5 questions that kill creativity

If you are asking yourself any of these questions, stop now.

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Image Source: Hero Images/Getty Images (Photo), Sylverarts/iStock (Pattern)

Questions can ignite your imagination and foster your creativity. In my exploration for The Book of Beautiful Questions, I stumbled upon numerous inquiries that can help you unearth fresh ideas, overcome creative obstacles, receive valuable feedback, bring your product to life, and unleash it into the world.

However, the questions we often pose about our creativity can also hinder our progress. They can undermine our creative confidence or divert our efforts in the wrong direction. Here are five questions that act as “creative killers.” Remember them to avoid their traps in the future.

Am I Creative?

This is the most common “wrong question” we ask ourselves about our own creativity. According to David Burkus, the author of The Myths of Creative, one of the biggest misconceptions is the belief that some people are naturally creative while others are not. Burkus asserts, “We couldn’t find any studies that show there’s a ‘creative gene.'” Creativity is a gift accessible to all.

Burkus points out how many individuals demonstrated high levels of creativity in their youth, proving that creativity is inherent within us. While it is true that as we grow older, external influences (like education and non-creative work) and a lack of self-confidence can dampen our creativity, Burkus suggests a different approach. Instead of asking, “Am I creative?”, we should ask ourselves, “Where has my creativity gone?”

Over time, external factors and negative feedback can cloud our creativity and lead us to doubt our abilities. Burkus advises that building confidence starts with small creative exercises. By encouraging ourselves to engage in simple creative tasks, we can reawaken our dormant creativity. It’s important to remember that creativity is not merely a skill, but a way of perceiving the world. We all possess the power to observe a problem, situation, or theme and generate our own ideas and interpretations.

Where Would You Find the First Idea?

This question often comes hand in hand with another: Has this idea been used before?

The false assumption behind this question is that new ideas must be completely original, with every aspect being unprecedented. However, innovative ideas often stem from existing elements in the world. These elements serve as pieces of a puzzle waiting to be noticed and reshaped into a new form.

Burkus debunks the “uniqueness myth” by highlighting the iPhone as a prime example of creative combination. Apple merged features from cell phones, Blackberries, cameras, and iPods to create a singular and original product.

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Our brains have the capacity to make connections and associations that fuel creativity. Borrowing from other people’s creations is acceptable as long as we infuse them with our own experiences, thoughts, and feelings, expressing them in new and personal ways. Neuroscientist and author Oliver Sacks refers to this process as “the creative self.”

For those seeking creativity, this perspective is a lifeline. Trying to conjure a “big idea” out of thin air can be immensely frustrating. However, if we embrace the inspiration that surrounds us in the world, we have a rich source of raw material to study and utilize. So, instead of asking, “Where can I find ideas?”, the answer is simple: everywhere.

Where Do I Find Time to Create?

The word “find” renders this question useless.

It’s not about finding more time; it’s about reallocating your time and prioritizing deep creative work. The necessary duration depends on the individual (personally, I require at least three hours to fully concentrate).

This dedicated time for independent thinking and creative work may seem like an indulgence that busy individuals cannot afford. However, as venture capitalist and essayist Paul Graham emphasizes, what truly matters is how we structure our schedules. Graham distinguishes between a “schedule maker” and a “schedule manager.” A schedule maker designates distinct and uninterrupted time slots for creative work. In contrast, a schedule manager’s agenda consists of one-hour increments dedicated to meetings and administrative tasks.

If you want to “find time” for creativity, consider this question: How can I transform my schedule from a manager’s to a producer’s? It’s not an easy shift to make. Most of us habitually fill our calendars in a way that mirrors a manager’s schedule. We perceive any unallocated time as “empty” and available. Psychologist and writer Dan Ariely points out that this is a misguided notion. “The truth is that the voids are the spaces where you are supposed to do the most meaningful work.”

Instead of worrying about finding time, we should focus on a dire threat to creativity: a lack of focus. As author Cal Newport suggests, we need to concentrate our attention during the various stages of creative work. This approach requires minimizing interruptions, particularly those induced by technology and social media. Newport proposes trading “fee or online time” for free periods. Rather than taking breaks from digital media, we should schedule regular breaks to enjoy it. Simultaneously, we should establish the habit of asking ourselves: When should I take a break to foster connections?

How Do I Have a Breakthrough Idea?

Before embarking on a creative endeavor, people often set lofty expectations. They believe their idea must lead to fortune, change the world, or earn the respect and recognition of millions. Ambition is admirable, but in the initial stages, the focus should be on getting the job done and doing it well, rather than fixating on the outcome.

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Predicting the results of creative efforts is challenging, even for seasoned creators. Psychologist Dean Simonton’s research on creativity indicates that even experienced individuals struggle to accurately anticipate the success of their personal projects. However, successful people overcome this uncertainty by simply pushing forward and being creative. Through relentless productivity, they achieve frequent and sometimes astonishing triumphs.

If you find yourself contemplating whether to pursue a project and desire assurance that you’re undertaking it for the right reasons, ask yourself: Would I still want to do it if I knew from the beginning that it was impossible?

Where Should I Start?

Designer Bruce Mau often encounters a common lament from young individuals eager to embark on creative projects: “I don’t know where to start.” To address this, Mau shares a favorite quote from composer John Cage: “It starts anywhere.”

Cage’s advice applies to anyone engaged in creative pursuits. Rather than fixating on finding the perfect starting point, like a captivating opening or an enchanting initial piece, focus on what you have at this moment. It could be a fragmented idea, an incomplete prototype, or being in the middle of a story.

The pursuit of a flawless beginning is often a stalling tactic. This applies to preparatory activities as well, such as creating an ideal workspace and amassing copious preliminary research. Mau recounts a story about a writer friend who consistently arranges bookshelves and organizes their office before commencing work on an ambitious new book. However, this writer never starts the actual writing.

If you frequently find yourself making extensive preparations, engaging in busywork, or accumulating unnecessary research, ask yourself: Am I just rearranging the shelves? While research is crucial, it’s equally important to recognize when you’re over-preparing as a means of postponing the fear of facing the daunting blank canvas or computer screen.

It’s better to start creating something as soon as possible, whether it’s writing, drawing, or testing. Don’t fret too much about quality at this stage because what you produce now will likely undergo changes or potentially be discarded altogether as you continue to refine your work. Tom Kelley, the general manager of Ideo, offers an opening question: What if I lower the bar? By embracing imperfection and starting with something rough, flawed, or even terrible, you establish a foundation upon which you can build. Remember, even the things that are seemingly insignificant in and of themselves can serve as a strong starting point.

To learn more about creativity and explore further insights, visit Caravansarai.