be more reflective and thoughtful, all part of enhancing creativity.
Obstacle #6 – Fear of Failure
Perhaps this is a barrier we should have addressed first, because nothing is more intimidating than feeling as if you will flat-out fail if you are asked to demonstrate creativity. Who among us is not afraid of making mistakes? This, of , has something to do with being judged by others, but it is also a human emotion that has been ingrained in us since preschool, when making a mistake was called to the attention of the entire class, and the teacher couldn't avoid bringing up that a mistake had been made. The words, "No, that's not correct," to a response you gave when called on for an answer, is as painful to recall today most times as it was at the moment the words were uttered. One of the lessons we seem to carry with us throughout life is that making a mistake is bad.
So, what could possibly be worse than being called upon, by your boss, perhaps, and asked to offer your ideas for a solution? You look around the meeting and are met with a dozen pair of eyes, all thankful they hadn't been asked for their input. Who wouldn't freeze? Who wouldn't be overcome with fear of failure? Has the boss learned how to acknowledge ideas without "grading" them – that's a good idea, that's a bad idea? Indeed, fear of failure is debilitating in many cases.
Overcoming fear as a barrier to creativity – and life – begins with understanding yourself and the world around you much better. It is learning how to respond to a response that may be demeaning, even if said offhandedly. Or it is learning how to couch a creative response in such a way that a critique of such is unacceptable – the onus then becomes on the criticizer and not the creative thinker. In other words, you need to learn to be proactive. Let's consider an example.
Ms. L. is an employee of a popular restaurant. The establishment is always crowded, which is great for business, but patrons get cranky and this is very stressful for the workers. While discussing the problem at a staff meeting the manager asks Ms. L. if she has any ideas for resolving the problem. Ms. L. was caught off guard by the question, and thinks back to a recent gathering when the manager put another worker on the spot, asking for input that was immediately dismissed as wholly unacceptable.
But Ms. L. learned from this. What she learned is that there are no bad ideas, and using your creativity to come up with a solution is never wrong, even if it turns out that the idea didn't work. So Ms. L. looked around the room and smiled at everyone. She graciously stated, "I believe we all probably have some great ideas for how this problem can be resolved. Cranky customers affect all of us and we would all like to see this resolved. Now I, for one, am the type of person that never dismisses an idea outright – and how you will afford me the same respect. I would like to suggest that snacks and a trivia game be made available for free in the foyer, so that our customers can be distracted and entertained while waiting. Perhaps there are others with ideas that would be helpful, as well. I hope we can hear them all. After all, this is a team effort, and sometimes the ideas that seem the most outrageous at first – turn out to be the best."
Good job, Ms. L. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated or afraid of saying the wrong thing. Be gracious to your co-workers and boss, and share your idea with directness and confidence. The best response to intimidation is simple bravery.
Obstacle #7 – Pressure to Produce Immediate Results
Even the most seasoned creative person can struggle when asked to come up with an immediate answer to a challenge that requires creative thinking. There are two parts to a challenge of this nature. Often when a person has developed their creative competency, they are prone to use it naturally; it becomes skill like riding a bike or cooking a gourmet meal, the creative individual just pulls out their inventive thinking with the same matter-of-factness that they breathe or talk. Of course, those who have not developed their creativity are often in awe of this, and because someone is so naturally capable with the skill, others are inclined to sit back and let that person do all the creative heavy lifting. But this can become a vicious circle very quickly, because the reliance on a person for their creative ability becomes not only second nature – but expected, as well, and that is where the dangerous line is crossed and obstacles thrown up in more than one way.
First, the person who regularly contributes creative and innovative ideas to a team can become resentful over time, feeling as if they are asked to give more than their fair share to the betterment of a group. After a while, people become less enamored with another's creative thinking, and expect it of them, instead. This is an unpleasant situation for everyone and does not improve the creative abilities of others. Too, the pressure to produce an immediate creative solution or response can be taxing and thankless.
Again, the question arises as to how to overcome this obstacle. The correct response is to speak up. If you are the person that is put on the spot, then find the words to place the responsibility in the hands of the group. What you could say is, "I always seem to corner the market on idea creation; I would prefer to sit this one out, and let others have the opportunity to have input. You could also be even more honest and say, "I am stumped by this and just can't come up with an idea as a resolution."
