• Mental Man Talking

Is our society, its rules and how we're conditioned a mind-prison for creativity and innovation?

Our perception of ourselves, or others' perception of us, is often informed by a mindset bound, but also blinded, by subjective experience. A mindset created as a product of various belief systems (ours and others); guided and re-enforced by a brain that tricks us into living within false limits. Rather than us pushing towards our full potential. So, is this killing off an opportunity for more of us to be creative and innovative? Are our brains are just being a little lazy and in so doing reducing the reach of our full potential?

Well. Let me tell you something. Shhh though. It's a secret. Your brain is lazy. It is, for sure. It likes to run you day-after-day on auto-pilot. It regularly takes the easy way. Harsh? Perhaps, a little, but not completely. It is definitely worth knowing because this very way of being could be holding you back. This very way of being could be negatively influencing how you feel about yourself.


Human evolution and its drive for efficiency.


Human evolution has created the thing that separates us from our nearest mammal-cousin, the primate - the human brain. A brain that is significantly better developed; one which has much more capacity and capability than our nearest cousins. Some believe the development of the human brain to the level it's currently at is the result of us learning how to cook our food. Tangental perhaps, but what we deem now to be a simple everyday thing enables us to take on board huge amounts of calories as a ratio to body weight, that in turn increase muscle mass and brain development beyond that of other mammals.


The human brain, this instrument of human ingenuity can open up a world of possibilities but also restrict our very existence in equal measure. How we think about life and our role in it determines everything. The problem starts with the level of energy the brain needs to run itself. The brain alone consumes roughly 25% of our daily calorie intake (c. 500 - 600 per day). So the human body can only consume enough calories to run about 15% of the brain at any one time. It has to be efficient otherwise we would simply be a living brain and probably be unable to get off the sofa due to not having enough energy. (Or - worse still - out of the cave; meaning we would have been eaten by the predators of the day, and thus would not be here now).


So to counteract this our brains can build neural-pathways that can be re-used. Again and again. Pathways built based on our experience. The things we see as familiar. These pathways establish themselves and are then used as short cuts. The safe routes. This makes everything more efficient because the signals are firing between neurones on well-trodden paths. The upside, but also perhaps downside, is that these pathways mean we are much less likely to fail because they are built on the basis of things that have always worked well for us. The pathways we have walked many times. Therefore they become re-enforced. The obvious downside to all of this is that, as a consequence, our creativity can often be restricted or non-existent. We can start to believe that creativity is something we don't possess. It becomes a core belief. Then it guides our decisions for how we interact with the world of life and work. Others believe it as well because our actions make it so. It becomes a truth. A vicious cycle.


Our society is the existential threat to the creative mindset.


Life over recent centuries has conditioned us this way. The biggest existential threat to creativity is the people around us and the society we live in today. We inadvertently educate out of people their creative drive. For example, our education system, based on achieving exam results and prescribed outcomes, reduces risk taking rather than increasing it; because no-one can be separated from the herd. If they do, they might not pass and the impact of this is significant. Then when we get into work, our work appraisal systems often reward consensus not debate, difference and constructive contention.


We know though that with innovation it is super important to think differently; to ask the questions others don't ask - because this is where new ideas come from. Even if it is looking at decisions and 'truths' of the past through a different lens. We all too often don't take the step. Why? Well, because how we get hired, how we get promoted, or even how we get fired is often predicated on thinking within the constraints of consensus - not difference. Unfortunately it is common for judgment to be passed on people who try and fail because we are all genius in hindsight. This means that the majority of people never take the risk. Those who take the risks are effectively taking one for the team - the human team. They are the ones stepping outside the proverbial cave to hunt and gather the food.

I have found that failure is often talked about in life and business as a positive, but it is rarely rewarded through symbolic action. So, risk taking and failure becomes the preserve of the entrepenuaers. Seems strange, when we know that getting from point A to point B is never linear; and only the best outcomes are achieved when people push themselves outside their comfort zones. We need environments in life and work that will catch people when they fall; but the system(s) in which we operate ultimately promote and reward success and therein lies the problem. This is evident because most, if not all, people would never list their failures on their resume. Why not? Surely by sharing failures with a list of what was learned, and what you would do differently, shows a strong level of EQ and also a strong desire to learn and to create new pathways.


