Six barriers to being more creative.

In July, I wrote about the benefits of creativity and offering ideas on how to be creative.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on UnsplashToday I will reflect upon the barriers that get in the way of us being creative.

1 Negative thinking –  prevents us from seeing opportunities because it changes our perception about the world around us. We see a glass half empty rather than half full. It is of course the same glass however it is how we perceive and frame it that makes the difference in terms of our attitude and our behaviour.

Negative thinking can be seen often in the answer of ‘yes but’ to new ideas.

If this is you, try a ‘yes, and’ next time and consider what merit there might be in the new idea before stepping in to offer the negativity. Positivity is about seeing opportunity and having hope, even when things do not look so good.

2 Imposter syndrome  – is a syndrome where people feel that they should not be there because they are not good enough. This is more typical of women, and can result in less confidence in ourselves to propose new ideas. This happens because we don’t believe we have the legitimacy to do so. It can lead to a heavy amount of self-judgement.

To overcome imposter syndrome, it is important to be able to recognise it, and then to work on self-confidence to overcome it. With self-judgement we live with the critic always sitting on our shoulders and looking on, influencing our thoughts.

3 Not being open to new ideas  this can be due to negative thinking, however, it may also be due to the assumptions we develop over time. I am reminded here of the ladder of inference developed by Chris Argyris, where assumptions form a step on the ladder to fixed attitudes.

We need to challenge our own assumptions when we start to review problems or evaluate new ideas.

One way to do this is to try a simple exercise. Draw three columns. In the fist write the heading facts, the second, feelings and the third assumptions.

Then take a situation where you may have felt that the outcome could have been different. Firstly draw out the facts as you saw them and in the timeline you lived it. Next to each fact, note the feelings you had at that stage, then the as a result of those feelings what assumptions did you make?

Look back over the this and check out whether any assumptions were made based on feelings and not fact and how this influenced your actions. What can you learn from this?

4 No time to spend on creative pursuits – Often this is because we don’t put enough value on play in our lives. We have a need to play and with play a more creative side of us opens up. Take that time out and have a play – even if it’s a playful walk. Recapture that spirit of enquiry, observe closely what is happening around you. When we play, we bring our imagination to the fore and let all sorts of possibilities take place. Look at young children when they play with cardboard boxes and the range of ‘things’ that this can become; a train, a car, a house for example. Somehow as we grow older, we lose this ability and start to value a logical, rational way of thinking.  This can inhibit our creativity.

Take time out to just stand and stare, to look at things mindfully, and then see what thoughts arise.

5 Not taking risks  – The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best, and we may never know if we would have failed. In fact, failure can often lead to greater success if we can be positive around the learning from it.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation.

6 Rigid goal settingI am not a fan of setting SMART goals. I accept that there are times when it works well, however it can be too rigid to allow the flexibility and breathing space that creativity and innovation need.

Planning and goal setting are important activities that keep us moving forward. However, none of us can really predict the future, although some try, so whatever we plan cannot cover all possibilities. We cannot plan for every eventuality as Mintzberg stated.  What would be helpful and inspirational for creativity to flourish is to develop a vision  to guide us, and then to create intentions from this. This will allow us to be flexible and open to new opportunities as and when they happen. The vision is our guiding light here and the goals are intended and can be changed if the need arises, for example due to external change or new opportunities occurring. So, we craft our own strategy towards emerging goals and stay aware that life happens, and we may need to adapt these goals.

I hope that these ideas have helped you to reflect upon any barriers you may have to being more creative.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

On being creative

Being creative is good for the soul. This is, I know,  a sweeping statement. However, let me explain what I mean by this.

Creativity is about using all parts of our brain, both our logical, rational minds and our intuitive, more ‘open to possibility’ minds. This surely can’t do us any harm. In fact, I would argue that by doing this, we are more likely to be taking wiser decisions and living our lives in a fuller way.

So, what does it mean to be creative? 

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

That depends upon each individual. Each of us has our own possibilities for becoming more creative. Some people will have an interest in the arts, some will be interested in developing creativity and innovation at work. Some will be developing their writing or photography, and others may express their creativity through activities such as cooking or sewing.  There are many ways in which we can develop our creativity. What is important is to search out and find your own path to being creative.  If nothing else it will offer you a richer experience which you can carry with you throughout your lives.

What are the benefits of creativity?

