What types of mental blockades hinder creative thinking?

What types of mental blockades hinder creative thinking?
Anonymous asked on Quora

Often we get in our own way without realizing it. Figuring out which habit of thinking help or hurt us can be tricky. Often habits emerge from the environment and conditioning. The heart of creativity is solving problems in interesting ways.

Here’s a list of ten ways to look at your creative processes based on problem solving techniques used to change unhelpful thinking and the resulting behaviors.

Tip 1: Embrace the grey.

Compromise and find middle ground. Often when we’re stuck creatively, it’s because we’ve decided it exists as one thing or another other. It appears as the perfect most photorealistic painting or it is completely worthless. We must use all paints and no pencils. We’re a print graphic designer and don’t do the web.

Those are perfectly acceptable choices, sure. It’s also worthwhile to consider—revisiting the above examples—that any effort painting can yield lessons. That mixed media becomes really cool and interesting. And knowing a bit about the web, even if you’re primarily an expert print designer, is still better than nothing.

Tip 2: Focused on the task at hand.

Over-applying negatives about a task to all aspects of our life can trip us up. We’ll define ourselves by our job, our art, and our relationships. If we’re not “always” a perfect artist, this trap tells us, then we’re “never” worth much in all areas of our life. If your project isn’t the most original thing in the world, it doesn’t represent your self-worth.

Tip 3: Identify the positives.

We tend to only see the negatives. The positives are invisible to us. Notice what’s good about your efforts. It’s the only way to keep motivated to keep working and making.

Tip 4: Positives matter.

Even if we see the positives, it makes sense to take delight in good aspects. Make sure that you notice the positives about your work, and that you actually like and love those awesome aspects. Find where your strong happy emotions are. They tell your point of view.

Tip 5: Consider alternative solutions.

The first solution isn’t necessarily the best one. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Feel free to jump in to reality test your assumptions. Just because you’re trying something doesn’t mean it’s true either.

Tip 6: Stay present.

You can’t predict the future. We often envision disaster as a form of procrastination. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. We developed an imagination to help us understand and avoid danger. Catastrophizing and fortune-telling takes this to an implausible level and cripples our creative muscles.

Tip 7: Gather comments.

Don’t assume the worst. Clearly communicate as best you can to your audience and collaborators. We don’t know if others will hate our work unless we share. Carefully curate that feedback for what we find usable and doable.

Tip 8: Consider evidence along with feelings

Don’t believe everything you feel and think. Consider what these thoughts and feelings are really based on. From there, we can create brand new conclusions.

Tip 9: Work with what’s possible

Don’t demand unrealistically about yourself and others. Understand where your expectations come from and what they are. There’s a thin line between positive idealism and negative perfectionism. Learn to understand how to be most productive.

Tip 10: Describe specific circumstances.

Avoid negative labeling of yourself and others. There’s no need to use unkind names when a neutral word or thought will do. Consider all contributing factors.


These ideas are based in part by tips described in David D. Burns’s Feeling Good Handbook.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Survival distracts from creativity. Leaders say they want innovations, but don’t take action.

Let’s discuss three notable stories currently in the news about creativity:

1. Taking care of basic survival needs aids in creativity

Earth’s creatures test new ideas all of the time.  This Scientific American article shows that survival helps and hinders creativity. One study discussed notes how the economically challenged find solving problems in new situations more difficult. Further studies of this effect show that financial help positively impacts cognitive performance. Meeting basic needs makes us all more able to take advantage of opportunities.

2. The best CEO’s want to be imaginative, innovative and flexible

In a cross-industry and international survey, CEOs agree that they want to be ahead of their industry. They want to hire highly creative employees as a top priority. In a piece for Harvard Business Review, Emma Sepal writes about how executives are cultivating their own innovation. Terykson Fernando – who is Creative Director at Sativa – tries to integrate observation into everyday activities. “The entire universe is filled with ideas and has in it what I am trying to create, so I take clues from everyday life by observing every little thing and being inquisitive about the how, why, what of things around me.” Leaders also look for a variety of feedback from diverse sources, create space by taking walks, use mindfulness meditation to clear their heads, and embrace natural and artificial limitations.

3. Strong cultures encourage leaders to play it safe even when customers want innovation

Managers tend to evaluate ideas based on cultural fit rather than possible positive outcomes. Research discussed in the Wall Street Journal notes this. Leaders say they want creativity. Their decisions don’t often match. They fear taking a risk on a less proven idea. That prevents employees from discussing controversial or unpopular ideas.  More support needs to be built into workplace system to show employees how to accept and implement creative ideas. They have to reward thinking like artists in ways that encourages action.

