Outside the Box

Cast your mind back to your first art class at primary school. When asked by a teacher to show your crayon drawings we would hold our masterpieces aloft with such pride awaiting the praise that always came.

I’m not sure when that stopped, but asked to perform the same exercise as adults and it’s likely the majority of us would squirm with embarrassment for fear of humiliation and taunting. This dread of judgement and negative reaction by our peers holds us back from sharing our ideas, and for some even stifles their thinking. What would happen if we put an untamed idea out there? It might be rejected, or worse still, we could be mocked.

When we were very young, a large discarded box wasn’t simply an empty container, it was a dragon’s cave or a flying car. Our games were restricted only by our imagination. As children we were nurtured, encouraged, and praised for being inventive. As we became more sensitive to the opinions of others, most of us began to see the box for what it was and it formed a boundary in our minds. The box becomes a safe place where there was less chance of ridicule or risk to our credibility and reputation.

But how do we push forward without vivid imagination? We would never have discovered continents or invented cars, aeroplanes, or travelled into space if some of us hadn’t voiced crazy ideas and found the courage to say, “what about this?” We need to be free of constraint if we are to grow and evolve. We must dare to dream if we are to find creative solutions to mundane problems. We have to train ourselves to be free from constraint, use our imaginations, and have wild ideas.

Problem solving requires creativity. How well it is solved is up to us. For me, if a customer says, “We need a new brand, marketing strategy, website, brochure, but you can’t exceed this budget, it must be completed by this date, it must include this, and mustn’t include that”, creativity is stifled and effort is focused on the constraints making the solution harder to find.

My advice? Ignore the constraints, forget the limitations, work on the problem and imagine there are no restrictions. Once you have the creative solution you can begin to pull it back and apply the customer’s requests. When it comes to presenting your ideas, pitch both solutions. For example, “this campaign meets your budget and can be produced by your deadline and will deliver the required return on your investment. However, if we ran it for an extra month to a wider audience and had a 5% greater budget, it would achieve this result.”

The final choice is ultimately out of our hands, but most people choose the latter simply because it’s more creative. It focuses on what could be rather than concentrating on what it can’t be.

For me, creativity is the ability to dream without constraint. It thrives when we feel safe and encouraged to explore without fear of judgement. As adults we have gradually supressed our imagination and forgotten how to play. There is a quote by the great science fiction author Ursula Le Guin, which sums up this philosophy, “The creative adult is the child who survived”.

I would encourage everyone to build a nurturing environment of trust so they can start to play again, and let those crazy, creative ideas flow.