Remember the imaginary play of your childhood? Whether we were racing cars through the city or treating a patient as a doctor, we enjoyed bringing toys to a world of make-believe where we channeled our creativity. Over time, our parents, peer pressure, and formal education may conspire to stifle our imaginations. We learned to be realistic, cautious, analytical, and fearful of judgment. Yet as adults, we know that creativity is essential to success in any industry or discipline. Some courses purport to teach creativity, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to say they help adults rediscover their natural, childhood abilities?
I recently read an interesting article on unlocking our imaginations.2 The article was authored by two executives from the design firm IDEO. In the article, they assert that creativity is something you practice, not just a talent you are born with. They argue that without practice, most adults become constrained by four fears that hold back their creativity:
We like predictability, and living in a world of messy unknowns can make us feel vulnerable and afraid. We spend precious time and energy trying to prevent future “unknowns” from harming us; but the future is not predictable, we can’t see what’s coming. Once we reduce or eliminate our fears of the unknown, we can open our minds to discover new areas of exploration.
In young children, for the most part, the concept of judgment is undeveloped—they take risks and try new skills unconcerned with how others may see them. Yet that awareness increases significantly for teenagers, who care deeply about what others think. It takes only a few years to develop that fear of judgment, but it stays with us throughout our adult lives. What possibilities might we see if we weren’t preoccupied with being judged—what dreams might we create? The fear of being judged can easily prevent us from trying new, uncertain things.
Have you ever watched a one-year-old as he or she struggled to gain balance and walk? Toddlers are fearless. Their desire for independence and the freedom to explore vanquishes any fear they have of falling. Yet as adults, we fear challenges as simple as making a phone call to apologize or speaking up in a meeting. Prolonged thinking about doing often prevents us from acting. At IDEO their mantra is “Don’t get ready, get started!”
Most adults see the fantasy world of children as something they will outgrow, yet it’s adults who live in a fantasy world—one in which we erroneously believe we are in control. In reality, the only thing we can control is how we respond to life’s circumstances. Since we can’t lose control we never had, why do we spend so much energy seeking to control events outside ourselves? When we let go of that desire for control, we can start to tap into our creativity for new ideas and approaches.
Pushing Your Thinking