Creative thinking is an innate ability in each of us. If you have a brain that functions fairly well you can dream up new ideas. It’s that simple.
However, there are quite a few people in the world today who believe that they’re not creative, that they simply cannot think creatively, and that no matter what they do they’ll forever be a straight-shooting analytical thinker. You might be one of those people.
It’s just not true to believe that anyone can’t be creative.
Consider the child who plays with a toy where they have to fit small, cylindrical shapes into holes in a box. The holes are cut in a way that they will only allow one (or two, if you’re really creative) of the shapes into each. One is shaped as a circle, another a square, another a star, and so on. If you leave the child alone to play with the toy, eventually she’ll figure out how to get the right pieces into the right holes, without any intervention from a more-knowledgable adult.
That’s creativity in action: finding an idea or solution that works by experimenting and playing.
And yet, there are still so many people who believe they just can’t do it. When they’re faced with a problem at work, or school, or in their relationships, they go with the default solution and, if that doesn’t work, eventually give up. When they can’t fit the peg into the hole, they quit trying, because they can’t think creatively.
There are a few reasons so many people don’t think they’re creative, I believe. And psychology can’t explain some of the biggest. Here are two reasons that I deem as the most prominent for people believing they aren’t creative.
One of the reasons people don’t feel creative is because they consider it a big-sum game. They see people like Einstein in the history books, or Steve Jobs in the news, creating innovative ideas that change the world, and they think “I could never do that!”
This mentality is especially strong today, where you only have to turn on your phone to hear or see someone doing an absolutely revolutionary task with their ideas. It’s hard to compare yourself to those who are succeeding (more often than not) on such a grandiose scale. But creativity isn’t always about big innovation or revolutionizing the world. Even small problems require creativity (like when you were a child and had to put the square peg into the square hole).
Another perspective that causes people to get stuck in believing they aren’t creative is an ingrained fear of failing.
As a child, and into young adulthood – particularly in the United States during the past few decades – you were likely taught that being wrong or making a mistake is final. Once you mess up, you’re done, game over. Fail a class or don’t get that perfect job and your life is as good as over. But as we grow up and explore the world we begin to realize that’s not entirely true. Yes, there are times when failing will be a terrible end, but it’s safe to say that more often than not you can make a mistake, learn from it, and carry on. Most problems in life are ones you can fail at and still come out on top by trying a different way.
Unfortunately, because the belief that failing is such a terrible thing to experience, many people can’t accept that exploring is perfectly normal. So they never explore. They have a question or an idea pops into their head and they brush it aside, only accepting what they know to work as the possible solution. It’s this fear ingrained into their thinking that causes so many people to believe they’re not creative.
But anyone can be creative. It takes work to be creative, and for many people it will take a lot of time too, but that doesn’t mean the possibility isn’t there.
Breaking these two psychological locks as to why a person may believe they can’t be creative is the first step into helping them see that they are.
Photo by Jim.