Growing up, we’re all taught to follow the rules. Wait your turn in line. Fill in the bubble of the right answer. Eat your dessert last. Tie your shoes and tuck your shirt in. Don’t ask stupid questions. We’re rewarded for caution and deliberation, punished for coloring outside the lines.
Over time, we’re shuffled into groups based on test results and pursue careers based on our credentials and degrees. We eventually file into offices where we are required to dress a certain way, talk a certain way; behave a certain way. At some point along this journey, the world designates you as “creative” or “non-creative” with most people falling into the latter category.
And yet, we know that creative thinking is necessary for success. It has enabled the rise and sustainable success of companies like Airbnb, Facebook and Uber; completely transforming industries like hospitality, advertising and transportation. In fact, an IBM study of 1,500 CEOs found that creativity was considered the most essential feature of their organization, more than integrity or even vision. According to the CEOs, creativity enables companies to navigate today’s increasingly complex business environment.
There are many reasons why we, as a society, abandon creative thinking as we enter adulthood. For one, creativity is messy and uncertain; it goes against everything we learn along the way in formal education and through socialization. Creative thinking can be scary because it makes us vulnerable to judgment and can sometimes feel like we’re giving up control. That’s why many people reassign themselves to the non-creative category — they repress their creative potential in exchange for structure, conformity and comfort.
The notion that individuals are inherently “creative” or “non-creative” is a dangerous one. It implies that only certain people are gifted with creativity, which has been disproved by loads of research, including one study from Northwestern University.
The research suggests we give up too easily when confronted with a problem that requires creative thinking. What’s more, the research finds the most creative ideas tend to arise after many others have been considered and discarded, proving that the key to creative thought is to just keep at it.
The beauty of this approach is you can do it in one week or over the course of 6 months, with most of the variability being in how much time you spend making your prototypes. It can be used by any department or role in the company to to unlock the creative potential across your entire organization.