Road blocks: 11 things that limit your creativity at work

Raise your hand if you think you are a creative. Did you, or didn’t you? When I ask this question to professionals attending our ideation sessions, I am always surprised when I get very few hands up. Why do most of us think we are not creative? Creativity is being put up on such a high pedestal, and people feel like it is owned by a select few. So, what are these few individuals doing differently? And why do you feel so disconnected from your own creativity? Here are 11 things that stifle your creativity on a daily basis: 

1. The “beta”culture: The “go, go, go,” “do, do, do” culture we live in shuts off our access to the creative right brain. Beta is a brain state that we put ourselves in whenever we are trying to multi-task, which is all the time. How many of you have your greatest ideas while you are taking a shower or during your morning run? How about when you are in front of your desk?

This is one of the reasons why companies like Google have started to offer mindfulness activities like meditation, yoga classes on their campuses. We need to remember these companies are smart and they also recognize the alternative ways to induce creativity in the workplace. Even taking a brisk 15-20 min walk during your lunch break or doing walking meetings is a simple way to break the cycle of the beta state in our office spaces.

2. Losing touch with your inner child: Why? Why? Why? We were all born with curiosity in our DNA and an insatiable drive to explore and try new things. Kids love to go on scavenger hunts, adventures and learn new things. But, as we evolve and become boring old “grownups,” society expects us to fit in and rewards us when we bury the kid inside, thus suppressing our creativity.

Funny enough, one of the most popular ways to get to creativity is using LEGO®. LEGO® has embraced the “inner child” by offering a whole program called LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® where their blocks are used in facilitated sessions to inspire innovative ideas.

3. The fear of wearing your heart on your sleeve: When we think of people who create art, we immediately give them the “creative” stamp. Why are they creative, and you’re not? Gary Hirsch, artist, illustrator and founder of says “Art is ripping your guts out and putting them on the table for people look at …” At work, we feel we must play it safe due to hierarchy and internal politics. So, how can we be creative without messing about with office politics? One way to be creative in the corporate setting is to create a safe environment where everyone can speak their minds in a constructive manner and an inclusive setting.

The Green Room ideation sessions involve professionals at different seniority levels in organizations. First, we agree that if we are team, teams only succeed by working together, and each of us needs to put his/her best on the table for the team. There is only one rule: Be positive about what others say and share what you think. Role-playing does help to get people in the right mindset. In your next team meeting, try to act like you are on a school sports team and you are out there to win the game. How would you run the meeting differently? How would the people in the meeting act differently?

4. Saying “yes, but”: Have you ever been to an improv show? It’s a form of theater where players just improvise the scenes by building on what the other actor has done or said the line before them. The rule is you must say “yes.” Can you imagine how creative we could get if we played more by this rule in life and at work instead of the common practice of saying “yes” to whatever comes our way and following it up with a “but.” A part of being creative is letting go of our previous judgement s and exploring new perspectives.

What gets in the way at work? Why can’t we “yes, and” things in the office?  Perhaps it’s because we all have our titles, and we are expected to be the subject matter expert of what we do. Working in our own silos, we feel obliged to know all the answers.

Just like in the improv example if you want to “yes, and” to make things flow, you need to have confidence that you have the best people on your team, while giving them the space and the environment to be creative. In our sessions with previous clients, we have a section called Drifting with Love and Builds. We bring together experts around a certain topic and then let one person start with an idea. Then we ask the others to share what they love about that idea and add one build to it. You wouldn’t believe be the quality of the ideas and the thought process that emerges.

5.Your brain on auto-pilot: Have you ever arrived at work without being able to remember the route you took? Or walked by the same restaurant every day and suddenly, one day, noticed that little sticker on their door? There is so much to focus on in this rapidly-changing world. No wonder you feel stuck. Your brain needs a change of scenery. Which brings me to the next thing limiting your creativity at work…

6.Selective attention: Imagine yourself at work. Because of your selective attention, you may be missing the opportunities staring you right in the eyes that could lead you to new, creative solutions. Some companies implement a very basic method to combat this block: A no-desk policy. No one at the office has a designated work space. Rather, you come and sit wherever is empty. Sounds so simple, but for that auto-pilot mind of yours that has selective attention, it automatically stimulates curiosity and a feeling of discovery that impacts the work you do.

7.The daily grind: Daily routines make life easier, right?! A daily routine keeps us on track but can also make us complacent. We stop thinking about, recognizing and experiencing new things. Stimulus is the oxygen for creativity. Without new stimuli, our creativity suffocates.

It’s not hard to find new stimuli when the world is at our fingertips. YouTube is maybe the best tool for this. Sometimes a very basic magazine you find on the table or having lunch with someone at the office that you have never interacted with could lead to critical thinking. Try different things and find what works the best for you.

8.This love affair with our comfort zone: Being creative takes work, discomfort, butterflies in your stomach. However, our comfort zones are so cozy, so warm, such relaxed and happy places. Sometimes not wanting to leave that comfort zone can prevent you from trying new things and unleashing our own creativity.

9.Labels we give ourselves: You never know who will come up with the best ideas. The titles or the background knowledge people have developed on certain topics are never an indication of how creative they will be when exploring that topic. On the flip side, I witness so many people underutilizing their creativity because they think it is not their place or responsibility, especially in the workplace. So many great ideas go unspoken and we limit ourselves to our own boxes.

One way, we tried it in our office was the basic suggestion box where people can include anonymous (or open) letters about ideas. Another one of the Green Room approaches was the weekly breakfasts since the best conversations happen around food. Ask people for their opinion about things you are trying to figure out over a coffee and some donuts. Solicit their help. When I used to work new business development my go-to person was a gentleman who managed the office kitchen. He would have the most insightful comments and speak the minds of our target demo so clearly, so much so that we should have listened to him for that one product that failed so miserably in market but did so well in research!!! Sound familiar?

10.Being a perfectionist: “Done is better than perfect.” So many of us are guilty of living by this motto, though somehow, especially in the corporate world, we still can’t seem to execute on it. Seeing this in action stimulates different parts of our brains, and in return, gets our creative juices flowing. Just talking about it and trying to have it perfect on paper ultimately limits us to what we already know, and we miss our opportunity to learn and think differently about the challenge at hand.

None of the great inventions of the world came out of perfection, but instead from countless trials. Thomas Edison summed it up so nicely, “Every trial and failure brings us one step closer to the solution.”

11. Lack of thought diversity: Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you approach your social circles in the same way, by spending time with the same people, expecting to learn new, creative ways of thinking, you may just drive yourself crazy, and only hear similar points of view and perspectives. Diversity is the key that can unleash that creative energy inside us.

Meet-ups or different interest groups are the perfect ways to meet with new people that have different perspectives and backgrounds. If you don’t have that kind of time, go to the next neighborhood’s coffee shop to get your coffee and chat with a random person in line or just observe them and notice the differences from your own neighborhood.

I highly recommend art, any form of art, since it captures references to culture, experiences and colors of life. If there is a neighborhood with artist workshops, stop by and listen to their stories. They are a well of inspiration.

Good news is that if you have already started recognizing these limitations in your life and you begin changing them, you’re bound to notice your creativity coming out of its shell. It’ll get easier the more you open yourself up to it. Go on, give it a shot and see how creative you really are!