Overcoming Creative Blocks
The importance of creativity in a world of consumption.
One of my favorite things to do with a fresh set of design students is give them an assignment that’s impossible to google. For example, I’ll tell the group to come up with ten ways to move a cloud from New York to Paris.
This request is usually followed by crickets, and then a tentative request for clarification.
“Anything,” I’ll tell them. “Come up with any and all creative solutions to the problem. Nothing is too ambitious or too silly.”
What I love about this assignment is that there is nowhere external for students to turn. They can’t look up an answer. There aren’t even comparable examples they could study. They have to turn inwards. They have to get creative.
This is often an uncomfortable process for my students. They’ve been raised in a culture that rewards those who consume and memorize vast quantities of data or information, but has less respect for the non-linear messiness of creativity. Most leave the classroom in a state of anxiety, afraid that whatever they come up with won’t be good enough.
It makes sense to be afraid of the creative process. It’s a vulnerable activity, with no rubric to follow and no guaranteed route for success. Most importantly, whatever we put out into the world represents our inner lives–that essence that makes us the unique, particular people that we are. That’s a hard thing to lay in the open for others to judge.
But when my students return the next week with all sorts of wild ideas–birds pulling the clouds, ships with enormous fans–an important boundary has been broken down. They have moved beyond the realm of checking boxes and perfectly executing already-formulated ideas. They are now in the space of play.
Play liberates precisely because we can’t control it. The thing that’s so scary about letting ourselves enter the world of creativity is also the most powerful aspect of it. We are free to be and do anything. That’s why the most revolutionary ideas and innovations come from this space, but it’s also why we get so fearful of entering it. What if we do or become something we are ashamed of? What if we don’t create anything at all?
As my students share their concepts, a magical thing happens. Laughter and playfulness enters the classroom. Outrageous ideas that a student was initially embarrassed to present are congratulated and built upon. The group grows increasingly excited, the more they come to trust that by openly sharing their ideas–their inner, creative force–they’re doing the most important work of all.