In our Western culture, we’ve been educated out of our creativity, sponteneity and genius by being taught that, in order to make progress, we need to do more research, get more information, and learn more skills. We’ve been taught that wisdom is about adding knowledge, and our innate wisdom, creativity and responsiveness is devalued as childish, impulsive and naive, so we stop inventing solutions and we learn how to research and write articulate “clever” reports instead. We learn that not knowing is a bad thing – something that’ll earn you judgment and probably punishment too. So when we don’t know, we try hard to pretend that we do know and in so doing, we quell our natural curiosity that used to motivate us to observe, experiment and innovate. We try hard to avoid getting into situations where we’re uncertain, so we stick with what we know, and this only serves to dull our creativity, sponteneity and genius further.
How not knowing can make you smarter and more creative
Because we’ve been taught to fear anxiety and uncertainty, we’re sacrificing the natural process of our creative genius. You see, our minds are naturally compelled to find answers and solutions to the questions we have. As demonstrated by the Zagarnic Effect, when you have an unanswered question or problem in mind, your mind will commit itself to finding a solution, and your unconscious will continue to process the problem even while you’re consciously concentrating on something else.
A crucial part of this natural problem-solving process is the development of “creative tension.” Creative tension happens when there’s a gap between where you feel you are and where you want to be. That gap or dissonance creates tension, which motivates your mind to solve the problem in order to close the gap and relieve the tension. While it can feel really uncomfortable (especially if you’ve been taught to believe that not knowing is a bad thing that you’ll be punished for), the creative tension that results from not knowing and having an unsolved problem is a wonderful gift, because that’s exactly what flips your creative genius on!
Unfortunately, most of us find the anxiety intolerable, and so we do our best to get out of the unbearable anxiety of not knowing, by coming up with an answer as quickly as we can. Then we’ll try and run with the first solution or answer that comes to mind, and miss out on the genius solutions that our mind could have produced instead, had we been willing to bear the creative tension a little longer. If you can recognise that not knowing and the anxiety that comes with it is a springboard for your genius, and get more comfortable with not knowing, then you can enjoy unleashed, genius levels of creativity. So here are some tips on using creative tension to unleash your genius:
- Create a gap between where you are and where you want to be by articulating a goal or a problem that you want to solve. As you articulate the problem to be solved and your intention to solve it, you’ll feel the anxiety of not knowing start to rise. If you don’t feel any anxiety, then either the problem isn’t actually important to you, or you already know how to deal with the problem and you haven’t articulated a challenging enough problem.
- Give yourself a deadline for solving the problem and notice how that can increase the creative tension. Some people only really feel the creative tension when they’re under time pressure.
- Carry around a smart question that relates to the outcome you want. Because your mind will always look for an answer to the question you carry, it’s never a good idea to ask yourself questions like, “What did I do to deserve this?” Instead, a useful way to phrase your smart question is in the following format: “How can I… (insert the outcome you want).” For example, when I realized that I wanted to travel again, but I was worried about how I could continue doing the work I love while I travel, I carried the question, “How can I do the work I love while I travel the world?” At the time, when I started asking myself this question, I felt huge anxiety, because I had no idea how I could make this happen. A part of me really wanted to swap this outcome for a more “realistic” outcome – an outcome where I already knew a bit about HOW to achieve it, in order the relieve the anxiety of not knowing.
- Make sure that the question you ask yourself is an open question. I know there are techniques for asking “yes/ no” questions of yourself using muscle testing and pendants and such. This can be tricky because the success of those methods rests on the assumptions that 1.) you’re already aware of all your options, and that 2.) you can have either option, but not both options. So you’re limiting your options and placing a lot of constraints on yourself if you ask yourself a “yes/ no” question. Most of life is more complex than “yes” or “no” options. Alot of the time each option has some “yes” in it and some “no” in it, and you can often custom-design your own solution using the parts you love and cutting out the parts you don’t love.
- Resist the temptation to accept the first answer you generate. Keep asking, “And how else can I… (insert your outcome)?” Continuing to hold the creative tension will result in you generating more answers to your question – often filling in the other missing puzzle pieces you need. And the additional benefit is that by continuing to hold your question, you’ll also learn to be more comfortable with experiencing creative tension and bearing the uncertainty of not knowing for a longer period of time – a great life skill in these turbluent times!
If you can suspend for a while that part of you that’s been dulled by our eduactional and corporate systems and needs to know HOW you’ll get to your outcome, and invest your imagination and attention into getting familiar with WHAT you want instead, and tolerate the creative tension that is created when you do this, you’ll be surprised and thrilled by the answers you generate. Here’s to not knowing and uleashing your creative genius!
“A true leader is not someone who feels fully informed but someone who continuously receives insight and guidance.” – Martha Beck
Through her Bottom-line Bookclub [no longer in business], “Resource Miner,” Cath Duncan offers accelerated learning programs for professionals who want to develop the Agile Living Strategies for thriving in these turbulent times. You can follow Cath’s blog at www.mineyourresources.com and on Twitter she’s @cathduncan.