“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”—Albert Einstein
“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” Pablo Picasso
By Dave Hood
Creative thinking provides us with the power to find new ideas to solve problems and challenges. It allows us to create art, to invent, and to discover. Yet, many people are unable to think creatively. Nor are they able to live the habit of creativity. What prevents them from using their creative abilities? Roger von Oech, author of the best-selling book, “Whack on the Side of the Head,” believes that everyone is creative, but mental locks, which we learn throughout our lives, prevent us from using our creative abilities. For instance, Von Oech suggests that most people are creatures of habit. Our lives are filled with routine, which prevents creativity. As well, most people haven’t been taught to think creatively, and so their beliefs chain them to the self concept of “I’m not creative.” Furthermore, most people are conformists who prefer to follow the status quo and engage in groupthink, rather than journey down a new path on their own. In learning to follow conventions, to not break rules, to think logically, to avoid ambiguity, we develop mental locks, which stifle creativity. By opening these mental locks, people can learn to think creatively, which will enable them to solve problems and overcome challenges, and develop the creative habit. Here are the ten mental locks that Von Oech identifies in his book:
- Always searching for the one right answer. The education system teaches students to search for one right answer. And so they develop the mental that all problems or challenges have one right answer. Creative people search for alternatives. Von Oech writes: “often, it is the second right answer which, although off-beat or unusual, is exactly what you need to solve a problem in an innovative way.” You can become a creative thinker by seeking more than one right answer.
- Always be logical. Thinking logically rarely results in creative solutions. Most people are taught the law of non-contradiction. And so, when they are faced with a problem, they search for a logical answer. This prevents a person from using the “intuitive hunch.” Seeking to be logical also prevents a person from using metaphorical thinking. It involves comparing one thing to something different without using “like” or “as.” Example: The problem is a maze of challenges. Creative people use intuition and metaphorical thinking.
- Always be practical. Thinking practically does not result in creative solutions. Creative people use their imagination, and they ask “what if?” For instance, what if I won the lottery? What if I could travel the world? What if I was able to do anything I could imagine? You can become creative my asking and then answering “What if?”
- Follow the rules. Creative people challenge the rules, and they ask “Why must we do it this way?” They “slay the sacred cows,” those rules that have become immune to criticism. You can develop your creativity by challenging the rules, because as time passes things change. Von Ouch points out: “Creative thinking involves not only generating new ideas, but also escaping from obsolete ones as well.”
- Play is frivolous. Creative people have a playful attitude. Von Oech tells that it is “fundamental to creative thinking.” You can learn to be more creativity by developing a playful attitude. This means that we must not taking life so seriously. The philosopher, Heraclitus, once said,” Those who approach life like a child playing a game, moving and pushing pieces, possess the power of kings.” And so, the next time you have a problem, you can become creative by playing with the problem.
- That’s not my area. Creative people learn a wide range of subjects. They search for possibilities in other fields of knowledge, such as philosophy, psychology, sociology, and science. You can become creative by searching for solutions outside of your area of expertise. How? Take an artistic date, travel some place new, talk to an expert, and study something different. As well, read different books and magazines.
- Don’t be foolish. People who refuse to be foolish will never find answers in the far-fetched. They will say, “that idea is crazy.” “Von Oech points out that a good fool is creative. The fool needs to be part actor, part poet, part philosopher, and part psychologist.” The fool will use humour to “stretch his thinking.” The fool will “reverse assumptions” and will discover answers in things that many people believe are absurd. The fool is rebellious and irreverent. The fool ignores the “status quo” and “groupthink.” Foolish people are are not afraid of being unique and original. They tend to be non-conformists. They notice what others don’t. You can become more creative by challenging the status quo, searching for the far-fetched, by seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary—even if you might believe that you will look foolish in the eyes of the public. You can become creative by playing the part of the fool–connecting different things that don’t seem to be connectable.
- Avoid ambiguity. Most people don’t like ambiguity because it is confusing and it causes communication problems. People ask: What is the meaning of this ambiguous problem? And so, we have learned to avoid ambiguity. Creative people embrace ambiguity, and see it is a spark of to ignite the imagination. People can also use “paradoxes” to find creative solutions. A paradox is something that appears to be contradictory but is, in fact, true. For instance, Confucius said, “ Real knowledge is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance. “You can learn to be creative by seeking out ambiguity, and then searching for all possible meanings. For instance, listen to your dreams. Look at ambiguity and think what else it might be. Use random, unexpected information to generate your imagination. Some creative people use “random words” to generate their imagination. There is never a right answer—only possibilities.
- To error is wrong. Most people believe you either succeed or fail. This mindset prevents the discovery of new ideas. Vo Oech states that: Errors have a useful purpose. They tell us to change direction. Negative feedback tells the person searching for an answer that the current approach is not working. Creative people explore and experiment, and they are not afraid to make mistakes. They use mistakes as feedback to change direction. You can become creative by experimenting—and by using failure as feedback to refine your creative solution. We often learn by failure.
- I’m not creative. This negative attitude stifles creative thinking. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy. People who don’t believe they are creative refuse to put themselves in a position where they must use their creative abilities. Von Oech suggests you give yourself “creative license.” Tell yourself” I’m a creative person.” Each of us has a creative style. We must learn it and use it. As well, learn some creative thinking techniques.
You can learn to think creatively and develop the creative habit by unlocking these mental locks. To learn more about mental locks, read “A Whack on the Side of the Head” by Roger von Oech.