A blogpost I shared last year offered some benefits of creativity and they are summarised here:

Working creatively can be motivating. It energises and can build up a strong sense of self-confidence.

Creativity can re-ignite our passion. When we are lost in working creatively we are in what  Csikzentmihalyi  calls a state of flow. Being in a state of flow leads to a sense of happiness. It is a form of mindfulness in which we are in the present, absorbed by our creative pursuits,  and not focusing on the past or future.

Developing a creative pursuit can open ourselves up to new opportunities and possibilities. A sense of positivity can result from creative pursuits. It is great to see and reflect upon something tangible that we have achieved. Who knows where this may lead in terms of personal change and development?

Becoming more creative is about doing things differently. Enjoying doing things differently will impact on our whole life and generate more sense of fun in our lives.

Working creatively can reduce stress levels. There is some evidence that stress levels fall when we are absorbed in a creative task, whatever our level of ability.

By becoming more creative we can become more productive at work. We begin to challenge the existing way in which things are done. and search out new and better ways of doing them.

By introducing a creative approach in the problem-solving process, we find that our skill at solving problems develops immensely. Creative problem solving enables and encourages us to see the big picture and not to go down the same road each time we encounter a problem.

Finally, being more creative will be less boring and you will have fun!

Bene Brown had this to say about creativity:  

“I’m not very creative” doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity isn’t benign. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.

 So, suppressing our creativity can be negative for us.

During the recent lock-downs due to the COVID pandemic many people have turned to creative pursuits, and there seems to have been an upsurge in interest in these.

So how can you become more creative?

  1. Start by reflecting on what creative activities in your past have brought you joy.
  2. Start with small amounts of time and dedicate this on a regular basis to that activity. It need not be ambitious to start with, half an hour a day is good. Build up a habit of doing this.
  3. Find a buddy who has a similar creative interest and support one another. Arrange to meet/ chat regularly so you can make progress.
  4. Seek out workshops/training to follow to develop your creative pursuits. There are lots around that have free offerings. For example, social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter have interest groups or people to follow in different creative fields.
  5. Seek out other more experienced people in your creative field to follow and to gain tips on your development.

Finally, just do it. Start small and take baby steps and you will start to reap the benefits.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

Create your vision with a storyboard

Many organisations talk about creating a vision for their future. However what many do is to create a vision statement. This just doesn’t work for me. Visions need to be inspirational and for this to happen they really need to soar above the limitations of words.

For this reason, I usually recommend creating a future vision through image work, at least in the first instance. To check out ideas for creating a vision using drawing, take a look here. In my next blogpost I will take a look at some other tools for creating vision, such as collage.

Ok, so you have an inspirational vision and you have shared or even better co-created it with your employees, colleagues, family. What next?

One process that you can try, is to create a storyboard to show both your future vision, where you are now, and the steps to get there.  This seems to be versatile enough to satisfy people who need a structured approach, and is also attractive to people who dislike a structured approach. For this latter category it can be fun to complete all the boxes using images.

To complete your storyboard

Take a large piece of paper and create 6 numbered  boxes as shown.

  • Put your vision image into box 6,  and in box 1 you put a picture to represent where you are now.
  • Brainstorm the gap between where you are now and your future vision. Find other people to work with on this.
  • Turn the ideas coming out if this brainstorm into actions.
  • Put all the actions down on a separate piece of paper and then work out where they fit on the journey from box 1 to box 6.
  • It  is often difficult to take those first steps from box 1 to box 2 . It’s a bit like stepping into treacle and you may get stuck. Working backwards from box 6 can help in this process. so ask yourself, what is the last action I need in place before I achieve my vision.

For people who are less structured, this can remain as a loose journey based upon some big action steps. Drawing them can be fun and inspiring.
If you are a more structured person then you can work with defining each step and adding targets etc to them.  Bullet proofing can be helpful at this stage to check out what can prevent and what can help achievement of the final vision.

This process can be used in many different ways. for example, I have coached people to use it to develop their strategy, or to map out their personal and professional development. It is also very useful as a process withing creative problem solving to pull together the different stages of the process.

I hope this has given you some ideas for working with putting vision into reality. The next step to take is to do exactly that – take some action!

 

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. The use of storyboarding and how it fits into creative problem solving is covered in this book.

How to be creative – learning from creative writing

I hear many people make statements like, ‘I am not creative’. Well, I believe we are all capable of being creative. This blog offers a overview of how to be creative, tapping into my learning from creative writing.

