Blocks to Creativity

Title art by Dom W.

There are four major kinds of blocks to creativity that Adams describes in Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas: perceptual, emotional, cultural/environmental, and intellectual/expressive blocks. Any one of these blocks can be a severe detriment to the defining the problem, discovering a solution, and the implementation phases of problem solving. While experiencing these may initially be inevitable it is important to be self-aware enough to acknowledge their presence and take actions to bust through these so that the best outcome can be possible.

Perceptual blocks are blocks that inhibit you from perceiving the true problem or the information necessary to discover the solution. There are many kinds of perceptual blocks that limit a problem solver, but one of the most limiting one of these is stereotyping. While often times argued to be based in a kernel of truth, stereotypes can force you into approaching a problem with preconceptions about the information, problem definition, or particular solutions. This will blind you to new ideas that potentially are the best ones. Stereotyping, being so engrained in the mind, allows us to “fill in the gaps” when presented with incomplete sets of information — which can be useful. However, this “filler information” can sometimes become more rigid than the actual data when viewing the problem. Another major block is having a myopic viewpoint. Particularly detrimental when dealing with interpersonal problems, the inability or unwillingness to view the problem from other angles prevents all possible solutions from being discussed.

Emotional blocks are, as the name implies, based in emotional biases that prevent discovery of the solution. Not being able to separate reality from fantasy is one of the most dangerous emotional blocks because it can lead to many others. Allowing your imagination to run and generate ideas is important, but it is equally as important to control that imagination. If you fail to control your imagination it can drum up impractical and ineffective solutions as well as lead to more emotional blocks like fear. Especially in high-stakes situations, fear of error can paralyze you so you are unable to take the risk necessary to succeed. Fear has a tendency to exaggerate the negative consequences of an action while underplaying the positive ones. If you allow the fantasy of your fear to dominate your decision making process you will never be able to move forward with any idea you come up with. 

Cultural blocks stem from differing cultural norms between two groups and are closely related to environmental blocks — which grow from the conditions in the workplace. The large cultural block in the workplace is traditionalism. “It’s just the way we’ve always done it” is an excuse used to hinder creative development and rooted in the emotional block of fear. This block is dangerous because it does not allow for the recognition of paradigm shifts and halts the organization’s ability to adapt and evolve in the marketplace. The block of traditionalism has become especially dangerous in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. An example of this is the current conflict between Uber/Lyft and traditional cab companies. Traditional cab companies didn’t want to invest in the development of a car-hailing app because the old way of doing things was working just fine. Uber and Lyft saw the void, stepped in and have begun dominating the market. Colleague relationships also hinder creative development in the workplace. If an environment has developed that has a competitive and cutthroat nature it will become difficult for people to comfortably share ideas with one another. For a strong creative process it is important to foster an environment that prioritizes collaborative thinking and positive working relationships. 

Intellectual/expressive blocks occur from an inability to think through the problems or proposed solutions and express them coherently. Different problems should use different problem solving languages. These languages are verbal, visual, and mathematical. Using the wrong language can block creative problem solving by misguiding the solution. Sometimes problems can be more easily visualized and, if a mathematical approach is taken, can lead to improper equations, incorrect assumptions, or impractical outcomes. Likewise, inflexibility in the strategy will block creative progress. Insisting on certain methods will blind you from potential outcomes by restricting the techniques you can employ during the solution. Intellectual blocks can be difficult to overcome, especially when the information provided is lacking or inaccurate. Without the correct information, even if you are able to overcome all the other blocks, you will still reach an incorrect solution. Finally, an inability to express ideas and thoughts will prevent creativity from growing. Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Often a group of people works together discussing ideas until a solution has been reached. If communication is a struggle between the team members, then some creative ideas may never be said. Also, once a solution has been discovered it needs to be explained and proposed to the stakeholders. Without strong communication skills, proposed solutions may be misinterpreted and implemented improperly. 

The block I struggle the most with is my overzealous behavior. When I’m presented with a task I tend to approach it with an aggressive and urgent attitude. This has been an asset for me, as I’m known to accomplish projects well ahead of schedule. However in some cases, it has prevented me from choosing the best option. Once I set my mind on a solution, I charge ahead and ignore small details that may present themselves during the process. If I come across a roadblock, I bust through it without giving consideration for other, sometimes more practical, workarounds or solutions. Due to my overzealousness I have had to re-approach problems that are sometimes more difficult than the original issue. I have worked to overcome this block by slowing down and thoroughly analyzing the solution. One technique that has been quite helpful is creating checklists. I write down and visualize every step of the problem analysis, solution discovery, and implementation phases so that I don’t overlook minute details. Using this method, I have been able to save time and energy on re-approaches, and correcting mistakes as well as provide more thorough and complete solutions in my work. 

Earlier in my career, intellectual/expressive blocks caused the majority of blocks — the main of which was my lack of understanding the correct language. When I was first assigned the job of webmaster, I had no previous experience in that field or knowledge of the terminology and best practices I needed to be successful. The first few months were very difficult as I tried to understand complicated concepts explained to me by those more knowledgable. To overcome this, I spent a lot of time outside of work researching web design principles, database infrastructure, and how our content management system functions. I still don’t know everything, but I am now better equipped to explain the same complicated concepts in more understandable terms.

There isn’t one particular block that is more difficult than the other, all four major kinds can be tricky to overcome; it takes self-awareness, patience, and willpower to do so. It is imperative that you take the time to discover the techniques that work best for you if you want to succeed at creative problem solving. Whether that be creating checklists to organize your thoughts or employing logic and reason to evaluate your ideas and inform your decisions, stick with it and you’ll eventually learn how to break through those blocks and discover the best solutions.