Every inventor knows the dreaded feelings of a creative dry spell. It is the pit of dread that comes with feeling like you are totally out of new ideas, that you could not innovate your way out of a paper bag, that you are creatively burned out. Ayn Rand called this anxiety “the squirms”, and it is well-known to any creative person.
So how do you wriggle out of the squirms and back into creativity? Brian Clark, creator of the popular website CopyBlogger.com, offers some helpful clues in his article “Do You Recognize These 10 Mental Roadblocks to Creative Thinking?”
The first roadblock Clark discusses is following the rules. He explains:
“One way to view creative thinking is to look at it as a destructive force. You’re tearing away the often arbitrary rules that others have set for you, and asking either “why” or “why not” whenever confronted with the way “everyone” does things.
This is easier said than done, since people will often defend the rules they follow even in the face of evidence that the rule doesn’t work. People love to celebrate rebels like Richard Branson, but few seem brave enough to emulate him. Quit worshipping rule breakers and start breaking some rules.”
Two real-life examples of this spring to mind immediately. Ten years ago, people probably would have scoffed at the idea of Wikipedia.com. “A collaborative encyclopedia?”, they would exclaim. “Impossible! It’s never been done. It will be rife with errors – if people bother to edit it at all!” Well, today Wikipedia not only exists, but is one of the most trusted sources of information in the world. In addition, its accuracy rate is almost as high as Encyclopedia-Britannica.
Another example of an invention that whose creator “didn’t follow the rules” is Digg. Prior to Digg, news websites virtually all had moderators and anchors who decided what news got seen. Digg changed all that by creating a socially-driven system where users voted on news and thus determined what was popular enough to be on the front page Today, people pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars to consultants who promise them that they, too, can be seen on Digg’s homepage. All because the creators of the site went against the conventional rules.
Another roadblock Clark identifies is being practical. He argues that while practicality is important when it comes time to deliver the goods, it can lead us to idea killing self-censorship when we are just brainstorming.
“Like logic, practicality is hugely important when it comes to execution, but often stifles innovative ideas before they can properly blossom. Don’t allow the editor into the same room with your inner artist.
Try not to evaluate the actual feasibility of an approach until you’ve allowed it to exist on it’s own for a bit. Spend time asking “what if” as often as possible, and simply allow your imagination to go where it wants. You might just find yourself discovering a crazy idea that’s so insanely practical that no one’s thought of it before.”
The problem with practicality is that too often, we let established conventions define what is “practical” to us. In this way, any new and original thought is instinctively labeled “impractical” because it has not yet been done. Instead, do your best to banish “practical” from your vocabulary during creative brainstorming. You can apply the demands of practicality later, after you decide if you like an idea or not.
A third roadblock Clark talks about is the fear of being wrong. This is ingrained in all of us. As humans, we never like to be wrong on some issue because it makes us feel like failures. However, this is not necessarily true. Even the greatest minds in history have used failure and mistakes as stepping stones to technological discovery:
“We hate being wrong, and yet mistakes often teach us the most. Thomas Edison was wrong 1,800 times before getting the light bulb right. Edison’s greatest strength was that he was not afraid to be wrong.
The best thing we do is learn from our mistakes, but we have to free ourselves to make mistakes in the first place. Just try out your ideas and see what happens, take what you learn, and try something else. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen if I’m wrong? You’ll often find the benefits of being wrong greatly outweigh the ramifications.”
The common theme in all of Clark’s roadblocks is that if you want to be creative, you shouldn’t self-censor. Instead, let creative brainstorming be a time of open, free flowing ideas. Ask yourself bold new questions and don’t feel like you need to come up with exact answers right away. It may turn out that you are onto something huge – something you may have cast aside by being unnecessarily stringent.