Who says honesty isn't the best policy?
Obstacle #8 – Policies that Prevent Creativity
Finally, when an organization has been in existence for some time, the principals may be unaware that there has been a development of policies and procedures over time that simply prevent creativity. What does that mean? In this instance, the status quo is promoted and innovative thinking is discouraged. The higher-ups don't want to be bothered moving the organization forward, are satisfied to keep the boat from rocking, and expect others to do the same. There are no opportunities to employ creativity, and none is expected to be forthcoming in the near future.
How do you, as an individual, overcome this type of barrier? Sometimes it is best to look outside the organization for different personal and/or professional opportunities to develop your creativity. For those who need a job we would never recommend going against the grain. However, becoming a more creative person and flexing those mental creative muscles is important to your own growth, therefore look for creative outlets in the community or online. People who stagnate are those who stop growing, exploring, and pushing themselves into new areas of achievement. Becoming a more creative person fulfills a human need.
Tools to Improve Creativity
A tool is an implement with which to perform or otherwise facilitate an operation. Historically, the word conjures up visions of hand-held items that are used for mechanical purposes, such as a hammer or a lathe. But in this case, a tool is an apparatus for the manipulation of ideas and intellectual skill sets.
In this section, we will consider several utensils for enhancing the ability to be innovative and inventive. So far, we have learned there are several steps to adopting creativity as a part of an array of competencies. Improving your ability to be a creative and inventive individual means you have learned how to patiently allow an idea to settle into your mind and incubate – much like a seed that is planted – until such time as it is able to be coaxed to a point where it can be plucked and festooned, magnified, and amplified. The result is a creative idea or product that has reached a point of materialization. That is not to say it won't need to be reworked, perhaps multiple times. Sadly, it also means that when the idea becomes more mature, it may not have the potential once thought, and will need to be abandoned or discarded. But there is instruction in that, as well, because the learner has honed his or her creative skills and has made them more adaptable for the next idea.
Now, understanding creativity is a valuable lesson, in itself. But when you realize there are a variety of tools that can heighten your creativity, then you will be able to be that much more inventive in all aspects of your life – including decision making.
The learner should know there are dozens more tools out there, some simple and some complex, some that can be accessed with pen and paper, and others that are sophisticated technology programs and applications that will instigate creative thinking. In the end, you will realize it is not the tool that is as important as the act of growing your skills. All roads lead to a more nimble mind.
Creative thinking tool #1 – Mind Mapping
A mind map is a graphic tool. It is a diagram for visually organizing information, in much the same way that other graphic organizers do. But in this case, the aim is to take a single concept or idea, and place it in a geometric shape in the center of a blank page turned to accommodate landscape-thinking and drawing. At first, the user may consider a mind map to be nothing more than a fancy form of note-taking. It certainly doesn't mind borrowing some of the verbiage of it, with mind mappers calling offshoots of the central idea "branches." Mind maps are exceptional tools for instigating creative thinking. They can be started and added to over time, or when an idea comes to you that you see belongs on the map. Mind maps have been used by inventive thinkers for everything from creating a book summary to mapping out a career path, and more. Let us create a simple mental vision of a mind map as an example.
Student C. is taking a class on poetry, and woe be unto him, because he has no knowledge of poems beyond a few nursery rhymes he can barely recall from childhood. Yet, somehow he finds himself in an advanced literature class that will focus entirely on poetry for a 12-week period. Student C. thinks he is in trouble and knows he should probably start by letting his mind wander over what he might already know about poetry. On a large piece of paper that he will save to revisit throughout the class, he pens the word "poetry" smack dab in the middle of this otherwise intimidatingly blank paper, representing what he believes is the sum total of his knowledge about poetry! One pathetic line branches off with the word nursery rhymes positioned neatly above it. Now, he determines that he will doodle a bit, adding color to the branch and thickening the line. Then all of a sudden he remembers that he was once a huge fan of Dr. Seuss, and offshoot number two is born! For effect, he places it on the opposite end of the page – after all there is no requirement for a particular order to a mind map – only that it grow with representations of related information. Soon his mind map has branches with famous poets' names on it, like Walt Whitman and Dylan Thomas. The trunk has been reshaped into the form of a pen – apropos for writers. And the mind map is now a dynamic graphic of Student C's growing knowledge about the field of poetry. Perhaps he will add a second sheet that will have twigs and branches that are representative of poetry he, himself, will write.
