In July, I wrote about the benefits of creativity and offering ideas on how to be creative.

Today I will reflect upon the barriers that get in the way of us being creative.

1 Negative thinking –  prevents us from seeing opportunities because it changes our perception about the world around us. We see a glass half empty rather than half full. It is of course the same glass however it is how we perceive and frame it that makes the difference in terms of our attitude and our behaviour.

Negative thinking can be seen often in the answer of ‘yes but’ to new ideas.

If this is you, try a ‘yes, and’ next time and consider what merit there might be in the new idea before stepping in to offer the negativity. Positivity is about seeing opportunity and having hope, even when things do not look so good.

2 Imposter syndrome  – is a syndrome where people feel that they should not be there because they are not good enough. This is more typical of women, and can result in less confidence in ourselves to propose new ideas. This happens because we don’t believe we have the legitimacy to do so. It can lead to a heavy amount of self-judgement.

To overcome imposter syndrome, it is important to be able to recognise it, and then to work on self-confidence to overcome it. With self-judgement we live with the critic always sitting on our shoulders and looking on, influencing our thoughts.

3 Not being open to new ideas  this can be due to negative thinking, however, it may also be due to the assumptions we develop over time. I am reminded here of the ladder of inference developed by Chris Argyris, where assumptions form a step on the ladder to fixed attitudes.

We need to challenge our own assumptions when we start to review problems or evaluate new ideas.

One way to do this is to try a simple exercise. Draw three columns. In the fist write the heading facts, the second, feelings and the third assumptions.

Then take a situation where you may have felt that the outcome could have been different. Firstly draw out the facts as you saw them and in the timeline you lived it. Next to each fact, note the feelings you had at that stage, then the as a result of those feelings what assumptions did you make?

Look back over the this and check out whether any assumptions were made based on feelings and not fact and how this influenced your actions. What can you learn from this?

4 No time to spend on creative pursuits – Often this is because we don’t put enough value on play in our lives. We have a need to play and with play a more creative side of us opens up. Take that time out and have a play – even if it’s a playful walk. Recapture that spirit of enquiry, observe closely what is happening around you. When we play, we bring our imagination to the fore and let all sorts of possibilities take place. Look at young children when they play with cardboard boxes and the range of ‘things’ that this can become; a train, a car, a house for example. Somehow as we grow older, we lose this ability and start to value a logical, rational way of thinking.  This can inhibit our creativity.

Take time out to just stand and stare, to look at things mindfully, and then see what thoughts arise.

5 Not taking risks  – The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best, and we may never know if we would have failed. In fact, failure can often lead to greater success if we can be positive around the learning from it.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation.

6 Rigid goal settingI am not a fan of setting SMART goals. I accept that there are times when it works well, however it can be too rigid to allow the flexibility and breathing space that creativity and innovation need.

Planning and goal setting are important activities that keep us moving forward. However, none of us can really predict the future, although some try, so whatever we plan cannot cover all possibilities. We cannot plan for every eventuality as Mintzberg stated.  What would be helpful and inspirational for creativity to flourish is to develop a vision  to guide us, and then to create intentions from this. This will allow us to be flexible and open to new opportunities as and when they happen. The vision is our guiding light here and the goals are intended and can be changed if the need arises, for example due to external change or new opportunities occurring. So, we craft our own strategy towards emerging goals and stay aware that life happens, and we may need to adapt these goals.

I hope that these ideas have helped you to reflect upon any barriers you may have to being more creative.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley.