Thursday, May 10, 2007

Unleashing Creativity: Common mind blocks

BusinessWeek conducts an annual survey of the most Innovative companies in the world. The results of this year’s (2007) survey lists the top 50 Innovative companies. As expected most of the companies are from the US, followed by Japan & Europe. And not surprisingly, none of the Indian & Chinese companies made it to this list. The results were not surprising because Indian & Chinese companies are not perceived as innovative companies and most companies in India consider themselves as not a creative organization.

Recently, I was talking to a group of engineers in Bangalore. When I asked them the question: "How many of you consider yourself as creative individuals?" No one responded. All of them agreed that they are not creative individuals. Therefore it is not surprising if the company that employs them also perceives itself as a non-creative, non-innovation firm. This does not mean that this company cannot become innovative, in fact this company has been very innovative: they provide design services to all leading aircraft engine manufactures in US & Europe and to all leading commercial aircraft manufacturers. The company has developed a very innovative business model and is a leading aerospace design service provider in India.

The problem here was that the engineers have a major mind block towards creativity. The engineers have developed a mindset that they are not creative because they do not have any artistic inclinations like music, painting, writing, etc.

This organization has more than 1000 bright & intelligent engineers who can bring tremendous value if they can unleash their creativity. Top management knows the problem it has and had
invited me to infuse some creativity to bring about a structured problem solving within that organization.

The main problem I saw here was that of self perception - engineers who are creative but perceive themselves as not. Engineers routinely come up with creative solutions for the current problems, but lack the conviction to implement it.

Fortunately, there are several known & proven methods to enhance creativity in an organization. In this case the first step I had to do was to identify the mental barriers to creativity and then encourage the participants to over come those barriers through a series of exercises.

Most Common Mental Blocks to Creativity

The first step towards identifying the mental barriers was to conduct a survey - a psychometric test. This is an intensive 400+ questionnaire which probes various aspects of the person’s perceptions towards creativity. The results of this survey shows the major mind blocks of each individual. These results are then used to develop a custom workshop to help participants overcome their mind blocks and unleash their creativity.

Most of the mind blocks people have w.r.t creativity can be classified into ten common cases:
  1. The right answer
    Years spent at school & college has forced people to think that there is only one right answer. But in a creative world, there are no wrong answers.

  2. That’s not logical
    People are forced to think in a logical way at engineering schools and at work, so often times people do not even think beyond their rational logical reasoning.

  3. Follow the rules
    This is a classic. For all adults, following the rules is the way of life - and breaking the rules is almost a crime. So when it comes to creative thinking, people tend to follow their own perceived rules - and that destroys creativity.

  4. Be practical
    This is again a strong learning from school & college days. Engineers are always taught to be practical and think of only the things that can be done today. This destroys the imagination and the ability to dream of things - even though its not possible with current technological limitations.

  5. Play is frivolous
    Playfulness, an integral component of childhood is often left behind in the school. People lose their sense of humor and tend to think of playing games as childish behavior.

  6. That’s not my area
    Thanks to all the specialization that exist in education. Electrical engineering, Civil engineering, Mechanical engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Accounting etc., all are treated as a special branch of education. So when a person comes out of college, he/she does not want to deal with things which are outside his area of specialization.

  7. Avoid ambiguity
    All along childhood, parents taught their children to avoid ambiguity, kids are taught to give clear answers and ambiguity is not tolerated. Even as adults we tend to have a distinct dislike for ambiguity. Unfortunately, creativity thrives in an ambiguous environment.

  8. Don’t be foolish
    Adults are expected to look intelligent and smart. Anything foolish is often ridiculed. But when a person comes up with a creative idea, he/she is afraid to talk about it for the fear of appearing foolish. This fear will eventually kill the creative idea.

  9. Don't make mistakes
    Avoiding mistakes is deeply embedded in human mind from early stage. The fear of making mistakes prevents people from experimenting and failing. Thus people avoid trying our creative ideas.

  10. I am not creative
    The final and the biggest mind block people have is a self developed belief that they are not creative, and hence they don't even try to think of any creative ideas. For example, I tend to think of myself as artistically challenged when it comes to paintings - so I do not try my hand in painting. If I continue with that belief, I will never become a painter.

Individuals often exhibit all these mind blocks to various degrees. Knowing the levels or degrees of these mind blocks is the first essential step in overcoming their mind blocks. Therefore the results of the survey is then shared with all the participants - i.e., the results are not confidential within the participants of the workshop. Sharing these mental blocks in a workshop helps participants break out of their existing barriers and try to become creative.

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