3 Blockages to Creativity (Shirlaws Conference Blog)

Enjoy this post from the 2014 Shirlaws Australia Conference. The 2015 Shirlaws Conference is now open for registration – join me and 200 fellow CEOs and business owners for 2 days of power learning, October 7-9. Click here for information and registration.

Today and tomorrow I have volunteered to be the official blogger at the Shirlaws Australia Conference. This is post three of six.

We have a guest speaker this afternoon, Dr David Hall…beaming in live from his base in the United Kingdom where it’s currently 5.45am. At least that means the internet connection is relatively uncrowded.

Three years ago, David left the ‘Corporate Comfort’ as the Horse Piss Man (not a typo) to build The Ideas Centre. And this afternoon he is walking us through a number of key observations and exercises designed to help us (as a room full of entrepreneurs in private enterprise) with Creativity. Here are my key notes.

We as people make sense of our world by looking backwards, and applying our history to plan our future. In a time of rapid (exponential?) progress in so many fields, this approach creates a massive gap between possibility and real life.

David is reinforcing the point that ‘Continuous Improvement’, while nice and incrementally valuable, needs to be paired with ‘Discontinuous Improvement’. These are step changes, those necessary to keep you ahead rather than falling behind one step at a time.

Creativity: The Generation of Novel and Useful Ideas.

What stunts much innovation is the fear of ‘Creativity’, where creativity is seen as novel…but not useful. So it’s restricted.

David’s definition disputes this fear – its only creativity, by definition, if it’s both novel AND useful.

Novel and Useless has its place. But only as a first step – true creativity finds the novel and works out how to make it useful.

3 Blocks to Creativity

There are 3 key blockages to this practical creativity
1. The Thinking Process
2. Patterning Systems
3. Mind Set

The Thinking Process incorporates both Lateral (first stage) and Vertical (second stage) thinking. Vertical thinking solves problems by gathering information, processing it – then generating an outcome. Think High School. Brilliant for useful ideas. Rubbish for fresh ideas, because the efficient speed of vertical thinking runs roughshod all over lateral novelty.

Interestingly, sometimes that Lateral First Stage thinking can redefine the problem (or your understanding of the problem) in such a way that a novel AND FAR MORE EFFICIENT solution becomes apparent.

Patterning Systems references the human brains tendency to build patterns (which I also call Frameworks or Heuristics), the recognition of which is often associated with a brief dopamine surge that reinforces our preference to seek them out. This means we instinctively fill in information gaps to match those patterns. Which are based, as we know, on looking backwards.

See a different pattern to everyone else? Then you are a nutter. And that attitude is why Patterning Systems block Creativity.

Mind Set reflects the fact that our brains constantly give us RULES that DON’T EXIST. Those rules dictate how we act, constraining our ability to find solutions, even though (and this bears repeating) they don’t exist.

So when we tell ourselves to ‘Think Outside the Box’, we must realise that often it’s an artificial box of our own creation.


Children have no difficulty with novelty, it’s just that their thoughts are mostly useless. Adults are great with useful, not novel.

Playfulness encourages that child-like novel creation, which we’ve already discussed as the necessary first step.

David calls this the ‘Intermediate Impossible’ – the novel, creative, outside-the-box concepts that can help you best understand your problems to then, without constraints, find the useful application that solves them.

Creativity Techniques

David Hall finishes his session briefly discussing some of the 16 approaches The Ideas Centre uses – encouraging you to overcome the 3 key blockages.

You’ll see in this post I’ve been using ‘Creativity’ and ‘Innovation’ almost interchangeably. David has just disproved me.

Creativity is the generation of Novel and Useful Ideas.

Innovation is making money out of Creativity.

Good luck!

For more information, call Jacob Aldridge and Shirlaws 1300 853 772.

Click here to read session 4: “A Game of Fire and Ice in Business”


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