At times we don’t realize how restrained we are in terms of creativity. There is a force holding us back from doing amazing things. Yet we don’t sense, question, or even fight it because those limits are not being reminded to us on a daily basis. Instead, we have grown used to accepting them. It’s only until we’re asked to leave our comfort zone, to do something uncharacteristic, that our mind changes. It’s in this instant of uncertainty and utter terror of what could happen that the most brilliant solutions or ideas can appear.
IDEO is a world famous design and consulting firm that works with different major companies to create products, services, and processes. During a TED Talk given by their CEO, Tim Brown, titled "Tales of Creativity and Play," he began by asking the audience to use a piece of paper and pencil, previously provided, to draw the person sitting next to them for 30 seconds. Of course the auditorium burst into a wave of giggles and embarrassed apologies. He said that the exercise was first created by Bob McKim, mentor to the company’s founder, David Kelley.
McKim led the Stanford Design School in the sixties and seventies and would get these same reactions from people he’d challenge to do this. The reason behind the experiment was to see how the concern about what others might think of us and how we might be judged by our peers keeps us from thinking creatively. We’re so concerned with the opinion other people might have of us that we block or keep ourselves from coloring outside the lines. We choose to think conservatively instead of coming up with wild ideas that could eventually prove to be groundbreaking.
When comparing adults to children in this sort of exercise, the younger humans tend to be unabashed in their characterization of the one next to them. They don’t even hesitate in showing off their artwork afterwards. But as they grow older, they start to lose this ability to express themselves freely.
According to Brown, one way to loosen the restraints on our mind’s possibilities is to turn these exercises into a form of play. However, he reminds that every game has rules, times, and conditions, something that even children are aware of when playing.
Play does not imply mere anarchy, but a joint instruction to exploring. Going back to the drawing prompt, “Imagine if you did the same task with friends while you were drinking in a pub. But everybody agreed to play a game where the worst sketch artist bought the next round of drinks.”
Just because we’re forcing our mind to try something new does not mean it has to be nerve wracking or stressful. By making it fun and relaxed we can start to ease ourselves into the idea of thinking differently.
While all this talking about creativity can seem contrived and related mainly to the guise of “design,” using different ways of thinking applies to just about every sector. Design can mean prototypes of anything, from furniture to medical instruments, from an iWatch to improving a customer’s experience within the service industry.
If we choose to momentarily let go of what we think we know or what is “acceptable” or “appropriate,” we might be able to discover possibilities or create systems that could actually revolutionize what’s in front of us.
This doesn’t mean that we should be in that playful creative state of mind always. It means that there can be a balance; we can choose to be serious adults who also allow themselves to think differently when needed. By permitting ourselves a chance to have this duality, this opportunity to create and think critically, we can change the way we work, receive information, and even help others.