Every creative journey begins with a problem. It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find an answer. But when we tell one another stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase of the process.
So begins Jonah Lehrer’s book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. He’s right, of course. Think about your best ideas: they came about because you wanted to fix something too painful to continue to live with. But as soon as we find a breakthrough solution, we forget about the struggles. Which is too bad, because the next time we need to solve a problem, we need to be reminded that feeling frustrated is part of the creative process.
Lehrer points out that often, after we’ve struggled and given up as truly stumped, we have a flash of insight. The answer arrives after we’ve stopped searching for it. It will come in the shower, or during a long commute, sometimes even in a dream.
The question is how do these insights happen? What allows us to have a mental block and then, suddenly have a breakthrough? And why do answers appear when least expected? More importantly, are there things we can do to facilitate creative thinking, so that we can find better solutions in shorter times?
In the work I do in organizations, sometimes I work with teams, other times with individuals as an executive coach. Everyone wants to be more creative, and to find a brilliant idea that will change the way they work, bringing success to both their organizations and themselves. Yet few people look at the creative process as something that can be improved. They assume breakthroughs just happen.
It is in fact the struggle that forces us to try something new. Until we feel frustrated enough, we won’t begin to look at problems from a new perspective. But most of us avoid frustration and go out of our way to minimize it, ignore it, and just plain deny it.
Maybe we spend too much energy figuring out how to tolerate things instead of trying to find solutions? Just a thought. What do you think?