Sometimes this is really hard though. Why not reward someone for getting the best grades or for always being a 'safe pair of hands' in the work place. After all, it is easier to reward compliance and consensus, not actions of curiosity that might lead to dead-ends. Curiosity is what we need though. We need to step off the established neural-pathways and forge new ones. Build on what is already there, absolutely, but venture off piste a little. This will create new pathways. Some of them will be dead-ends but so what. You will learn something and build new pathways along the way. This is what our children do. Unlimited by life experience. Failure is momentary. Learning is life. Often our greatest successes come out of our most epic failures. We learn something from what happened and this creates pathways that enable us to do it bigger, better and brighter the next time around. Free, unencumbered thinking is everything. Asking the question,'what if?' can be the most crucial. 'What if I can? What if I do? What if they are wrong? What if I am right? What if I tried?'


Rebellion against the boundaries created by the mind is a good thing.


It makes me cringe when I hear people say things like, ‘person, so-and-so X, they‘re really creative but that person, so-and-so Y, they’re not creative‘. It is true that we possess unique talents but creativity is not binary, it exists on a spectrum. Therefore we can all create. Create for ourselves and create for others. Think bigger and better; about our lives and our work. Think in a way that takes us out of the box society has built around us and our life to date; the box we've been squeezed into.

We are often guilty of making a link that says creativity, art, and jobs in Marketing are synonymous. When they're not. Creativity happens across a massive spectrum. It is not just about the big idea or the look and feel; it is about how we turn these things into reality; how we plan them; how we bring things to life; how we make the most of something; how we evolve something to be even better.


We humans all possess a pre-frontal cortex; the bit of equipment at the front of your brain, behind your forehead that develops well into your 20s. This controls your executive brain function and it is what makes you human. It is what distinguishes you from other mammals. It allows us to disconnect from the now and use our imagination. Otherwise we would be like other mammals and only be concerned with immediate survival and ongoing procreation that ensures the survival of our species. So we all have the same instrumentation. It is just that some people are more practised at using it. 'Practised' being the key word. More practised at one key thing: being prepared to try ... and to fail. Being prepared to let others fail around them. Knowing absolutely that success never comes with out it. Allowing failure without judgment. With kindness and compassion. Because they know the act of trying and failing enables learning. Without learning there is nothing.


Embracing failure is what we all need to do.


So accept ours, yours and life’s failures in a whole hearted way. As a necessity for forging new neural-pathways. Unleash new strands of creativity for the future. Build on what was, to create what is, and what will ultimately be. This is how humankind has survived and evolved. It is how the greatest innovators did, and continues to do, their best work. It is how they are deemed to be the most creative people on the planet. They might be aware of the consequences of failing but they fear much more the consequences of never trying; for they know it would be the death knell for innovation. We need innovation. Not just from the chosen few but from everyone. Regardless of what your life story to this point tells you.

It is time for a re-think. To change the narrative. To make it feel OK for us and others to fail. To be kinder to ourselves and to others when we do fail. I have failed many times. I have feared the idea of failure many more times. I know, though, that I have learned the most from my failures and that it is these very moments and times that have made me the person I am today. I still sometimes fear failure but I am learning to embrace the idea more and more - that it is simply a reality of life. If we can get to a point where we're never ever being held back by a fear of failing then the world holds huge possibilities. So, let's take a collective step. Put yourself out there.


For your own growth, it is super important that you don’t accept your label, or what others label you as. You have the same equipment at the front of your skull as all of the greats. It doesn't mean that you have to be the next Steve Jobs or James Dyson. It doesn't mean you can't be though either. You have the power to change the shape of the box your mind sits in. You just need to unleash your creative mind and, who knows, anything could happen.

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