SIN ONE. WE DO NOT BELIEVE WE ARE CREATIVE
People do not believe they are creative. We have been taught that we are the product of our genes, our parents, our family history, our personal history, our I.Q., and our education. Consequently, we have been conditioned to have a fixed mindset about creativity and believe only a select few are born creative and the rest not. Because we believe we are not creative, we spend our lives observing only those things in our experiences that confirm this belief. We spend our lives knowing and living within the limitations we believe we have. We listen to our “inner” voice that keeps telling us not to pretend to be something we’re not. Believing we are not creative makes us comfortable to be cognitively lazy.
SIN TWO. WE BELIEVE THE MYTHS ABOUT CREATIVITY
We believe many of the myths about creativity that have been promulgated over the years. We’re told creativity is rare, mysterious, and magical and comes from a universal unconsciousness, a sudden spark of “Aha!” or the divine. We believe only special people are genetically endowed to be creative and that normal educated people cannot be creative and should not embarrass themselves by trying. Additionally, we also believe creative types are depressed, crazy, freaky, unbalanced, disruptive, different, argumentative, abnormal, flaky, and trouble makers. We should be thankful we are normal and think the way we were taught to think.
SIN THREE. WE FEAR FAILURE
The most important thing for many people is to never make a mistake or fail. The fixed mind-set regards failure as a personal insult, and when they fail they withdraw, lie and try to avoid future challenges or risks.
At one time in America people believed that all a person was entitled to was a natural birth. Everything else was up to the person, and a person’s pride and passion came from overcoming the adversities in life. Failure was seen as an opportunity rather than insult. Once Thomas Edison’s assistant asked him why he didn’t give up on the light bulb. After all, he failed 5,000 times. Edison’s responded by saying he didn’t know what his assistant meant by the word “failed,” because Edison believed he discovered 5000 things that don’t work. This was the era when creative thinking flourished in America. People like Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse did not know they could not think unconventionally and so they did.
After World War II, psychologists promulgated “Inevitability theories” about how everyone’s life was shaped by genetic or environmental factors that were beyond their control. There began a promiscuity of the teaching of helplessness that has dimmed the human spirit and has created a “culture of helplessness.” It is this culture of helplessness that has cultivated the mindset that fears failure.
This fixed mindset of fear is grounded in the belief that talent is genetic—you’re born an artist, writer, or entrepreneur. Consequently, many of us never try anything we haven’t tried before. We attempt only those things where we have the past experience and knowledge and know we can succeed. This culture of helplessness cultivated by educators encourages us to look for reasons why we cannot succeed.
SIN FOUR. WE FAIL TO ACT
Because we fear failure we not act. We avoid taking action. If we don’t act, we can’t fail. If we are forced to take action, we do not do anything until we have a perfect plan which will take into account any and everything that can happen. We make sure the plan details all the human and material resources you need. We will seek the guidance and direction of every expert and authority we are able to approach. If any authority figure or expert expresses even the slightest doubt, we will not take the risk of failure and abandon the plan.
All art is a reaction the first line drawn. If no line is drawn there will be no art. Similarly, if you don’t take action when you need new ideas in your personal and business lives and do nothing, nothing bad can happen and nothing is the result. In our culture of helplessness, nothing is better than even the slightest chance of failure, because failure means we are worthless.
SIN FIVE. WE FAIL TO PRODUCE IDEAS
We are taught to be critical, judgmental, negative and reproductive thinkers. In our “culture of helplessness,” we take pride in dissecting ideas and thoughts of others and demonstrating their flaws. The more negative we can be, the more intelligent we appear to others. In meetings, the person who is master of destroying ideas becomes the most dominant one. The first thought we have when confronted with a new idea is “Okay, now what’s wrong with it?”
When forced to come up with ideas, we come up with only a few. These are the ideas we always come up with because these are the same old safe ideas that are closest to our consciousness. Our judgmental mind will censor anything that is new, ambiguous or novel. We respond to new ideas the way our immune system responds to a deadly virus. Our inner voice will advise us to “Not look stupid,” “Give up. You don’t have the background or expertise,” “It’s not relevant,” “If it was any good, it would already have been done before” “This will never be approved,” “where’s the proof? “This is not logical,” “Don’t be silly,” “You’ll look stupid,” and so on. Anything that is not verifiable by our past experiences and beliefs is not possible.
Instead of looking for ways to make things work and get things done, we spend our time looking for reasons why things can’t work or get done.
SIN SIX. WE FAIL TO LOOK AT THINGS IN DIFFERENT WAYS
Most people see the pattern in the illustration above as a square composed of smaller squares or circles or as alternate rows of squares and circles
It cannot be easily seen as columns of alternate squares and circles. Once it’s pointed out that it can also be viewed as columns of alternate squares and circles, we, of course, see it. This is because we have become habituated to passively organize similar items together in our minds. Geniuses, on the other hand, subvert habituation by actively looking for alternative ways to look at things and alternative ways to think about them.
One of the many ways in which people attempt to make thinking easier is to solve the first impression of the problem that they encounter. This enables them to approach the problem with predetermined concepts and they end up seeing what they expect to see based on their past experiences. Once you accept the initial perspective, you close off all other lines of thought. Certain kinds of ideas will occur to you, but only those kind and no others. Settling with the first perspective keeps things simple and helps you avoid ambiguity.
With creative thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can. You consider the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches. It is the willingness to explore all approaches that is important, even after one has found a promising one. Einstein was once asked what the difference was between him and the average person. He said that if you asked the average person to find a needle in the haystack, the person would stop when he or she found a needle. He, on the other hand, would tear through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles.
We are taught to follow a certain thinking process and must never entertain alternative ways of looking at the problem or different ways of thinking about it. Keep doing what you are doing. The more times you think the same way, the better you become at producing orderly and predictable ideas. Always think the way you’ve always thought to always get what you’ve always got.
SIN SEVEN. FAILURE TO ACCEPT PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
It is not our fault we are not creative. It’s the teachers who are responsible and our parents, the churches, our genetics, the government, lack of time, lack of resources, lack of an inspiring environment, lack of suitable technology, lack of encouragement, too much sugar, lack of financial rewards, the organization, the bosses, lack of entitlements, lack of any guarantee of success, and, after all, most of us are born left-brained not right-brained. You can’t expect people to be something they’re not. In our “culture of helplessness,” we have learned that we cannot change our attitude, behavior, beliefs or the way we think.
SUMMARY. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not. Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs.
This is why people who believe they are creative become creative. They work hard at learning how to think creatively and produce great quantities of ideas. If you believe you are not creative, then there is no need to learn how to become creative and you don’t. The reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new. When someone tells you that they are not creative, you are talking to someone who has no interest and will make no effort to be a creative thinker.
Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.