What We're Into: Overcoming Fear & Practicing Creativity

Photo by Flickr user Aubree Flink

Kids love to draw, make up stories, create new characters and worlds — until they don't. According to cartoonist Lynda Barry, there's an inevitable moment in our lives when creativity stops being natural and joyous and starts being a source of intimidation and uncertainty.

A story this week in the Minneapolis Star Tribune illustrates this truth starkly. Writer Laura M. Brown, who used to teach painting classes and is now pursuing her MBA at the Carlson School of Management, recalls a class she taught to a group of corporate executives. She saw them freeze up with fear, so focused on recreating the example painting that they couldn't enjoy the process of creating something. One woman even said she was going to hide her painting under her bed because in her mind, it wasn't good enough.

In contrast, when Brown taught kids, they eagerly branched out from the example to paint colorful, unique pictures that they were excited about. "The final product isn’t the point. It’s about challenging yourself to depart from your comfort zone to create something," Brown writes.

Learning new skills and challenging yourself to make something (anything!) are among the joys of life, period, but they're also valuable ways to stretch your brain and train to solve problems. The book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, quoted in a recent Fast Company article, links a willingness to explore with creative thinking: "The drive for exploration, in its many forms, may be the single most important personal factor predicting creative achievement."

Unfamiliar activities create new pathways in our brains, forcing us to think consciously and intentionally in contrast to our usual automatic routines. Engaging in a variety of types of thinking strengthens the connections between the different areas of grey matter in our brains — in fact, that's where the name Connect the Grey comes from.

In her piece, Brown challenges her fellow MBA candidates to venture just a block or two away on the University of Minnesota's campus to the buildings that house art, theater, dance, and music classes and exhibition spaces. They're being told in class that innovative thinking is essential in business, she says; engaging in the arts can help them practice that thinking.

The arts may not be quite as geographically convenient for all of us, but we can all try something beyond what we're used to: doodling more often, taking a dance or improv class, exploring an art show or performance that weirds us out a little. 

"Just like exercise, the act of creating gets easier and feels natural the more it becomes a part of your routine," Brown writes. We encourage everyone to practice stretching beyond their fears — for personal fulfillment as well as the benefit to their professional work.

When was the last time you tried a new skill? What "extracurricular" skills and activities enrich you? Share your experiences in the comments!