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Stuck for ideas? You might need to make yourself a little uncomfortable.

Why creativity fizzles when life is too easy.

The second part of a series exploring the past, present and future of creativity: one of the most important skills for the next 20 years.

Is it a good thing that you only need to wave your arms around to create a beautiful image? ("Sense Me" at The Trapholt, Kolding, Denmark)

Many countries have sought to create a non-hierarchical society where everything is possible for everyone. Fair pay! Equal rights! Gender equality! Benefits for all! But somewhere along the way on the mission to improve social welfare, creativity got flattened.

If all the things you need are handed to you on a plate, why bother trying? There is no need to question the social structure, and no need to challenge the status quo. Everything is perfect as it is. What problems could possibly need fixing?

It’s very easy now to create something ‘perfect’, or to create something that looks conventionally appealing. All you have to do is follow a formula, or fill in a template. Social media is a good example – there are Instagram filters galore, and endless YouTube layout templates you can use for free – ready for you to drag and drop, with the hard work already done for you. Powerpoint presentations, websites and even online courses are the same. “Follow my formula! You’ll earn your first £10,000 within a month – guaranteed!” How could you say no?

It’s coined as ‘disproportionate feedback’ and it’s very, very bad for the creative engines. Put very little effort in, but get something glittering and shiny out at the other end. It hardly encourages imagination.

It means that we create a world of sameness, with nothing new.

Now apply that to business. Or to work. How will you stand out from your competitors if your ideas are generated using the same templates and the same formulas as everyone else’s? In short, you won’t.

A recent report by agency The Akin into the feeling of ‘balance’ amongst Europeans found that 72% of us believe that discomfort leads to self-growth. A great quote from one of the Danish respondents is “I am looking for discomfort in radical places and experiences. Life is often too easy in the Western world.”

87% of us believe that challenges make us think ‘outside the box’. And amongst the list of some of the most creatively buzzy places right now are those in a state of political tension and in recovery from violence.

They include Mexico City, whose art scene was moulded by the repression following the Tlatelolco student massacre in 1968. It was the world design capital in 2018 and its experimental stores and galleries are now a magnet for activity, increasingly attracting visitors and serving up strong competition for the traditional visitor destination: the beaches, as more people hang around in the city a little longer to enjoy the blossoming creative culture.

Bangkok is also on the list. It’s a place where ongoing political tension is gradually sparking more musical and artistic expression through rap, street art and art/culture destinations, all born from an anti-dictatorship feeling.

Belgrade is in the process of joining the EU after the Balkan wars and therefore being cut off from international art movements for many years. It’s ‘repression’ or isolation from global tendencies has meant that a unique Serbian style has been nurtured. One could argue that wouldn’t have happened if the ‘cut off’ hadn’t taken place.

I’m not suggesting that we start wars in order to make us more creative. But there are aspects of repressive situations that can be engineered in order to stimulate imagination in places where life is just too easy to have any good ideas. Here are 3 ideas for starters:

1. Frugality

The greatest ideas tend to come out of necessity, and the restriction of resources. What happens if you drastically reduce the budget? Or you cut the time available to work on a project down to a tenth?

2. Disrupt routines

Make changes in the environment, or remove the comfortable routine or environment from people completely. Change creates the challenge of finding new ways to do things, as we are enforced to view things from new perspectives. New perspectives physically spark new connections in our brains, so we make new ideas.

3. Drop obstacles

A combination of 1 and 2, this entails dropping unexpected challenges at staggered intervals. How about removing access to certain tools? Or adding a new deadline? What can you do to create a feeling of mild discomfort that will fire up the feeling of self-growth and thus imagination?

About the author:

Jill Hawkins is a futures advisor, trainer and keynote speaker. For 13 years she has worked for global agencies and household brands like JWT, Nike, LEGO and Diageo helping them understand, design and communicate for the future. She is the founder of ‘The Future Thief’.

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