The most important thing to realize is that a mind map is just as it is named, a visual of a person's thoughts, and how ideas grow and change, and are connected.
Creativity thinking tool #2 – Creativity Triggers
A trigger is another word for a prompt. It is a tool that sets something else in motion. In this case, a creativity trigger is designed to activate inventive thinking. This idea uses a combination of biofeedback and memory of an "ah-ha" moment. Remember, the "ah-ha" moment is part of the creative process, when you are struck with an idea. With a little practice, you can use that "ah-ha" experience to invoke other instances of creativity, as well.
For example, close your eyes (this is really a strategy to focus your thinking) and take yourself to a place and time when you had a very memorable "ah-ha" moment. Perhaps it was when you figured out how to tie your shoes, or use spinach in a palatable way, or connect the historic lessons on Woodrow Wilson with the League of Nations. It was a something that came to you in a flash, and this experience can be used to trigger new "ah-ha" moments with practice.
Whenever you find yourself stumped and in search of a solution for a niggling challenge, relax. Then close your eyes and touch your forehead with your finger. Concentrate and take yourself back to that moment of realization. Now transfer that feeling to the newest problem and see if you can make a mental connection.
It's challenging, to be sure. And you may not be successful the first few times you try. But creative thinkers don't give up easily. Knowing yourself and your creative triggers is empowering and makes the ability to harness and apply creativity closer to a reality for you.
Creativity thinking tool #3 – Creative Dreaming
No, you are not going to stop reading and take a power nap. That is not what is meant by creative dreaming; but that was very creative of you to come up with that idea – although, in this case it could be considered obvious – making it a barrier to creative thinking, instead! Did you follow that logic?
Creative dreaming acknowledges that humans spend up to a third of their life in the act of sleeping. Scientists call dreaming the "language of the mind" – a beautiful sentiment, to be sure. It has even been strongly suggested that it is possible to control our dreams with practice. Certainly it is not a skill that can be taught in this short article, but it is an idea worth pursuing on your own time. However, the idea of creative dreaming was not mentioned for nothing! One simple way to harness your dreams for the creativity locked inside is to keep a notepad and writing utensil by your bed. Then train yourself to wake up slowly so that you retain the last few thoughts that are floating in your head, right before you become fully awake. With practice you can learn to capture ideas that are rolling around in your subconscious mind, and put them to work during your waking hours!
I bet you can remember one or two dreams that have repeated for you more than once in your sleep. These are a great starting point for creative dreaming. Just make sure you have enough paper and pencil by your bed so you don't lose the thought by having to get up and move around!
Creativity thinking tool #4 – Creative Focus
Creative ability is an art form, it is a facility with imagination that can have outcomes when you learn how to channel your mind in the direction of inventive thinking. Another tool that serves as a vehicle for this behavior is called "creative focus," and here again, it is every bit the way it sounds.
I am quite sure that every learner reading this article has had a teacher, parent, coach, partner, or employer say to them at one time or another – "Focus, would you?" What they are telling you to do – and now, so am I, is to concentrate, and concentrate with all your might, concentrate hard, and concentrate by blocking out thoughts of anything else but the creative idea for which your mind is in pursuit. Creative focus is a powerful tool for idea development. But here again, it is hard work. It might seem that all you are doing is thinking, but when you focus your efforts on a single endeavor, you are actually harnessing your emotions and body – suspending everything, and channeling your energy toward capturing or growing an idea. It is every bit as physically exhausting as a mile run.
Therefore, the following advice will be helpful when turning to creative focus as a tool for harnessing innovative thinking. Pace yourself and practice. Every time you use creative focus to cultivate and expand an idea, the easier it is to do the next time. Mind you, I didn't say it would ever be easy, only that mastery of creative focus will improve your ability to think, problem solve, be creative and make decisions.
Creative thinking tool #5 – Future Memory
The most creative of minds are able to remember the future. If that doesn't sound confusing, then you will have no trouble with anything else that is taught in this article. Needless to say, it is a sophisticated concept that has been pursued by some of the greatest minds in the history of mankind. You are certainly invited to investigate the notion on your own, but for this class I will offer you a simple way to capture future memories upon which creativity can be built.