Creativity killers don't have to be obvious or drastic. Simple, every day decisions that seem far less than momentous can sap your ability to think creatively, according to a thoughtful recent Fast Company piece by Emily Heyward.
Heyward writes about her recent trip to SXSW and the marked difference between the boredom she felt the first few days and the inspiration she experienced during the latter half of the event. What set the two halves apart from each other? Right after she arrived, Heyward took the sensible step of attending panels and events directly relating to her areas of expertise. But halfway through she decided instead to seek "information and experiences that had nothing to do with my day-to-day." After the shift, she explains, "I was stretching my brain in new ways," and the conference came alive for her.
The whole experience prompted Heyward to ponder what other decisions that seem as sensible as picking SXSW panels based on her professional interests might also be robbing her of enthusiasm and creativity by keeping her too narrowly focused on things she's already familiar with. Her entire list is worth a read in full, but two of her creativity killers seem particularly relevant to entrepreneurs.
1. Business Books
Yeah, that's right, you think you're feeding your brain reading these worthy tomes, but Heyward suggests you may be deadening it. "There are some business books that are really great, and I’m not saying NEVER to read them. But if that’s all you’re reading, I will kindly suggest that you’re wasting your time," writes Heyward. "In general, you learn so much more about business from doing than from reading about it. Fiction, on the other hand (or interesting nonfiction that’s not about your industry), exposes you to new worlds and new perspectives. It reveals things about yourself and doesn’t just give you new information that’s in one ear and out the other–it actually gets you to think differently, which applies to everything you do."
2. The Office
Huh? How can the office itself be a creativity killer? Heyward explains that while you certainly need to log plenty of hours within the four walls of your business's home base, you also should consider if you're getting out enough. "I know a lot of creative people are aware of this idea in theory, but I'm not sure how many put it into practice," Heyward says, referencing her personal experience: "Every time I am having trouble writing a strategy for a client, or coming up with a new name or headline, the answer never comes sitting at my desk…. But if I get up to take a walk or get a coffee, the pressure is off and my mind becomes free to focus (it sounds counterintuitive, but it works)." Travel and time off are, of course, great if you can manage them, "but even on a very small scale, leaving your personal space for just a few minutes can make a huge difference in generating new ideas. So don’t underestimate the power of a change in scenery," concludes Heyward.
And she's not alone in asking whether our unthinking habit of spending so much time inside four walls, sitting at a desk, needs a rethink. Former Harvard Business School professor and partner at FutureWork Forum Jim Ware wrote something similar recently on the WorkSnug blog:
I, like most “knowledge workers” spend almost all my work time in a fairly traditional office environment – four walls, a desk, some filing cabinets, and shelves full of books. Sure, there might be a family photo or two on the wall, and maybe a picture drawn by a child, but the fact is that no matter what I am trying to accomplish on a given day, the place where I am is almost always the same.
What if I had lots of places to choose among, and could move from one to another as I moved from one task to another? My instinct tells me I’d be a lot more creative in some kinds of places (rooms filled with art work, or with outdoor photos or large windows – or literally outdoor places), more analytic in others (a library, or a bare-bones office?), and thoughtful and reflective in yet another place (a church? a mountain retreat? a sailboat? a café?).
Cube warriors don't often have the freedom to choose where they work. As a business owner you probably do (at least some of the time). Perhaps you should weigh whether you're putting that freedom to good use.
Are you letting simple, every day decisions like what you read and where you work sap your creativity?