To be creative, we need to allow our imagination to be free to roam wherever it will, and not be censured by our logical, rational mind. In this way our ideas can flourish and not be shut down prematurely.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

This can be very difficult, however it is worth pursuing if we want to develop our creativity.  In creative problem-solving workshops we work on suspending this critical mind by introducing tools and techniques that allow the intuition in. Image based techniques  fall into this category.

When we work with word-based tools, we can often revert to a logical rational mode which censors ideas.  It’s only at the evaluative stage that we start to consider the appropriateness of our ideas and apply some logical thinking to them.

As someone who has always encouraged imagery to express ideas, it seems a contradiction in terms to talk about creative writing. However let me show you what I have learned from creative writing that can be applied more generally to creativity.

Some guidance on ways in which you can encourage ideas to flourish.

  1. Write daily, preferably at a fixed time, and for a similar amount of time. I have made this a ritual in my life, so I write in the morning for at least an hour when I have a coffee. What can you create as a ritual around your writing?
  2. Take a random word or phrase and use this as a starting place to write from, then free-write and see where it takes you. Allow yourself to move into a state of flow.
  3. Observe people  and notice details about them, note them down, then write about them, developing a story around them. Who are they, what were they doing at that place, where do they live etc? If you keep a notebook with you at all times this helps.
  4. Write longhand, and don’t edit as you go along. Editing allows the rational logical mind in.  Perfectionism is the enemy of achievement, so leave the editing as late as possible.
  5. Be happy to write badly, trust to write rubbish. Don’t judge. In time these ramblings will develop into words you can use and develop ideas and projects from.
  6. Incubation works well. When you have written something and have come to a point of closure or stuckness, put it aside and leave it for a day, a week, even a month before looking at it again. You will then see it in a fresh light and will know whether and how to move on. Insights will have occurred in the meantime which can be very helpful.
  7. Don’t be hard on yourself. We are our worst enemies when it comes to self-censure.
  8. Reward yourself for small achievements.

Finally, what are the main points to take from this and apply to creativity in a general sense?

  1. Allow your imagination the freedom to roam. In writing we can do this by using daily writing times, in creativity we can use techniques such as image work. don’t leave room for the censor to enter!
  2. Don’t be afraid to incubate your ideas. Leave them, put them to one side, do other things, then come back to them. This can be for any amount of time. Trust your intuition here.
  3. Allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes.

What would you add to this?

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached people  in a variety of corporate settings, and developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

The importance of raising energy in a meeting

In January I wrote about icebreakers and their value in setting the scene for an event. Today,  to follow on from this, I will focus on the importance of raising energy in a meeting and how to do it.

Photo by Cathy Mü on Unsplash

What are energisers?

These are exercises, or some form of activity that can be inserted into a workshop or meeting to raise the energy of the group. Coffee can of course serve that purpose, and it works for me in a morning! However, the use of group energisers increases the energy level of the whole group and can inject a sense of fun into any meeting.

When to use energisers?

  • Energisers can be used at the beginning of an activity, or during it when energy is dropping in the room. After lunch is a great time for an energiser.

  • At the beginning of an event an energiser can also work as an icebreaker to create a good environment for the work ahead. For example, if it is a training event encouraging creative thinking, the use an energiser to open up the group and start to develop a creative climate for the event.

  • Mid-way through a project an energiser can be used to re-invigorate the thinking and energy in the group. This can rekindle the enthusiasm and motivation of the group.

  • Longer term projects or programs may warrant more time spent on energizers. This can be at the beginning to create a working climate, and throughout the project when energy is starting to flag. For a lengthy program a longer time can be justified in setting the scene. Here, energisers may be of a different nature.  Outdoor exercises, dance workshops, cookery classes have been examples of energisers I have noted.

    To summarise:

  • Energisers raise energy when it is most needed.

  • Use them to develop a group climate for the success of the event/program.

  • Insert them anywhere into a program or event to reinvigorate it.

  • They may only need a short time to work.

Energising virtual groups

I have offered a couple of  examples of energisers hereHowever we are currently living in a time when group meetings are not encouraged. Therefore it is important to consider how to energise groups who are meeting virtually.

 Many people will be struggling with a loss of energy during these times. Using platforms such as Zoom are good for virtual  meetings however, there is a tendancy to sit rather passively when we are facing a screen. Raising energy at the start of such meetings can make a difference to the climate of the meeting and ensure it is more productive.

So how do you do this?

I hope that these simple guidelines may help.

  • To raise energy people need to be physically active. This is more difficult sitting in front of a screen but not impossible. Ask participants to stretch, to stand, do some gentle exercise before the meeting gets underway properly.

  • To enable everyone to participate, ensure that each person gets a chance to contribute early on. Prepare in advance and ask them to send in or have  something ready to share.

  • For example, ask each person  to send in a photo of themselves as a baby – put these up anonymously and ask participants to decide which one belongs to which participant. You could also use first car, a first pet or favourite song etc.

  • You could ask each person in turn  to state two truths and a lie and ask everyone else  to decide which is the lie.

Use your imagination here , prepare ahead, and then limit discussion  to two minutes per person.

Create an atmosphere of fun if the meeting warrants it. For training, or creative/innovation working groups then it would. However, for other more serious meetings  then use an exercise which is a little more serious. Remember the aim is to encourage sharing and for everyone to raise their energy early on in the meeting.

What  have you used to energise a virtual meeting?

 

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached people  in a variety of corporate settings, and developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

What are icebreakers and why are they important?

 

What are Icebreakers?

I am sure that many of you, like me, will have had that sinking feeling as we enter a new meeting. Especially when we don’t know anyone. However confident we are, it’s a difficult time.

 a goup sharing information
Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

This is  when facilitators can really help to ensure their meetings get off to a good start by using appropriate icebreakers. These are exercises that enable people to get to know one another and feel more comfortable.  They help to break down the natural barriers we put up between ourselves and others.

How do Icebreakers help?

  1. At a basic level they enable people to start to get to know one another and learn other participants  names.
  1. To learn more about the other participants – this may be appropriate when names are already known but little else.
  1. To enable everyone to speak and therefore make an early contribution. It has been shown that when participants have contributed verbally to a meeting or workshop early, they become more comfortable in later contributions. The opposite is also true.
  1. To start to feel a bit more comfortable in the room – this follows on from the last point. Who amongst us has never had the feeling of discomfort first time they enter a new group? A positive icebreaker can really help this feeling to disappear.
  1. To build trust; the more we share with others about ourselves, and others share with us, the more trust we build up.
  1. To establish a climate for the meeting/workshop etc. This goes beyond the simpler introductions. An icebreaker can be introduced which starts to create a positive atmosphere and in the case of creativity facilitation, a playful fun climate.

In choosing an icebreaker you will need to consider the above points and determine which is the most appropriate purpose for your icebreaker.

Examples of Icebreakers

There are a range of icebreakers that can be used and here I will offer a few examples to suit different purposes.

At a basic level, Self-Introductions, that is that each person in turn introduces themselves, may be enough. However,  these are often uncomfortable for the first few participants. How much do we say, what do we say? We are often rehearsing this while we should be listening to others.

An alternative approach which I favour, is to ask people to Interview one another. Working in pairs, or threes depending upon numbers, each person interviews another and then introduces that other person to the whole group.  Give a small number of questions that could be used, for example, name, occupation, hobbies, and keep the timing tight.

A more energising and fun icebreaker focusing on names only would be a name game. For example:

Ask participants to stand or sit in a circle and introduce themselves using only their name and an adjective to describe themselves using the first letter of their name. For example, I would say my name, Barbara and use an adjective beginning with B to describe me. So, I might start with bubbly Barbara. The next person, say Tom, then says something like trusting Tom, however he also has to say bubbly Barbara first. Then it goes on – the third person may say I am super Sarah, after saying bubbly Barbara, trusting Tom….

You can probably imagine that this soon descends into laughter and relaxes participants who invariably forget the earlier names!

If  more sharing is needed to build trust, you need to use an icebreaker that will enable each person to share more information about themselves.  A fun icebreaker for doing this would be what I call Two Truths and a lie.

For this exercise, ask everyone to think of three things to say about themselves, two of which are the truth and one is a lie. After a short while, each participant in turn states the three things, and after each contribution other participants try to identify the lie. This serves the purpose of sharing and can raise the energy in the group creating a playful climate.

A simpler alternative icebreaker where people already know each other would be for each member of the team to share in turn one thing that no-one else knows about them.

