Creativity: Breaking The Mental Blocks

Joyce Weiss Creativity is the ability to look at the same things everyone else does, but see things differently and find hidden connections to create something new. That something may be as grand as a hugely successful advertising campaign or as simple as a better way to organize your desk.

A commentator at the 1992 Summer Olympics asked athlete Jeanne Vickers why she changed her tried and tested strategy in the middle of the Olympics. Jeanne replied, "I got here, looked at my competition, and knew if I did my best I wouldn't be among the winners." She realized it was time to be creative. It was time to do something different.

Mental Blocks

Obviously, creativity is immensely important, but we often place mental blocks that inhibit our creativity. Let's look at some of these blocks.

Mental Block 1: Follow the Rules

Sometimes we become more creative by ignoring the rules. Copernicus disproved the theory that the earth is the center of the universe. Picasso conceived another use for the bicycle; he removed the seat and handle bars and welded them together to create his famous bull sculpture.

Some people feel more comfortable following the rules than challenging them. Some professionals in today's unemployment line still firmly believe that keeping a low profile and not making waves are the best ways to keep a job. But times have changed. Jobs and business depend on innovation. In order to succeed, people have to look for new ways of doing things.

Mental Block 2: Be Practical

Of course being practical is business savvy. But it can be a weakness if stretched too far. Think about the following statements and have fun discussing them in group situations: WHAT IF all your customers became multimillionaires? What if electromagnetic disturbances made all computer reception impossible? What if your major product or service all of a sudden became illegal? These "what if" questions are impractical, yet they start people thinking beyond their limited barriers and can spark new creativity and insight.

Mental Block 3: To Err is Wrong

Most people think that success and failure are opposites; however, they're products of the same process. We learn from trial and error, not by doing things the same way each time. If you are original, you'll be wrong a lot of the time. Progress always involves risk.

Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, said, "The way to succeed is to double your failure rate." If you make an error, use it as a stepping stone to a new idea you might not have otherwise discovered.

Mental Block 4: Play is Frivolous

Albert Einstein said, "Make friends with your shower. If inspired to sing, maybe the song has an idea in it for you."

Play is inspirational and helps our creative juices flow. Author Roger Von Oech wrote, "Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father." Your mental blocks are loosened during play. It doesn't matter what's right and wrong in play. Make your workplace a fun place and watch creativity bubble up.

Mental Block 5: That's Not My Area

I hear this excuse throughout the business world. My question is, "If it were your area, what would you do?" Try to recall the last time you heard "that's not my department," or "that's not my job" when you were a customer. Didn't it make your blood boil? Just think how your coworkers feel when they hear that expression from you!

Mental Block 6: I'm Not Creative

We need to recognize talents that we've been taking for granted. We are all involved with activities that bring out our creativity. Decorating a home, putting together a colorful wardrobe, telling wonderful stories, cooking delicious meals, planting a beautiful garden, keeping a family or department together and writing interesting articles, are just a few common creative talents. How about transferring that creativity to your job? The thinking mechanisms are the same.

Mental Block 7: Don't be Foolish

Candid Camera, a brilliant and funny television program aired this scene: A man waits patiently for an elevator in an office building. When it arrives, the doors open. He notices that everyone is turned around facing the rear. He steps in and he faces the rear of the elevator too, with his back to the doors, even though there was no reason for doing so.

All of us are subject to peer pressure. There's a phenomenon in the workplace called "group think." It stops people from being creative. Sometimes people "agree to agree" just because they believe their boss thinks a certain way. New ideas don't develop in a conformist environment.

Charles Kettering wrote, "When I was the head of research at General Motors and wanted a problem solved, I'd place a table outside the meeting room with a sign: 'Leave slide rules here.' If I didn't do that, I'd find someone reaching for his or her slide rule. Then he or she would say, 'Boss, you can't do it.'" While we seldom see slide rules today, thinking mired in cement continues to exist. Before you dismiss any idea as impossible, find at least three good reasons why it can be done.

Finding Our Creative Self

Thomas Edison wrote, "If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves." You can be creative if you let go of old ways of thinking.

Many businesses make a major effort to assure that employees follow rules and not overstep boundaries. They promise that, by behaving within these instructions, you'll have a successful career. But so many times, it's breaking the rules and bridging boundaries that initiate an organization's greatest advances.

Ask yourself what you would do if there were no boundaries. This exercise makes you step beyond your perceived limitations to look for answers. It helps us break away from the "This is how we've always done it" habit.

Creative people maintain an open, imaginative mind. Seeing all possibilities, and how to achieve them, marks the power of imagination. Your imagination stands as your own personal laboratory. Here you can rehearse the endless possibilities, map out plans, and visualize overcoming obstacles. Imagination turns possibilities into realities.

The power to be creative is yours. An expression I often hear is, "If it's going to be, it's up to me."

Copyright © Joyce Weiss.

Joyce Weiss, P.O. Box 250163, West Bloomfield, MI 48325-0163

Category: Work-Life, Balance
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