What blocks creative thinking is plain and simple. It’s also what sets him free

(Image credit: Unsplash photo/SmartBrief illustration)

In the brutally titled book ‘A Blow to the Side of the Head’, creative consultant and author Roger von Oech suggested that we all have a lot in common, at least when it comes to how we think, work and act. most of the time.

It wasn’t a compliment.

He wrote about creativity and how it is constrained. And the limits he believed we put on ourselves — what he called mental locks — have implications for every organization, every leader, and every person looking for ways to thrive in a deeply uncertain environment.

The red herring of uncertain times is that too often we think that the times themselves are causing our plans to drift. We eagerly blame the volatility of the moment for our inability to turn ambiguity to our advantage. Undoubtedly, the environment plays a role. But the real problem is in our heads.

Von Oech didn’t just philosophize about the idea that we prevent ourselves from thinking more openly and creatively. He described 10 specific mental locks, stating that these barriers are self-imposed. These are not natural limitations. They are, however, deceptively simple in form and function.

Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in their earliest appearances they don’t even show up as locks or appear as anything to make a fuss of. But unrecognized and ignored, these simple habits form a formidable wall, blocking creative thinking. Worse than blocking our creative thoughts, they become our primary mode of thinking, locking us into fixed pathways when what we need most to deal with a changing landscape is to be open.

As the grip of these mental locks tightens, not only do we struggle to find innovative solutions to our challenges, but we often conclude that we lack creative capacity, which further limits our ability to adapt and thrive. .

Which locks, you might be wondering, have this power? Among von Oech’s top 10 are:

  • believing there is only one right answer
  • eliminate anything that does not seem familiar or logical
  • overemphasizing practicality and disparaging the game as frivolous
  • try to avoid ambiguity and error at all costs

The really powerful insight is this: everyone is a choice. Made over and over, such choices shape the prison walls and barred doors that make it increasingly difficult to break out of our old-fashioned ways to find approaches that match the challenges we face. The solution? The very thing that locks us in the first place: choice.

Von Oech insisted on choosing not to let these mental locks engage. In “The Rise: Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery”, Sarah Lewis goes even further. It encourages us to become mental grazers. Mental grazing is actively training to look beyond one’s own boundaries out of habit, but doing so less with the intention of knocking down barriers all at once, or coming up with some miracle innovation, and to place with the simple intention of introducing new ideas, images, ways and concepts that we know little about.

Step by step. It is the practice of such mental grazing and openness that matters most. When pursued, mental grazing naturally removes these Fort Knox locks in our heads and habits, exposing the creative capacity each of us is born with.

Sometimes the key to our problems lies in our own abilities, if we just know which locks to pick and which to release.

Larry Robertson is an innovation consultant who works, writes and guides at the intersection of creativity, leadership and entrepreneurship. Robertson was named a Fulbright Scholar in 2021. He is also the author of two award-winning books: “The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity” and “A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and Its Moment in Human Progress”. As the founder of Lighthouse Consulting, he has guided entrepreneurial companies and their leaders through growth to sustainable success for more than 25 years. Her third book, “Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times,” will be released June 1, 2021.

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free emails on leadership, business transformation, and HR, one of SmartBrief’s 200+ industry-focused newsletters.