- A "fixed" mindset inhibits, quashes, and crushes the creative process.
- People with a "growth" mindset open themselves up to a plethora of creative possibilities.
- Creativity requires people to get out of their comfort zone and explore new ideas.
One of the elements of the creative process is our ability to dislodge or remove absolutes from our minds. In other words, to mentally let go of the “status quo” and free our mind to examine things with fresh new eyes.
I’ll admit, that’s sometimes difficult. We get used to doing things in certain ways, thinking about things in certain ways, and processing information in certain ways. We get into a “mental comfort zone”—it’s reliable, and it’s predictable. We know what we should be getting, and we’re OK with that.
But there are times when we need a change of thinking. This change, albeit temporary, is often satisfied by the plethora of published books on topics like “How to be more creative in ten easy steps,” and “You can change your life with these 1,001 creativity strategies that will guarantee you exceptional and unconditional wealth, multiple appearances on national TV, and an endless supply of tropical drinks on a Caribbean island of your choice.” Are these books popular? Do they satisfy a basic need? As I write this, scores of brand new books on creativity are being published every year. So, the answer to those two questions must be “Yes.”
But is it? Many of those tomes offer a predictable collection of admonitions, such as, “Always do more than is expected”; “Change your mind, change your thinking”; “Be your best self”; and “Risk more, learn more.” Unfortunately, those platitudes are isolated bits of advice; it’s never made clear how they are connected or how they, collectively, change one’s thinking. Without that integration, the suggestions all last for a few days, and then we revert back to our usual (and very comfortable) ways of thinking.
Carol Dweck, author of the groundbreaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, puts a decided exclamation mark on the “value” of these books when she writes, “Sure, people with the fixed mindset have read the books that say: Success is about being your best self, not about being better than others; failure is an opportunity, not a condemnation; effort is the key to success. But they can’t put this into practice because their basic mindset—their belief in fixed traits—is telling them something entirely different: that success is about being more gifted than others, that failure does measure you, and that effort is for those who can’t make it on talent.”
Do mindsets affect our creativity? Absolutely!
Resetting Your Mind
Consider a poll conducted with more than 140 creativity researchers. When asked about the number-one ingredient in creative achievement, they all identified the perseverance and resilience generated by the growth mindset. Dweck comments, “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world—the world of fixed traits—success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other—the world of changing qualities—it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.”
In What the Best College Students Do, author Ken Bain writes that the idea that intelligence is static—either you’re born smart or you aren’t—is simply not true. Creative, successful people have something in common, he discovered: They all believed that intelligence is expandable. People who believe they can “grow” their brainpower demonstrated more curiosity and open-mindedness and took more professional and intellectual risks, and as a result, became very successful adults.
As Dweck would say, the growth mindset is focused more on the process than the outcome. So, too, is creativity. Creatives embrace the concept that looking for ideas is considerably more important and more productive than believing you already have the idea in the first place. In essence, creativity is a continual process of growth and discovery as opposed to a stationary and immovable belief that “I’m just not creative.”
In truth, one of the major factors that differentiate creative people (those with a growth mindset) from less creative people (those with a fixed mindset) is that creative people give themselves a license to actively look for, and thus pay attention to, ideas of every size and shape. Even though they don’t know where one of those ideas will lead, they know that even a small idea can lead to a big breakthrough… and they search for them. “I’m just not creatives,” by contrast, prevent themselves from that search process because it’s just too risky… because it’s prone to potential failure. As a result, if you think you are creative, then you’ll put yourself in situations where you can use your creativity, take a few risks, try some new approaches, and come up with new ideas.
On the other hand, the “I’m just not creatives” self-assign themselves to a permanent perception and encase themselves in a mental shroud that is not only “safe” but often impenetrable. If we believe ourselves to be uncreative, we avoid challenges, give up early, see effort as fruitless, condemn the ideas of others, ignore useful negative feedback, seek to accumulate lots of “gold stars,” eschew failure as a learning tool, focus only on getting the “right answer,” eliminate play from our lives, hold fast to myths…
… and forever embrace a fixed mindset.
Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. (New York: Ballantine, 2006).
Fredericks, Anthony D. From Fizzle to Sizzle: The Hidden Forces Crushing Your Creativity and How You Can Overcome Them. (Indianapolis, IN: Blue River Press, 2022).
Bain, Ken. What the Best College Students Do. (Boston: Belknap Press, 2012).