Overcoming Creative Obstacles: #2 No Right or Wrong

By Govert van Sandwijk · July 7, 2019 · Posted in: Collaboration, Design Thinking, Group Facilitation

What does a visionary look like? How would you describe an entrepreneur? Is he or she a risk-taking individual? A boundary-pusher? An excellent planner? Or, poor as can be with ‘inventor’-type glasses?

Creative Thinking

Entrepreneurship can take many forms, which is an important point that many people tend to forget. As Eric Ries argues in The Lean Startup, you don’t need to fit in a box to add value, nor do your ideas.

Yet the belief that there’s a ‘right way’ to innovate is quite common. Frequently, it exists on a subconscious level—both in our self-perspectives and in our organizational cultures.

#2 Assuming There’s One Right Way

Theoretically, we already know there are “no wrong ideas in brainstorming”. But often, the idea that there is a “right” way to innovate is just as constricting.

Let’s put it this way:

You don’t need to be a “Creative Type” to dream up new ways of creating value. You don’t need to be bootstrapping, you don’t need to fix a widely-acknowledged problem, and you certainly don’t need to produce a working, user-friendly prototype from the get-go.

By accepting that there is no right or wrong way to innovate, you and your team will be better equipped to overcome this creative obstacle – an obstacle you probably weren’t even aware of.

The Creative Obstacle

“Right or wrong” thinking can take several forms. Here are some common, closely interrelated assumptions that prevent teams from getting creative:

“We must deliver something vastly new and different”
“If it doesn’t solve a known problem, it is useless” or
“It must be feasible from the start”

Some similar misconceptions relate to the creative process itself, like:

“R&D is responsible for new improvements” or
“I’m an employee, not an entrepreneur.”

These types of assumption only lead to an all-or-nothing mentality that breeds stress and doubt, nipping great ideas in the bud. And because it can often start from the top, leaders should let their teams know that there’s no right way to innovate when you’re getting creative. That can come later—just relax a little!

How You Can Break Free: No Right or Wrong

Zero limits might seem overwhelming at first, but “no right answer” is a way to liberate, not terrify your people. It gives teams a chance to overcome that paralyzing fear of being wrong, as well as the silence that can lead to.

Try these out:
If your product idea already exists on the market, what are some ways that could possibly change tomorrow? For instance, how might the market change? How might consumer needs evolve? How about the way that they interact with the product?

If Idea A doesn’t solve Challenge A, that’s okay – mistakes are part of the process. Might it be perfect elsewhere, though? How about if you took that system, product, or basic idea and applied it elsewhere in your value stream? What if it was scaled down to the process level on the shop floor, or up to a macro level for your global strategy? Flex those thinking muscles!

If it’s great but not feasible, don’t disregard it instantly. Record it somewhere others in your team can get at it when they feel inspired. Knowledge and ideas are constantly being reconfigured as our environments change – as a leader, you should already know that what’s irrelevant now might be useful tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong: right or wrong thinking is not a trap that we fall into, because mistakes do happen in organizations. But look at it this way – a hit-or-miss mentality is stifling. Its clinical parallel – black and white thinking – is a recognized cognitive distortion and breeds fear of failure. The opposite of creative thinking.

Why it Works

Cognitive psychology may offer one explanation for this creative obstacle. Our mental schema – our thought or behavior patterns – help us make sense of the world, and they are often quite resistant to change.

You may not believe yourself to be a creative type, but then you have a light bulb moment and a fantastic idea comes to mind. Rather than altering your self-schema: “I’m not creative”, you are more likely to dismiss the idea as a poor one, perhaps using one of the assumptions above, e.g.: “I’m an employee, not an entrepreneur.

The same applies to the assumption that innovative processes are clear cut – perhaps you’ve dismissed a great idea on the commute home because you’re off the clock. Perhaps, your subordinate has come to you with a proposal, which you’ve brushed aside because “He’s an accountant, not a designer”.

Can you relate?

The key takeaway is this: The sooner we can get rid of a “right or wrong” mentality, the more freedom we have to be creative.

Our end-to-end inclusive strategizing sequences rely on creative input from all levels of the organization. But we all come up against creativity obstacles once in a while. What brainstorming hurdles have you had to overcome, and can we help you solve them? Drop me an inmail and let me know!

Govert is Time To Grow Global’s Managing Partner, specializing in Strategy Facilitation, Leadership development and Organisational performance. Reach him on our Time To Grow Global LinkedIn.

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