#275 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 5
Barriers to Creativity
Mr. Buggie is president of Strategic Innovations Inc., specializing in corporate growth and development (12 Executive Court, Lake Wylie, SC 29710; phone 803-831-1225). He is author of New Product Development Strategies (AMACOM, New York, 1981).
All of us are
inherently creative, and many of our high-level executives realize
that creativity is essential to an organization’s success. But those same executives, as well as well-trod
organizational patterns, commonly create barriers to creativity. In many cases, those barriers aren’t even realized.
Here are some of these obstacles and some hints at how to
jump over them; that is, if you really want to stimulate creativity. First, the barriers—perhaps you’ll recognize a few.
No Fun Being Wrong
You may only get
one chance to make a mistake, one that you get clear blame for.
You’ve made that mistake; but now you have to be more
careful. So, you take
the safest course which is to do things the “proper” way, by
organizational traditions and by the book.
No sense taking chances.
No sense trying something that may go wrong.
status quo is an objective of many managers.
They view anything new with suspicion.
Something new could cost money, change priorities, dilute
effort, lessen responsibility—or cause any of a large number of
these people will mask their fear of change by prefacing their
criticism with a “Let me just play devil’s advocate,” and
then they trash the idea, which will never have a chance to be
I was Right, so I Can’t be Wrong
makes a great contribution, what incentive does he or she have to
come up with anything new again?
Perhaps the new idea will again be a big hit.
But that’s going to leave the person in the same
situation prior to this second great idea.
The odds are,
however, against any new idea being a great one. In that case, the reputation as a creative genius becomes
tarnished. So, the
best thing to do seems to rest on one’s reputation, and take no
more chances. Here
you see that one big success can ruin a creative contributor.
Of course, not everyone follows this pattern; but it’s
common enough to cause concern.
organizations, there is pressure to look
as if you are always “producing.”
You have to show that your conversations are about getting
the job done, that everything you do is directed to get it done,
and that no time is “wasted” on other things.
On the face of it, this seems reasonable.
However, when someone is chewing over a creative idea, the
person may appear to be daydreaming or involved in a
There may be nothing to show immediately from this creative
effort; yet it is these activities that can generate breakthrough
processes and products. On
the other hand, the person may, indeed, just be goofing off.
You can’t tell from the outside.
schedules, deadlines and a host of distractions, it’s sometimes
very difficult to find the time to be creative. The only course is to follow procedures that have worked in
the past. No room to
set aside time to consider a fresh approach.
It’s Not Worth It
have a reputation of not being interested in new ideas arising
from the staff. Perhaps,
these managers feel that all good ideas should come from them.
Or they are just plain uncomfortable handling anything new.
After a few experiences of being rebuffed, or even made fun
of, new ideas just won’t be offered.
to creativity seem overwhelming; however, they can be overcome.
You just have to be creative in how to show your
creativity. Here are
some simple rules to help you become more creative:
1: Necessity. Realize
that being creative isn’t a luxury for the organization; it’s
a necessity. Thus you
should always be motivated—for the good of the organization and,
consequently, for your own good—to be creative.
2: Be positive. Have
an optimistic attitude. Grumbling
doesn’t do any good. Believe
that improvements are possible, and forge ahead in spite of the
3: Get the data. Find
shortcuts to showing the value of your idea.
Do some research and make your case as solid as possible so
that it becomes more difficult for someone to reject it out of
your perception. Look
at a problem from a variety of perspectives.
Initially, examine the problem by breaking it into separate
pieces. Then find
some way to really see
(perhaps for the first time) those elements of the whole.
5. Think in sequence. If
you evaluate your ideas as they occur, then you’ll soon bog down
and prevent yourself from coming up with better ideas.
So, accept all ideas at first and then
sort out the good ones.
6. Tolerate ambiguity.
Don’t organize your thoughts or control your mind’s
meanderings. That’s the job of the left side of the brain.
Let the right side’s non-analytical thinking get a chance
at the problem. Later,
you can sift through and select.
7. Persevere. As
with any difficult job, you have to work at it.
It will be hard work.
Uninterrupted concentration is important for generating new
ideas. Be aware that
you may think you’re thinking about the problem when, in fact,
you are thinking about something that interferes with your
creativity. The distraction of a phone call, a visitor—or even internal
distractions like concern about getting your ideas a fair
hearing—can stop your creative thinking.
9. Don’t go after one answer.
There may be several solutions to a problem, so don’t
just stop after you’ve hit the first answer.
Generate as many as you can.
The larger the pool of possible solutions, the more likely
you will find the
10. Verbalize. Words
are the tools of thought. Don’t
just stare at the problem. Write down your ideas, or your route to
getting those ideas. Discuss
the issue with others.
11. Take notes. New
ideas are ephemeral. They’re
easy to forget. That’s
why you should record them before they disappear.
Since ideas don’t have the courtesy to announce
themselves in advance, be ready to trap them when they do appear.
12. Take a breather. After
you focus on a problem, take some time off.
Rest, play, sleep or do something else.
Your subconscious will take over and automatically continue
your probe-and-search operation.
13. Iterate. After
the period of gestation, come back to the problem.
That is when your subconscious will donate its
contributions. Begin another creative climb to improve your ideas.
Repeat this concentration-relaxation sequence.
14. Quit. When
you’ve worked hard to solve the problem—but still aren’t
totally satisfied with the solution—perhaps this is the time to
stop. Take the best
solution and follow it up. Don’t
use creativity as an excuse not
to get involved in the difficult job of implementation.
15. Don’t follow rules.
Loosen up. Smash
a few icons. Do your thinking your
way. Everyone is