Praying to the muses, serendipity, eureka moments — the creative process is clouded in superstition and mystery. Despite the ability to peek into the brain and watch different areas light up on an MRI, neuroscientists are still fairly stumped about exactly what happens during bursts of creative inspiration.
With all the obscurity surrounding creative thought, it's no wonder so many myths and misconceptions linger around the topic. But outdated or inaccurate habits can hinder your creative efforts, so we're separating fact from fiction on 7 pervasive myths to set the record straight and help you spark your team's creativity.
Myth 1: Group brainstorming sessions are the ideal starting point for creative team projects.
You've just landed a big new creative project. First step? Get the team together for a group brainstorm! But wait just a second — research actually shows that people come up with more and higher-quality ideas when they work on their own first. Collaborative brainstorming is a great way for people to combine and build off each other's ideas, but not so great for generating new ones.
Don't get straight to work after your brainstorm, either; let people ruminate on the group's observations and ideas for a bit to see what new insights pop up.
Myth 2: Creativity is time-consuming.
Victor Hugo spent 17 years writing Les Miserables. Chaucer invested ten years of his life in The Canterbury Tales, and they still weren’t finished by the time he died. Stories like these make us believe we simply don't have time to devote to quality creative projects. But luckily, that's just not the case.
According to Lee Crutchley, author of The Art of Getting Started, even little things like doodling while you're on the phone, taking one daily photo during your lunch break or commute (even just on your phone), or contributing a single page or paragraph to your book, can improve your creative capacity. As Crutchley says, "The trick is not to worry about whether or not it's good, but just enjoy the process.” So give yourself permission to start small, and remember that incremental progress on your project or skill-building adds up quickly!
Myth 3: Creativity is fueled by "out-of-the-box" scenarios, environments, and mindsets.
The unexpected or random can actually stifle creativity, depending on your personality type and the kind of environment you thrive in. If your best work is done in an ordered, predictable setting, throwing a curve ball into your process or routine can derail your creativity. Only if you feed off of novelty and surprise can mixing things up keep your brain fresh and help you make new breakthroughs. So next time someone tells you to jumpstart creative ideas by trying something new, feel free to tell them to buzz off if that doesn't fit your style.
Myth 4: Creativity is stifled by limits.
How many times have you heard, “Let your creativity run free,” or “Just go with your stream of consciousness”? Many people believe that freedom yields a higher number or better-quality creative solutions or innovative ideas. But studies show that too many possibilities overwhelm the creative brain, and that restricting your options can improve focus and channel your creativity.
As Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile points out, the Apollo 13 missions are a perfect example of this. Ground control was working with all kinds of crazy constraints: scant materials, limited power, a strict deadline, etc. — and yet that narrow scope allowed them to focus intensely on the problem at hand and come up with creative (and effective) solutions.
Myth 5: Deadlines fuel creativity.
Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Ask a group of creatives when they're most productive, and many of them will say it’s when the next deadline starts looming large and they're under the gun. But studies show that people are actually the least creative when they’re racing the clock — in fact, there seems to be a lingering recovery period: creativity not only takes a hit for that day, but the next two days afterwards as well.
The fact is, creative ideas require an "incubation period." You need time to mull things over, come at the problem from different angles, and let all your ideas steep in your unconscious mind. So as tempting as it may be to procrastinate, start ruminating on your next project early on for better results, and use the last-minute drive to focus on execution.
Myth 6: Good creative solutions only happen when a group is on the same page, building off each other’s ideas.
The best creative teams are actually those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas. To disagree with each other productively and offer constructive criticism. BUT (and this is a big "but") without attacking each other. Altering points of view and disagreements have to be made in the spirit of collaboration, not competition. When everyone in the group feels confident and supported, disagreements become welcome opportunities to challenge each other and rise to new heights.
Myth 7: You need a fresh brain in order to come up with creative new ideas.
Studies show that you’re actually more creative when your brain isn't running at 100%. A tired mind isn’t as good at filtering out distractions or remembering connections between ideas — both of which can be beneficial to the creative process, where you’re trying to make unusual connections, stay open to new ideas, and take in a broad range of information and observations. So next time you sit down to do some creative work, skip the caffeine — your brain's ability to passively take in a lot of unfiltered stimuli is actually good for your creativity.