I have also experienced and facilitated more elaborate icebreakers which can take up to a couple of hours and can be justified when the program the group will be following is a long one. Examples have included tango dancing lessons, cookery lessons, and outdoor training exercises.

Finally, it is important to keep the timing tight with icebreakers, particularly with short training sessions or meetings. Make it an appropriate amount of time and manage this well.

What are your favourite icebreakers? It would be great to share on this topic.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

 

Testing Ideas with the Disney Strategy

When working with the three stage creative problem solving (CPS) process, the third stage is to test possible solutions before they are put into practice.

As with the previous stages, this stage requires both a divergent and convergent phase. In the divergent phase, one of my favourite tools to use is the Disney Strategy  to do the testing.

This can be a fun way of looking at the factors that can help or hinder the implementation of a solution. It’s based upon Walt Disney’s way of working, and developed into a tool by Robert Dilts, one of the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

It simulates the kind of feedback that could be encountered when a solution is put into practice. So, it unearths the barriers there may be to implementation. It then offers a process for reflecting on how these can be overcome.  This process can be a very valuable way of testing any ideas before presenting them to wider audience. It’s a kind of bullet-proofing.

Continue reading “Testing Ideas with the Disney Strategy”

Better Brainstorming and how to achieve it

Last month I wrote about stage 1 of the creative problem solving process (CPS). Today’s post is about the second stage, exploring options to resolve the problem.

The first part of this stage 2 is to open up to all possible approaches to resolving the problem. There are many techniques which you can use to do this, and a lot of them are based upon brainstorming.

Brainstorming is something that is much abused and  I want to share with you ways in which you can improve it.

Brainstorming

Let’s start with your experience. I am certain that you will have experienced that time when someone has suggested that you all brainstorm a topic. It might be, for example, ideas for the next marketing campaign, or ways of handling customer feedback.

So, it goes something like this –‘lets brainstorm’ -then you all get together and throw a few ideas out. One of the ideas gets picked up and a discussion follows. During this process you may not have noticed that one of the more introverted members of the team is very quiet. At the end of the 15 minutes allocated, you have a direction to move on, however is it the best? and have all members of the team felt that they have been heard? I would bet that the answer is no these questions.

Continue reading “Better Brainstorming and how to achieve it”

A picture tells a thousand words

Last month I wrote about the Creative Problem Solving process (CPS) and its importance in tackling complex problems. Picking up from there, I will now review the first stage of the CPS process, which is to gain an understanding of the problem. This stage consists of a divergent followed by a convergent phase as shown in the diagram here.

This is crucial because often the wrong problem is ‘solved’ if there is not  enough time spent on determining the true nature of the problem.

A typical example could be the following:

You have been told that there is a problem with the productivity of a team who also have a high level of absenteeism. The team leader has assumed that the problem is to do with levels of motivation. She has asked for them to be offered an increase in pay as a solution as this team are crucial in the setting up of a new product line.  After a process of fully exploring the problem, it is established that the levels of motivation are low.  However this is considered to be  an effect, not the cause of the problem. The cause is that the team have been recruited with a low level of competencies needed for the current tasks they are performing.

Continue reading “A picture tells a thousand words”

Why Creative Problem Solving?

It was widely reported that in 2016 the World Economic Forum cited creativity as one of the top 3 skills organisations would need by 2020. The top skill which has been consistent in their reporting is critical problem solving.

Critical problem solving is much improved when a dose of creativity is added because many organisations get stuck in loops of thinking.  The saying, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ is so true.

Creative problem solving is an approach that offers opportunities to develop both critical thinking and creative approaches to problems. The result is that better and different solutions may be identified.

Continue reading “Why Creative Problem Solving?”

The place of space in creativity

ImageI have for some time been reflecting on the importance of space in creativity. This has also been underlined by several recent experiences of working with groups creatively.

For example when facilitating creative problem solving workshops  it is very clear that when people are put into a physical environment which does not allow them space, such as a small room with  a table, or when that space is very practical and worklike, such as a boardroom, there is little creativity happening and people revert to being logical and rational. Continue reading “The place of space in creativity”

The Importance of Play in the Creative Process

The second of my blogs on conditions for creativity will take a look at the importance of play in creativity. In my last blog I referred to the individual conditions for creativity which  Jane Henry, one of the authors of the Open University Business School module, Creativity, Innovation and Change, claims are important as conditions for creativity. Continue reading “The Importance of Play in the Creative Process”