Is Thinking Choking Your Creativity?

October 12, 2011  

As I write this, I am sitting in a Starbucks in London, England. Cars and taxis are zipping by on the street in front of me as I sip my espresso. Although I lived in London for several years, I only drove a car once while there…just once.

There is an exceptional transit system in London, so owning a vehicle isn’t necessary. Thankfully. If it were, I would have been significantly challenged. It’s funny…before moving to England, I had been driving effortlessly for 20 years. But one small difference made it nearly impossible for me to navigate here.

I am of course referring to the right-hand drive cars that are driven on the left-hand side of the road. I felt incapacitated while behind the wheel. I never knew which way to look. I had a hard time judging the edge of the car and kept hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road. And attempting to drive a manual stick-shift vehicle proved to be even more comical.

What I learned was that we quickly pick up habits. After driving for two decades, my skills were on automatic. Thinking was not necessary.

Unfortunately, moving the steering wheel and driving on the “other” side of the road forced me to think. Thinking caused me to choke.

It’s been shown that as athletes get closer to breaking a major record, their performance drops. They begin to “think,” when they otherwise would not. For example, as Barry Bonds approached his record breaking 762nd home run, his home runs per at bat dropped by as much as 90 percent. And what about Tiger Woods? Thinking of his personal situation seems to have thrown him off his game. Why?

When the “thinking” part of the brain—the cerebral cortex—is triggered, it literally chokes off the pathways to the pre-programmed skills that are stored in the cerebellum.

Studies show that 98 percent of 5-year-old children are highly creative, yet by the time they are the age of 25, only 2 percent are. Creativity is a pre-programmed skill. But education and the need to learn skills designed to pass standardized testing, chokes the creativity out of us. Instead of effortless fun and play, we are programmed to focus our thoughts on succeeding, winning or looking good, hampering our natural capabilities. But our innate creative abilities are still there. We just need to find better ways of tapping into them.

What does this have to do with business innovation?

Unfortunately the drive to perform in business is the very thing that inhibits creativity. Despite this truth, businesses will always be driven by metrics designed to monitor performance.

So, as an individual, what can you do to avoid choking your creative potential? The answer is simple: stop thinking.

Have you ever noticed that while taking a shower, you sometimes get creative thoughts? Have you ever had a brilliant insight while falling asleep or when waking up? The relaxing water and restful sleep quiets the judgmental part of the brain allowing your innate creative abilities to emerge. Take advantage of these moments. Keep a notebook by the side of the bed. Or in my case, a waterproof note pad in the shower. When lying in bed, Aristotle reputedly put a brass plate on his chest and held a metal ball above it in his hand. As he fell asleep, the ball would hit the plate waking him. He claimed to have his greatest insights just as he was dozing off.

Consider a company that is in the fragrance business and needs to develop 40 new scents every day. This is a daunting task. One manager I know decided to take his team out to Stonehenge to meditate before embarking on some brainstorming…

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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2 Responses to “Is Thinking Choking Your Creativity?”

  1. A New Series of Articles – My Business Reinvention | Business Innovation Speaker and Consultant Stephen Shapiro on October 27th, 2011 3:59 pm

    [...] to acknowledge that my over-thinking this can actually limit my ability to rethink the business.  Creativity is choked when we engage the cerebral cortex. Therefore, for one week, I am not working with clients. I am not taking phone calls.  I am not [...]

  2. Welcome to Reinventing My Business » Reinventing My Business on December 9th, 2011 10:14 am

    [...] to acknowledge that my over-thinking this can actually limit my ability to rethink the business.  Creativity is choked when we engage the cerebral cortex. Therefore, for one week, I am not working with clients. I am not taking phone calls.  I am not [...]