When it comes to creative work, it is a given that we should seek out ways to let our creativity thrive. However, we also need to be mindful of insidious “creativity killers” that can suppress our ability to come up with our best ideas.
According to research from Harvard, there are five common culprits that are responsible for killing our creativity (the study examines "business creativity" in particular, or creative thinking in the workplace).
1. Role Mismatch
Although this quote has never been successfully sourced to Einstein, the saying goes that, "if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Placing people in roles that they are not fit for is a surefire way to kill creativity. This is not only a leadership concern among teams, but something to be aware of on an individual level; are you in a position that lets you do your best work? Additional research has shown that we tend to be most content when we are “busy” (and pushed to our limits), but not rushed. In the wrong role, we can struggle to keep up in a constant state of creativity-crushing panic.
2. External End-Goal Restriction
Although self-restriction can often boost creativity, the Harvard study shows that external restrictions are almost always a bad thing for creative thinking. This includes subtle language use that deters novel ideas, such as bosses claiming “We do things by the book around here,” or group members implicitly communicating that new ideas are not welcome.
3. Strict Ration of Resources
While money and physical resources do play a role in creativity, the Harvard study revealed that mental resources were more important. This includes having enough time.
Creative people re-conceptualize problems more often than their peers. This means they look at a variety of solutions from a number of different angles, and this sort of observation requires time. It should also be said that creatives need to embrace the ability to say "No," giving themselves space to create. You have to be willing to say no to good opportunities in order to work on great ones. Leadership needs to recognize that their creatives can't be bogged down with 'done work,' as they need to focus on producing great work.
4. Lack of Social Diversity
Research shows that homogeneous groups tend to get along better than diverse groups, but it comes at a cost: they are less creative. This even applies to the social groups you keep, so beware of being surrounded by people who are very similar to you all of the time, you may end up in a creative echo-chamber.
5. Discouragement/No Positive Feedback
It is tough to continue working on novel ideas when you haven’t received any positive feedback. While creativity among teams demands candor and "necessarily honest" feedback (as is practiced at organizations like Pixar), good work needs to be celebrated among the team, and not just passed off as "on to the next."
Creative people tend to thrive on having others impacted by their ideas. Without feedback, their motivation can begin to wither and die. The next time you come across work you enjoy, send the creator a supportive comment.
How about you?
What suppresses your creativity?
Gregory Ciotti writes at SparringMind.com, where he explores the intersection of creative work and human behavior. To get his best writing (featured on NYTimes, DiscoveryNews, PsychCentral and Forbes) sign up for the free newsletter. A version of this essay originally appeared on 99u.