The Creativity Paradox Revisited

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.comĀ and Steve’s Tumblr)

My friend Serdar commented on my issues of the Creativity Paradox recently. I focus on the issues of creative paralysis, fear, miscommunication, and safety, but he had some insightful words on Creative Paralysis.

Creative Paralysis is when you have too many choices in a creative effort – something i’m sure we’ve all faced. Creative efforts are fueled, in part, by coming up with ideas, so the very act of creativity can paralyze you.

He calls out the famous toothpaste paradox and notes that:

“If you go shopping and you see 40 varieties of toothpaste and you have no idea how to distinguish one from the other in a meaningful way, you just stare at the shelves in front of you for minutes on end and have no idea what to do next.”

Now if you’re me, this is where you stick with a brand, but that brings in the issue of safety, and I’d like to get back to this whole toothpaste thing.

Serdar notes that the problem is that you don’t have a way to distinguish toothpaste from each other in a *meaningful* way. In his own programming efforts, he’s seen people creatively paralyzed and his answer is to “pick what is personally relevant to you.”

I’d note that this in turn comes back to something that I bring up in Agile and Agile Creativity a lot – the importance of value. When you’re planning, creating, evaluating you have to be able to evaluate the *Value* of something you’re doing. That lets you decide what to do, what not to do,a nd what to just toss the hell away.

When you have creative paralysis, you’re not evaluating value.

So when you face this paradox, try these things:

  • Take the list of whatever creative options you’re trying to choose from.
  • Force-rank them in order of the value provided – no item can be of equal value to the other. If you have to write down the value.
  • As painful as this can be, quickly you’ll see things fall into place because you’re starting to think “what really matters.”

This may help you but also uncovers an issue with many creative ideas – we want to value each inspiration equally. We can’t. We have to make choices or we make no choice and do nothing. All inspirations may be equally interesting, but they’re not equally interesting *for our goals.*

– Steve