Why it’s difficult to have creative ideas

We often blind ourselves to creative ideas, merely by trying to be good at what we do.

Consider this for a moment. Have you ever been striving to have a creative idea but just couldn’t come up with anything? You maybe tried using some proven creative methods (mind mapping, begging questions, sketching, setting constraints, etc.), or sought out inspiration in the form of blogs or sites like Reddit, to no avail.

Despite having spent years researching and exploring creativity, I run into this exact problem almost daily. And no matter how hard I try I’ll end up feeling stuck and then defeated and then move myself over to the couch to watch TV and do nothing productive whatsoever.

It sucks.

Not being able to pull out creative insights at any given moment is a terrible thing to have happen to a creative. Particularly as one who wears the label on his sleeve, both personally and professionally.

I think one reason we end up feeling stuck and having a hard time coming up with ideas is the same reason we got to where we are today, surprisingly. At least, it’s true for me and it’s something I see others get consumed by as well.

Because I’ve spent the last six years learning about creativity, it’s hard for me to break away from what I know. There aren’t any naive questions to help inspire me at this point. Or so it seems. My mindset has shifted from: “Explore creativity” to: “Be the expert.” And the cost of that shift in thinking is that it’s more difficult for me to see anything new and different (even on the very topic of creativity).

This is a really common problem, but it’s especially so for any type of professional.

Professionals do what they do because they understand a great deal of the industry or work. They are where they are because they took the time to ask questions and explore, but now their job isn’t to explore anymore, it’s more to simply do the work they already know how to do!

Teachers have to face this problem head-on, as their job encompasses unlearning every day in order to help teach those who don’t know what the teacher knows. It can be hard.

We get so deep into our own experiences that it becomes difficult to see the world in any other way.

That ability to change perspective (from expert to beginner, for example), is so vital to creativity. It’s such a prominent aspect of doing meaningful work. Not always, but a lot of the time.

In his book The Act of Creation Arthur Koestler describes this conundrum by saying:

“The discoveries of yesterday are the truisms of tomorrow, because we can add to our knowledge but cannot subtract from it. When two frames of reference have both become integrated into one, it becomes difficult to imagine that previously they existed separately.”

When you learn how to paint the type of work you can be proud of, it becomes difficult to want to paint anything new, let alone explore how. When you learn what words resonate with your readers, it becomes less of a worthwhile endeavor to explore other possibilities. It’s a trap to become an expert in anything, if your goal is to create something better than what already exists out there.

Not all is lost, fortunately. I think this is a good starting point for improvement.

Knowing that you have to break away from the mindset of an expert, that you have to get out from knowing that you know what you’re doing, is an ideal starting point for having more creative ideas.

If you’re so wrapped up in your own expert opinion (or, just in what you have already learned), the best way to get back to creativity is to see what questions others (often novices) are asking out there on the web. Explore questions on Quora, see what people are talking about on Twitter or Facebook. Attend community gatherings about your industry or type of work. Take classes and remind yourself about all the problems someone who is just starting out has.

Get back to thinking like a novice, like you have no idea what you’re doing, and ideas are sure to follow as a result.

If you were re-introduced to your type of work again today, what questions would you ask? What would you do differently? Go address those things.

Photo by Mark Hunter.