The desire to create is innate in all of us, even if no-one appears to be able to satisfyingly do so on command. No matter what field you occupy, you’ll likely identify with the squirm-worthy process of coaxing an idea out from the privacy of your skull and into an arena laced with savagely underwhelmed colleagues. For whatever reason, the bathroom mirror is the only audience principled enough to awaken the optimally confident silver-tongued version of ourselves, and any outside attempts to replicate our performance is invariably poisoned by the tendency to regress to flat-incoherent drivel.

A good creative idea is defined by one that is both novel and useful. The journals of the late and prolific Sylvia Plath suggest that those that are fortunate enough to have them with some frequency don’t additionally have some privileged insight into where they come from. On the subject Plath once wrote,  “If I want to write, this is hardly the way to behave—in horror of it, frozen by it. The ghost of the unborn novel is a Medusa-head. Witty or simply observant character notes come to me. But I have no idea how to begin.”

According to a recent study that used freestyle rap as an interface to explore the neural correlation that bridges brain activity and imagination, when we’re being creative the part of our brain responsible for decision making is mostly inactive. However, the part of our brain responsible for learn-association and emotional responses remains extremely active- in other words we drive the best when we’re not really at the wheel. There is a studied science behind the creative process-unfortunately that doesn’t make the execution any less frustrating.  

“Destructive paralysis and ruinous brooding”

The creative process supplies a unique anxiety outside of the art world, wherein the sting of rejection is taxed indiscriminately. To be clear, neither scenario is ideal from where I sit, but as a New Yorker that has been burdened with a friend group comprised exclusively of aspiring actors, aspiring painters, aspiring comedians, aspiring writers, and aspiring-aspiring musicians, I’d wager about 50% of these lack self-awareness, but I can much more confidently say that 0% lack thick skin.

It’s weird to consider the importance of imagination in a corporate context, but I’d argue that perfecting the skill is integral to some degree on every level of the chain. Run through all of the most successful non-artists you can think of, everyone from Steve Jobs to Ray Kroc to Marie Kondo, and you’ll find that they all possess(ed) a certain ingenuity that set them apart from their competitors. In some cases, this spark outweighed the actual business acumen

A recent survey of 4,000 working professionals between the ages of 25 and 50 commissioned by print and design powerhouse MOO and conducted by Atomik Research, better unpacks the creative woes erupting across American and English companies every year. 

“As a design-led company, we understand the importance of being creative and how fulfilling it is to see your ideas come to life,“ says Brendan Stephens, MOO’s Global Creative Director. “People are more creative than they think they are. With this research, we wanted to pinpoint the potential stumbling blocks and allow people to understand and unlock their full creative potential.“

Nearly 2,000 respondents surveyed regret not being more creative, with an additional 30% admitting to creating something original only a few times or less a year. The biggest impediments to the process appeared to be distractions (36%),  time constraints (46%), and the job itself (66%). Two-thirds of the respondents said that they feel much more creative on Fridays and Saturdays, with 32% of the 4,000 queried saying that they feel more creative at night time. 

“Creativity is like a muscle – you need to keep exercising!” explains Stephens. “Most of us get into a routine where every day looks generally the same, often at the expense of creative thinking. Making the effort to be creative both at work and in our personal lives helps us flex that muscle more easily.”

Passion projects are often derided as the idle masturbatory calling card of the Millennials, which isn’t completely unfair, but I don’t think making a good song should be the only objective in mind when trying your hand at writing one. Finishing a thing is not only incredibly rewarding it also teaches you how to properly measure expectations, manage time effectively, take pleasure in your work, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone; conditioning your mind to be imaginative on your own terms. The authors behind the report explain, “If you wait until a stroke of brilliance strikes, your busy life will often get in the way. Set a goal for how many original creations you plan to make in a given month and implement the following tips to achieve that goal.”

How to break the block

After establishing a general creative malaise happening in American and UK offices, the survey went on to ask how those that figured out a way to constantly combat it-did so; the results were surprisingly varied. 

A sizeable portion of those surveyed (53%) said that they felt more creative when they made a point to surround themselves with work that inspired them, whether in the form of listening to great music (44%) or observing the imaginative efforts of their colleagues (39%.) “When you become frustrated with your creative endeavors, sometimes taking a break to explore how others did something can help you brainstorm a new approach,” the authors add.

Some surveyees opted for a more traditional approach to swerving past writer’s block, an approach that’s come to be referred to as  “shower thoughts.” Thirty-one percent of respondents felt that their very best ideas came to them while they showered.  Alice Flaherty, who might be the most famous voice funding research behind the science of creativity, posits that the shower-enterprise correlation owes its popularity to dopamine and the limbic system. Any activity that surges dopamine levels, warm showers,  listening to music, and even walking will provide more avenues for imagination. 

“Physical activities that don’t require your mental attention, like going for a walk, can give your mind the freedom to wander. As your mind explores possibilities away from the workspace, you’ll discover new ideas and be refreshed to act on them when you’re back in the office,” the authors conclude. 

It’s an impossibly vulnerable thing to watch your ideas bomb, both privately and amongst peers. However, it’s important to remember that you’ve got to go through like 80 bad ideas before you get to a good one. Han Solo was supposed to be a giant-green-cyborg man,  Van Gogh was supposed to be a minister and Dostoevsky was supposed to be debrained in St. Petersburg.  The only thing standing between you and your next good idea is time and some awkward reflections.

Originally published on The Ladders.

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