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Creativity as Courage

creativity courage matisse

You are a genius!

Well, anyway, you probably used to be…

But here is the reality: there is a creative genius inside of you. We all have one. But after years of socialization—first at school, later at work—that genius has been suppressed.

Tapping into your original genius and rekindling those smoldering embers, means overcoming your physiology and allowing a truer version of yourself to function despite social conditioning, and signals of fear.

“What we have concluded, is that non-creative behavior is learned.” — George Land

In 1968, NASA contracted researcher George Land to develop a creativity test that could be used to identify their most creative people and assign those folks to the hardest problems the agency was facing.

The test proved massively successful on two counts. Firstly, NASA was happy with the results. But secondly, it inspired Land’s curiosity. He wondered how children would respond to the test, and so he applied it to a group of 1600 kindergartners.

The results were staggering: 98% of the 4 and 5 year olds landed in the “genius” level.

Naturally you want to stick with a group of kids that smart, so Land’s researchers applied the test longitudinally.

The results over time were equally impressive, if not a little bit sad: by the age of 10, only 30% of the same kids were at “genius”, and by 15 the number was 12%. Average “genius” level in adults by age 30 or so hovers around 2%.

What’s going on here?

Convergent vs. divergent thinking.

“There are two kinds of thinking that occur in the brain,” says Land in his TED Talk (linked below), “and they use different parts of the brain. One is called divergent, that’s imagination, that’s generating new possibilities. The other is called convergent, and that’s where you’re making a judgment, a decision, you’re testing something, your criticizing, you’re evaluating. So one is like an accelerator, the other is a brake.”

How to bring these insights to your work.

In today’s workplace, the most common driver of fear is likely to be criticism from a boss, or judgments from a peer. It is helpful to understand that negative criticism can impede divergent thinking, and squelch our ability to be inventive. Judgment can literally limit our creativity, by triggering fear!

Can anything be done about it?

Re-activating your childhood genius and living in that innate creativity requires a combination of self-awareness and bravery. Understanding that fear is impacting our experience is the first, and most challenging step. Becoming present in these moments takes squaring up to our experience—even if unpleasant. After all, we’ve learned to move away from our fears, not toward them. Yet it is only by fully accepting them that we can possibly regain our equilibrium.

Hello fear!

So, the next time you’re about to dive into something that you suspect might carry a charge, take a moment and ask yourself: “what is my full experience in this moment, and where am I carrying fear or anxiety?”. Scan your system by tracking your breath from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Pay careful attention to those places that you know to by your vulnerable spots (head and temples? chest and heart? belly and core?). Once you’ve localized what you are feeling, breathe into it gently. Imagine saying “Hello fear! There you are old friend. Thank you for standing guard, but right now, I’ve got this, and you can chill.”

Step away from your desk or laptop, put down your phone, and walk outside or around the block. Get into the fresh air (literally or metaphorically) and take a minute to reset using this approach, and see what it feels to re-engage your work afterwards.

Authentic leadership comes from a place of self-knowledge. And self-knowledge only manifests when leaders are brave enough to slow down and know their own experience. It is through this self-awareness that we can meet our fear and re-ignite our ability to foster creativity and innovation for ourselves and others.

Want to stimulate your creativity?

Create opportunities for your brain to exercise without fear of being judged. George Land suggests thinking of 30 new ways to use a common fork. If that sounds like a strange way to spend time, congratulations, you’re an adult!

Whether you try this exercise or not, learning to be aware of your response to fear is the first step in tapping into some of your deepest and most creative forces.

Would you like some helping cultivating your creativity? Contact us here at Leadership Landing. We are ready to help!

Watch George Land’s TED Talk, “The Failure of Success”


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