 

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Is imagination a gift or a curse? 9 Tips to Manage Yours

“Is imagination a gift or a curse?”
Anonymous via Quora

Worry is Imagination. And so is Hope.

Both are taking current events and guessing at a possible future. Usually without much thought about how likely the events are. And often without much thought on how we apply those thoughts to the present.

Our thoughts and imagination can be trained. We’re training them every day. From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Positive Psychology to Meditation and Yoga, there are many methods of training our thoughts.

We often live out the story we imagine for ourselves. To change your life for good or bad, all we have to do is imagine it.

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
Pablo Picasso

Tackling our negative imagination:

Tip 1: Compartmentalize. In his book How to Worry Less and Start Living Life, Dale Carnegie gave some great tips on how to minimize our worrying thoughts. One very strong thought is to contain bad events within the day they happen. Anything bad that happened yesterday has happened and can’t hurt us today. What happens today will be done and gone by tomorrow. And tomorrow can’t leak into today. Accept the events that happen and let them go.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Tip 2: Improve. Since we have an imagination, might as well use its powers for good. Learn what we can and look for opportunities to make our lives better. Sometimes the lesson is that we’ve put enough thought into something and even a moment more is not worth it. Plan a trip to getaway. Think of your life goals, career, and education. What have you always wanted to do?

“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
Maria Montessori

Tip 3: Visit. Visit someone else’s imagination. Listen to your friends and family. Talk to people on Quora. Read a book or articles. Watch a television show or movie. Memorize the lyrics to your favorite songs. If you love your imagination, then put it to work by visiting fiction and nonfiction.

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”
Gloria Steinem

Tip 4: Keep busy. Write down ideas of things you love to do or need to do. When you’re imagining problems, use that time to focus on other things. It’s the perfect time to start cleaning, working on projects, and organize your junk drawer. Your imagination is just looking for things to do. Apply it to some real tasks and you’ll start coming up with amazing solutions

Encouraging positive imagination:

Tip 5: Doodle. Research shows that doodling helps us focus. Get a sketchbook and doodle about all of the good things in your life. Food, shelter, love, health, minor and major kindnesses. If you let yourself be creative, you can train yourself to notice all of the things you have going well in your life. Have you ever had a moment of courage, hope, or peace? You can probably fill a sketchbook with images of your happy thoughts. Pull it out when you need a reminder and keep adding more.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Albert Einstein

UC-Blog-Quote-GiftTip 6: Love your enemies. While you’re doodling, try making notes of all of the great qualities of people you have problems with. Even if the best you can come up with is “Not a murderer.” “Not here right now.” You’ll start to see yourself as someone who can see the good in anyone and any situation

“You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.”
Yoko Ono

Tip 7: Project. We all often tend to project negatively on others. Projection in psychology is applying traits and motivations on others based on our biases and experiences. Practice imagining other people around you are happy thoughts about you and themselves. Even if they don’t say it out loud. For example: “My boss is grateful that I’m taking care of this! Even if he doesn’t know about the details, it’s one less thing he has to think about”

Tip 8: Transform criticism into compliments. Imagine that anything negative someone says to you is a compliment. If someone says you need to do something better, think to yourself “Wow, he must really think I’m capable of improvement if he decided to share that.” And for times when others don’t believe in you? It’s just a compliment to be noticed.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut

Tip 9: Change external circumstances. A study showed that students who transferred to a different University had an easier time changing other habits at the same time. Any time you have a new habit you’re working on, change your external world as much as possible. Consider ideas like always sit at your desk when you work on your art instead of sitting in bed with your laptop. Go to a coffee shop, art museum, or park to spark your imagination.

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Are doodle makers bad at focusing?

“I have noticed, that some people start drawing things in a small notebook, every time they get even a few minutes. Why do they do this? Is it some technique to keep your mind from distractions, and always occupied?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

The research shows that yes, doodling does help keep your mind away from distractions:

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Should creatives specialize or generalize? Yes

“Is it really good to be Generalist? Will it pay-off someday as it does for Specialists?

Recently came across this interesting article on Harvard Business Review: All Hail the Generalist. And was wondering what is the general verdict on this topic.”
Anonymous (via Quora)

I majored in fine art with concentrations in both fine art and piano. I remember my advisor and a trusted artist professor told me that I needed to pick a single route and focus. At this point I had really decided art was my route. Piano performance was too risky if I tied it to my financial future. I’d worry about hitting all of the right notes, both figuratively and literally. As a hobby it’s a huge stress reliever to just zone out creating music.

As my degree progressed I gravitated toward painting while working as a designer. I started both college and my job at the same time in the fall of the year 2000. My sister worked at this company in customer relations and she connected me with the position. I really enjoyed the job right away. Since I was a kid, I loved computers and technical detail. This career path merged art and computers, I’ve stuck with the career path ever since.

Engaging with your areas of interest

 “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.”
Marie Forleo

How do we know when to specialize and when to generalize? Involve exploration as part of your decision-making process by taking small steps. Because of confirmation bias, we’ll tend to try to prove our own assumptions. If we believe generalization is best, we’ll tend to look evidence for generalization. The reverse is true for believers in specialization.

Many college students pursue their degrees and careers without engaging with their careers. In my personal anecdote, I worked as a graphic designer and performed as a pianist as I pursued my degree. Having a more realistic expectation for the lower salary of creative careers prepared me.

I know I’d have to take more small risks during my career and be more conscious of my spending and saving rates to finance this. To this day, I frequently test making bold designs and float my ideas that push past the limits of projects. The feedback from these smaller actions is invaluable in quickly discovering what ideas my clients are open to. In practice, I’m taking a risk by specializing in certain types of design that interest me most. At the same time, I am prepared to shift gears to more general and approachable visuals with mass appeal.

Taking small steps of engagement allows for specialists to generalize and vice versa.
“If your target audience isn't listening, it's not their fault, it's yours.” Seth Godin

Compartmentalize your skill-set to target your audience

Many apparent specialists are generalists who are skilled at compartmentalizing. Target your audience. At work as a design, very rarely does anyone need to know that I’m a skilled piano player who regularly memorizes sheet music. If coworkers ask about my above average memory, I’ll share that this is skill that has come with practice.

“If your target audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.”
Seth Godin

Often different descriptions of the same circumstance arises in different conclusions. This is a type of cognitive bias called the framing effect by psychologist. Without this bias, different descriptions wouldn’t affect the outcome.

The ideas presented differently should still equal. In technical logic speak, we might call the framing bias a “violation of extensionality”. After all, don’t “1+1” or “2” or “105-103” mean the exact same thing? I’m a designer, however, so I will believe presentation matters.

What if we had to choose between two candidates with an equal list of skills? It’s natural that a hiring manager will prefer the candidate who is able to focus and prioritize the most relevant skills. That candidate appears to be more of a specialist.

An experiment published in Psychological Science demonstrates targeting specific personality traits. The ads were deemed more effective if they understood an individuals needs. Some value openness of experience, so the ads emphasizing that strength had a bigger impact on those individuals. Extraverts were most appealed to with ads demonstrating social benefits. Understanding the benefits to the most likely listeners will make them more open to the skill set you have.

Transferable skills complicate the answer

My habit of diligent practice comes from being a classical pianist. In many contexts, sharing that unimportant background information that would cloud my message. The important part is that I’m able to transfer the skill of quickly learning and memorizing music to learning the ins and outs of Adobe Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

“Design is one of the few disciplines that is a science as well as an art. Effective, meaningful design requires intellectual, rational rigor along with the ability to elicit emotions and beliefs. Thus, designers must balance both the logic and lyricism of humanity every time they design something, a task that requires a singularly mysterious skill.”
Debbie Millman, How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

A common complaint in my field is that graphic design job listings often ask for generalists. The most successful candidates realize that the hiring managers treat job posts as a wish list. For many years, I specialized working in the print and magazine industry. While working as a magazine designer, presenting myself as a print designer specializing in programming and technology expertise.

As the demand for publication design specialists changes, the ability to work on a variety of projects is a huge advantage. A generalist will be more adaptable when markets change.

Advantages of diversity

Changing market conditions change the demand for specialists during generalists. In a case study, the University of Richmond examined 134 counties and cities in Virginia looking at the impact specialization and diversity. They found that faster growth of any one industry hampers regional growth across all industries examined.

As an aside, a study by MIT economists found that more gender diverse workplaces performed better by having a greater number of skills involved.

From a market standpoint, having a balance between specialists and generalists may be the best move. On the individual level, adaptability for a variety of circumstances is possible and ideal for most people.

Readers, do you prefer to specialize or generalize?

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.