I remember the first day of high school - putting on the new uniform, biking a new route and arriving with my friends on campus.
The school was big, the classrooms were imposing, the seniors looked like giants - yet I wasn’t looking at these new sights. I was comparing my uniform to everyone else, and realising that my shorts were slightly shorter than all the other junior boys.
No amount of tugging and rearranging would make them look right, so I would attempt to hide behind other people, awaiting a voice that would highlight my ‘difference’ and bring jokes at my expense. No voice ever came but that did not stop me hiding and holding myself back from social situations - all because my shorts were too short.
Once we reach teenage years, a significant change happens - we begin to care deeply about what others think, and fear standing out from the crowd. This is a social change that profoundly limits creativity and new ideas, as we fear that any difference will be rejected by our peers around us. Although this fear is easily observed amongst teenagers, it is one that is carried over into our adult lives and affects innovation in the corporate world.
How many of us have been part of (or even led) creative-idea generating sessions - such as brainstorming - and been met with awkward silence, or tentative ideas that are not ground-breaking?
How many of us have sat in these sessions with risky ideas in our brains, afraid to voice them for fear of being made to look foolish?
We must learn to create safe and fun environments to generate ideas, and use processes and games that foster innovation and creativity in the business world. There are professional services available for this, but here are some tips that can be easily implemented into your professional life.
Write Your Dreams
As the Kelley brothers note in their article, “Half the battle is to resist judging yourself.”
Many exciting and catalytic ideas fail to be actualised because they are judged to be foolish, risky or impractical. To counter this, learn to write down your ideas as they come to you. Keep a pad of paper by your bed, by your toilet, at your desk - and when you get a new idea - record it down. This will encourage you to keep thinking and stop self-critiquing innovative thoughts.
With most fears, the way to overcome this is to directly confront them. This means you will have to risk looking foolish to encourage others to be creative. When you are next involved in a idea-generation meeting, take the lead and have fun with your ideas. If your organisation has a poor record at creating ideas, be the first to speak up with your ideas - regardless of their practicality. If your ideas lead to laughter, that’s a great start - as people will see inhibitions falling and will see that their fear of rejection is unfounded.
The language that you choose to use is incredibly powerful in removing other’s fears and allowing creative thinking to flow. When every anyone contributes a new idea, comment on what you like about their idea. Look for the good in the new idea - and see how their train of thought may lead into something productive. We often engage our critical thinking much too early in the idea generating process, and comments that talk about why the idea is a failure will be sure to stop others contributing.