Everyone who has a naturally creative spark knows the dreaded feeling.
The moment you realise that you’re actually being discouraged from having ideas because other people think they’re a waste of time.
Have you ever experienced this: Your boss, manager or CEO decides that they need to come up with some new ideas for something. And these ideas should be as creative as possible.
So they do what they learned in management school, and schedule two hours in the diary of 20 people to have a brainstorming session. Everyone gets a stack of Post-It notes, cupcakes are eaten, at the end of the meeting the wall is covered with 100 ideas and everyone cheers and gives themselves a pat on the back.
“Mission accomplished”, right? Put that champagne on ice. But what happens next with all of those great ideas?
A week later, everyone is still working on their status quo. And that list of ideas turned into nothing more than a spreadsheet that the intern was asked to type up and file away. Because even though there were hundreds of ideas, all of them turned out to be quite boring and similar, and research has shown that brainstorming not only doesn’t work effectively, it prevents a large number of introverts from expressing their creativity.
But since the meeting you’ve been percolating on the original problem in the background, and you’ve had a number of new insights and creative ideas you think might actually work. Some might add real value if they can be tried out and refined.
However, when you approach your boss to talk about them, instead of being supportive, you hear them say:
This sounds interesting, but we had our creative time last week during the brainstorming session. Right now, I just need you to focus on getting your work done.
How many souls have been crushed by those simple words? More importantly, how many billions in lost revenue do these lost ideas represent, and how many doomed companies could they have saved?
This is what hurts people with a creative spark more than anything, especially at work. What actually frustrates them and pisses them off.
More than people telling them they don’t like their idea or suggestion. This would indicate that the other person paid attention to it and made a judgment on it, so at least their response was justified.
Instead, this is the feeling that other people think that creativity is just a simple activity that can be magically pulled out of a checklist during a two-hour meeting, leaving the rest of the week / month / year to spend working on real / productive work. To them, creative time is just seen as “messing about” or slacking off. And they might even suggest that if you come to them with new ideas, this tells them that you weren’t working hard enough.
Talk about a kick in the teeth.
In reality, creative people know it’s much more nuanced and complex than that. Inspiration doesn’t always come when you want it (often frustratingly so). This is why so many great innovators say that they have their best ideas during unexpected times, such as when they are walking, exercising, ironing or in the shower.
Fortunately, we are finally beginning to understand why this is. Neuroscience and cognitive psychology over the past few decades are bringing us a treasure trove of insights into how the brain comes up with ideas, and how these insights can be used to help everyone become even more creative.
By understanding the various states that the brain has to go through in order to generate ideas (predominantly done subconsciously), and then make you aware of them, you can help make those moments happen not only more frequently, but more predictably as well.
Not only that, but by helping your manager understand how these processes work, they may finally see new ideas as the value-adding seeds they are, instead of the dead weight they are trying to get rid of.
Update 20 June 2016: I am hosting a special live webinar on Thursday 23rd June to go through some of the advanced scientific insights into helping people become even more creative every day, not just in brainstorming sessions. Click here for Idea to value readers to register your free spot, and let your boss know about it if you know they care about innovation and creativity at your company.