5 questions that suppress innovation

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5 questions that suppress innovation

Everyone has the ability to be creative. But sometimes, we convince ourselves otherwise, argues Warren Berger, author of The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead.

Writing for Fast Company, Berger suggests that the questions we ask ourselves have the power to fire our imagination—or stifle it. Berger identifies five questions that suppress creativity and innovation:

Question 1: Am I creative?

Berger’s first question comes from investor David Burkus. In The Myths of Creativity, Burkus argues that the biggest myth we tell ourselves about creativity is that some of us are naturally creative and others are not. “We can’t find anything in the research that suggests there’s a ‘creativity gene,'” says Burkus. Instead, he suggests we should think of creativity “as a gift that is available to everyone.”

We can’t find anything in the research that suggests there’s a ‘creativity gene.’

David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity

Burkus points to the high levels of creativity found in children as evidence that creativity is a “mind-set”—not a skill—available to everyone. He suggests that as children grow, their creativity is discouraged in school, suppressed by negative feedback, or stifled by a lack of confidence.

“As you get older, you become more aware that not everyone loves your crazy ideas,” says Burkus. Then, you might begin to say, “‘Well, I’m not one of those creative people,’ [and] it lets you off the hook. You don’t even have to try.”

So instead of asking, “Am I creative?” Burkus suggests asking, “Where did my creativity go?”

Question 2: How will my ideas ever be original?

Many people who aspire to create are bogged down by the assumption that they must conjure something out of nothing, says Burkus. And so the question of “How do I create something original?” is often accompanied by, “Hasn’t everything been thought of already?”

But fresh ideas are often composed of, or inspired by, things that already exist in the world, argues Burkus. In fact, our brains are wired to make these sorts of connections and combinations. He points to the iPhone as evidence of creating by combining ideas: Apple blended elements of the cellphone, Blackberry, iPod, and camera to create an entirely new product.

Question 3: How will I find the time to be creative?

Deep creative work requires time. But if you aren’t sure how to make time for creativity, Berger suggests reallocating the time you already have.

You open your calendar and you see a blank space and that seems like it’s the wrong thing. The reality is, blank spaces are the spaces where you’re supposed to do the most meaningful work.

Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University

One problem, he argues, is that we often pack our schedules with 30- to 60-minute blocks for meetings and managerial tasks. And when we have unfilled blocks on our calendar, we consider them to be “empty” and “available.”

“You open your calendar and you see a blank space and that seems like it’s the wrong thing,” says Duke University psychology professor and author Dan Ariely. “The reality is, blank spaces are the spaces where you’re supposed to do the most meaningful work.”

Instead, try grouping your “empty” blocks together to create a larger chunk of time for uninterrupted creative work.

Question 4: How will I make it big?

Many people set the stakes unrealistically high for their creative work, writes Berger. Instead of focusing on putting in the time and working hard, many people focus on the outcome: “How will I change the world?” or “Will I make a fortune?”

But it’s almost impossible to know the outcome at the start of a creative endeavor, according to research by psychologist Dean Simonton. He found that even experienced creative people couldn’t predict whether their own projects would be successful. But those who did succeed did so by forging ahead despite their doubts.

So when deciding to pursue a creative project, Berger recommends asking, “What if I knew at the outset that there was no possibility of fame or fortune from this work—would I still want to do it?”

Question 5: Where do I start?

Like many endeavors, starting is the hardest part. And we often come up with stalling tactics to avoid having to start altogether, like trying to first write that brilliant opening sentence or getting our workspace in perfect order, writes Berger.

Instead, just jump in. “Begin with whatever you have right now, even if it’s a partial idea, an incomplete or flawed prototype, or the middle of a story.” Don’t worry too much about the quality of your drafts or protypes, because you’ll likely revise or scrap them as your work evolves. In fact, Berger recommends adopting Ideo general manager Tom Kelley’s starter question, “What if I lower the bar?”

Sources: Berger, Fast Company, 11/15/18; Oppong, Medium, 11/17/17

Learn more about how to think creatively