9 Things We All Do That Kill Creativity

I’ve been a creative type as long as I can remember. I paint, write, sing, and draw. I’m an entrepreneur, so I’m coming up with something new every day. As a kid, when I wasn’t making scrapbooks, I was inventing board games. I painted watercolor scenes from my neighborhood. I drew comic strips. I wrote plays and cast my friends in the roles, then produced them. I was editor of the elementary school newspaper. My point is, I’ve never known what it’s like not to have creative ideas.

The only reason I’m able to help others, is that I figured out how to manage it. Not all creatives become conscious of their process, so when you walk up to a random artist and ask how they do it, you can’t be sure of a useful response. In fact, the most enigmatic, the Van Goghs, Salingers, and Artist-Formerly-Known-as-Princes of the world, are too complicated to unpack. Don’t try. It will leave you feeling inadequate, which hurts creativity.

Luckily an enormous community of down-to-earth creatives are around to expound on their habits. Many of them know how to make it rain, so to speak. Many think of creativity as something outside themselves and behave as if they must conjure it, or entice it somehow. They do it by being open: exposing themselves to beauty in nature, or other works of art. They walk, dance, or do tedious tasks that allow their minds to wander. They spend time with other artists. Eventually inspiration comes.

I have found that one of the first steps in making yourself or others more creative, is not necessarily to model the greats or the down-to-earths. It is to remove all the things that interfere. This is the first step in “opening” what’s chronically closed.

Believing creativity and art are the same thing

Creativity applies to everything we do that effects change. Art is a product of creativity but contains an added element of beauty or emotion. That’s why organizing a closet or planning a dinner party count as creativity, but don’t necessarily count as art. The confusion is a convenient excuse not to participate in creative endeavors with: “I’m not a creative person.” If you’ve ever used it, I regret to inform you that an un-creative human is an oxymoron. Creativity is the defining adaptation of our species.

Anesthetizing ourselves

We have a long list of ways to purge emotion. One is anesthetizing ourselves with passive entertainments and substances. Screens, drugs, and alcohol make us numb. Creativity draws energy from emotional experience, so anesthetizing cuts off its supply.

Too narrow a focus

Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs both insisted that creativity was an act of connecting things not previously connected. You can’t make this serendipity happen by militantly focusing on one thing at a time. At An Hour of Play, we have a game we use to connect things you might never naturally connect. We put ideas and concepts onto dominoes, then play the game, indulging a lot of thinking aloud and fantasy. Creativity is an act of topical decadence, not parsimony, so more is more (unless you’re decorating.)

Shame, despondency, fear and worry

The four horsemen of the apocalypse. They kill creativity in all areas of life, including all ability to process emotions and cope effectively with stress. They basically ruin everything. Dispatch them. Unless you’re strapped to railroad tracks, they provide nothing. Constructive. Ever.

Seriousness for its own sake

Seriousness is often tangled up in our minds with professionalism or even effectiveness. That’s a mistake. Humor is a form of creativity that supplies energy to other forms. Lighten up. Laughing is the most present and open you can be in any moment. Creativity is an output of play, and enjoying yourself will do nothing but help.

A mechanical paradigm for living people

People are not machines. They don’t follow mechanical steps, so you can’t program a process into them and expect immediate, quantitative results. Instead, provide stimulating experiences and step back. Be patient. Watch closely.

Believing there is only one right way (and only experts know what that is)

Beliefs are faithful in the mind, which is why limiting beliefs kill creative ideas in utero. That might be why you think you don’t have them – they never see the light of consciousness. Maybe at some point someone told you that you must always consult an expert and you’re not it. That sounds like something a teacher or professor might say. Sometimes they are wrong. Sometimes even experts are wrong. It’s OK to play, to wonder, to guess. In fact, it’s better for your creativity. An important impetus is wondering if you or someone you respect is wrong and finding out for yourself. It’s not impudence. It’s merely curiosity.

Obsessing about time and results

Every creative endeavor has a gestation and a return on investment. Sometimes the return is knowledge that something doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s momentum for another idea. Sometimes it’s a good laugh about an epic failure. Creativity works best as a cup running over with ideas. A creative ethos is greater than the sum of its parts. Returns are not always predictable or immediate. Stop trying to make them that way, because this is another thing that stymies.

Fighting natural inspiration because work must get done

Within reason, inspiration must be obeyed. A good idea doesn’t always come to you when you’re sitting at a desk waiting for it. Keep notebooks handy so that ideas can be captured before they scamper off. And inside your head, never spook it because you have work to do. It might not be back.

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