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Creativity Comments by Winston J. Brill, Ph.D.

08/01 Creativity Comment

Taking Risks and Thinking "Out-of-the-Box"

What’s the trick to getting more of those great ideas?  All you have to do is: (a) take greater risks and (b) increase your ability to “think out-of-the-box.”  These are the most common suggestions.  The problem is: they just aren’t practical suggestions. 

By the time we’re adults, we’ve already developed our risk-taking comfort level and our imagination comfort level.  While these may change under different circumstances (e.g. very imaginative with a hobby, but not very imaginative at work), it’s likely that we won’t be able to significantly alter those comfort levels in our workplace.  Our risk-taking and our imagination comfort levels—in any given situation—have been ingrained into our personalities, and it’s very difficult to change our personalities. 

For instance, George does not want any significant change in his job.  He is satisfied with routine tasks. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is continually seeking new opportunities and skills.  It’s unlikely that anyone can get George to want to seek dramatically new, and changing, responsibilities.  And it’s unlikely that anyone can get Elizabeth to relax into a neatly defined job.

Therefore, expect to be frustrated when you tell someone to heed the command, “Take more risk” or “Be more imaginative.”  Well, maybe the person will take a bit more risk at a meeting where the boss states, “Don’t worry about treading on toes, or saying something that’s outlandish.”  Or the person will become more imaginative during a brainstorming session facilitated by an expert who can induce far-out thinking.  But soon after those meetings, the individual will recover his or her own risk-taking and imagination comfort levels.

It’s important here to remember the results from my study of hundreds of great ideas (04/01 Creativity Comment). I found the vast majority of these ideas arose, not in meetings, but during times when the individual wasn’t even concentrating on the problem that the idea solved.  This means we shouldn’t expect much creativity enhancement during a risk-taking or “out-of-the-box” thinking intervention.

While we can’t change personalities, we can change attitudes.  We frequently change our attitudes about art (“After staring at those ugly patches, the painting looks pretty interesting.”), food (“I finally can enjoy raw oysters.”) and people (“That weirdo is actually a nice person.”).  Therefore, to stimulate creativity, I recommend changing attitudes.  As this Creativity Comments series progresses, you’ll appreciate the importance of an Innovative Attitude, and how to enhance that attitude.  That’s the only way to get those great ideas—while not attending a meeting that focuses on risk taking or “out-of-the-box” thinking.  

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