There are many blocks to creativity. This is a short article that describes the three main domains of such blocks: the environment, other people and, ultimately, ourselves. The response to creative blocks is sometimes called blockbusting.
Some blocks occur in our environment. For example, dress codes and tidy offices at work are all subtle signals that remind us that we must conform, even in our thinking. Most of the time this is not a bad thing, but when we want to be creative it can be subtly obstructive, even when we are working alone. If you want to be creative, it can be a good idea to go offsite.
Environments can be supportive as well as obstructive, and you can deliberately build an environment that is full of creative stimuli--or maybe just very relaxing. Effective creative environments can vary with people and moods, so you may want to be able to experiment with your surroundings so you can build the most effective environment you can.
Many blocks come from other people. We are highly social creatures and even the thought that a complete stranger may find us ridiculous is enough to make most of us clam up. We are also competitive and judgemental which can easily lead us to evaluate others and their ideas, even when we consciously know the corrosive effect it will have on them.
Psychologist Carl Rogers said we should create two conditions for people:
- Psychological safety by accepting the person, empathizing and not evaluating them.
- Psychological freedom to think, feel and contribute fully.
This is why group creativity is particularly tricky and why one of the basic brainstorming rules is 'no judgement'. If you do not trust your co-creators, you might as well all go home. It is also one reason why it is useful to have a neutral facilitator run the session.
The final and most pernicious sources of creative blocks is - ourselves. More accurately, it is our subconscious and that little voice that warns us of the dangers of unconventional thought.
Many of these blocks come from our past and are programmed in from an early age. We are taught to follow the rules, be logical and not rock the boat. Our parents, teachers and peers have all helped us put some powerful psychological blocks in place to keep us on the straight and narrow socially-acceptable road. Most of the time this is perfectly useful, but when we want to be creative, it is just a darned nuisance.
In the final analysis, all blocks are internal, although the people and things around us can still make it easier or harder to get into a creative frame of mind.
'Block-busting' is a term that is used to describe deliberate actions or thoughts that are used to overcome our creative blocks. Many of the creative tools are specifically designed to get past your internal blocks and let out your creative self, for example by deliberately introducing unconventional stimuli.
For example, a creative skill that children use is play, where suspension of disbelief and open exploration is the norm. As adults, we sometimes consider it to be beneath us, or worry that others will judge us if we 'stoop to childlike behavior'. If we can overcome this irrational fear and take on a playful frame of mind, we can re-open this valuable avenue of exploration.