3 Obstacles to Creativity and How to Overcome Them

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Kate Canada Obregon
Kate Canada Obregon



creativityYour future depends on your ability to adapt and release your brain’s capabilities. In the media and entertainment industry, markets are rapidly changing. Competition is hyper-competitive: Evolving, new competitors seem to spring up overnight, technologies disrupt business models, and consumers are rightfully demanding new, novel experiences from entertainment companies.

These larger structural issues also impact and shape our work lives. As we face corporate, departmental, and project challenges, utilizing creativity and problem-solving skills will become the most important intangible skill for tangible success. Paradoxically enough, not everyone recognizes creativity as a solution to company problems. In now-famous studies, psychology researchers have demonstrated the ways people underestimate the obstacles they face and overestimate their ability to overcome these obstacles and solve problems.

It’s worth remembering that creativity is an important imaginative and tactical response and approach. It fuels innovation and delivers concrete solutions, which impacts your company’s ability to reach financial goals. Creativity is a bottom-line issue — one you should be thinking about when not only planning long-term corporate strategy but every day in the trenches.

We humans are ever evolving cognitive creatures. We’re wired for curiosity, intention, and movement. However, most professional success requires specialization and conformity — key traits and behaviors researchers argue are the biggest blocks in the development of creativity, imagination, and novel approaches to problem solving.

Creativity is a skillset with measurable outcomes. According to neuroscience and psychology research, the most useful measurements of creative thinking include:

  • Fluency: the ability to generate unique ideas
  • Flexibility: the ability to tolerate ambiguity and think laterally
  • Abstraction: the ability to think and reflect on an idea through speech and thoughts
  • Elaboration: the ability to give details and follow up on an idea
  • Originality: distinctiveness of ideas

Most research points to what has been characterized as a precipitous decline in creative thinking in kids' lives as they grow older and as conformity becomes necessary for success. In a recent longitudinal study, researcher Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William and Mary concluded that, for the first time in more than a generation, elaboration and fluency have declined for kids and young adults. Kim’s findings sparked a flurry of debates recently about the implications for the future of business and sectors in the economy where innovation is so desperately needed.

The most innovative companies operationalize opportunities for employees to think, reflect, relax, and dream. For some of the most successful companies, mind wandering and dreaming translate into tangible economic growth. As Google, Nike, Citrix Systems and others have demonstrated, balancing the needs for creative minds to tackle problems, challenge the status quo, and venture into the unknown with deadlines and metrics is not necessarily problematic. In these firms, employees are encouraged to soar without constraints, which may explain why they’ve grown and outperformed consistently over the years.

So, how do you make your office a generative and creative space?

Awareness is the first step. Spend time examining your office from all perspectives, from the highest levels to the operational weeds. Consider it a creative audit. What are your written and unwritten rules for creative and group work? Who decides teams? What are the personalities of team members? Which individuals and teams consistently produce ideas?

For the next second step, look at the invisible processes in your company culture. What kind of thinking do you encourage? All agencies ask their teams to produce ideas, but what kind of ideas do you ask for? This is tricky to observe, but once you take the time and really pay attention, you’ll never want to stop pushing your teams to go further.

I mentioned earlier in this piece that we are wired for curiosity and discovery. This is true, but we are also equally gifted at relying on what I call thinking shortcuts and creative blockages. We use rationalization, justification and projection throughout our day, and we don’t examine how these influence our decisions. And the answer is obvious. Who wants to admit we humans are irrational and emotional? At too many meetings I’ve heard decisions described as a combination of “gut” and theory. This may be true, but what’s really going on in that “gut”? Examining our thinking and creative blockages really moves us in the direction of building a company with practices that generate quality ideas.

I’ve consolidated the best research on creativity into three domains: environmental, tactical, and personal. In my experience, these places are where thinking and creativity can evaporate, derailing chances for future growth or work.


In the personal, it’s the individual habits people bring to the office or the whiteboard. The most consistently productive individuals have an ability to tolerate ambiguity, could care less about conformity with others, and exhibit confidence. Knowledge about the techniques for leading teams when working together is also key. Expert whiteboarders know how to ask provocative questions, ones that probe and invite productive discussion. They also know how to chunk creative work: They work until people are tired, write action items for the next go-round, and meet again later with fresh eyes. Finally, companies often use experts or patterning as part of company culture. Standing on the shoulders of others may not be a bad idea, but it doesn’t always get us to imagine problems differently -- especially if we’re looking in the wrong direction.


Topics: Creativity

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