14 Sep 2016

3 Mistakes That Are Getting In The Way Of Your Creativity

In today’s world of rapidly evolving technology, where everyone’s striving to be the next ‘disruptor’, creativity and innovation are held up as the hallmarks of success. Creative ideas help businesses to stay ahead of the curve, develop more dynamic cultures and propel strategic thinking. Yet there’s a widely held misconception that unless you’re an entrepreneur or an artistic type, you’re just not cut out for creative thought, and I’m sure we’ve all felt that way at times.

But while we tend to think of creative ideas as sudden sparks of inspiration, they’re just as much a result of practise and deliberation. Research has found that creativity works the same way as a muscle: regular practise will build your strength until you find you can push past your comfort zone.

So what are some of the common mistakes standing in your way when it comes to creativity?

1. Keeping Yourself Busy

We’re all wrapped up in a culture of perpetual ‘busyness’. Everyone’s starting earlier, working later and doing ten things at once, but nothing has our full attention. Much of this has been driven by technology. We check our emails when we wake up, we review documents on holidays, we make the most of idle time by listening to self-help podcasts or catching up on the news, we schedule in exercise and social activities as if they’re simply tasks to be ticked off an ever-expanding to-do list.

Unfortunately, all this self-imposed busyness may actually be making us less productive. As Tim Kreider argues, downtime is essential for inspiration and original thought:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body… The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done”.

The below talk from designer Stefan Sagmeister is a worthwhile look at the benefits of taking some time off. Every seven years, Sagmeister closes his studio for a year-long sabbatical. With time to develop creative concepts outside of the daily grind, he found the quality of his team’s work improved and the ideas generated much of their output for the next seven years.

Of course, a regular sabbatical isn’t an achievable goal for most, but embracing idle time is. If creativity is a muscle, then regular rest days are crucial – as any qualified personal trainer will tell you. Taking the time to relax allows you to let ideas percolate and refresh your perspective, helping to approach projects in new ways.

2. Doing It All Alone

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding creative people is that they come up with their ideas all on their own. We see entrepreneurs and artists as natural-born creatives, drawing on wells of inspiration that just aren’t open to the rest of us. In reality, creative people are simply more likely to surround themselves with other creative people. Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s not cheating to take inspiration from others. David Bowie famously described himself as a ‘tasteful thief’ who stole ideas from all the other artists and musicians he admired. But he didn’t just rip them off – he mixed and matched and cut and pasted (sometimes literally) from all his sources of inspiration until he had something that was completely new and unique.

So what counts as inspiration and what’s actually just stealing? Don’t just use other people’s ideas and pass them off as your own. But do take the chance to learn from people around you, and other creative people in your field, to shape and inform your own ideas and habits. As writer Steven Johnson says:

“We take ideas from other people, from people we’ve learned from, from people we run into in the coffee shop, and we stitch them together into new forms and we create something new. That’s really where innovation happens.”

There are so many avenues now for you to learn new skills and draw from other creative thinkers – take a short-course, learn to code, watch a talk or listen to real stories.


Image via Austin Kleon

3. Sticking To A Routine

Sticking to routine feels productive, but it can also be damaging for creativity. A simple change of scenery can help you to develop original ideas and approach projects in different ways. It’s why Mark Zuckerberg likes to hold ‘walking meetings’ and why lots of companies are now doing away with assigned desks.

Experiment with your own environment by getting out of the office when you can. Try a local coffee shop, a library, a meeting room – whatever works. A recent study found that people working with medium background noise, like at a busy café, were able to perform better at creative problem-solving tasks than those who worked in silence or with low noise. Try listening to music or getting outside and see if it works for you. If it’s not possible to leave the office, try something simple like asking to swap desks or using a different style of font. The smallest change can trigger a new idea.


Isaac Newton was famously sitting under a tree and daydreaming when he was struck by a falling apple and came up with the concept of gravity. But he also worked on those ideas steadily for years before publishing the groundbreaking Principia, and he was inspired by countless other innovators and philosophers. Stop waiting for that flash of sudden inspiration and start working on strengthening and testing your creative muscles over time.

Changing your everyday routine, actively looking to be inspired and allowing yourself relaxation time will help to shift your perspective and generate fresh, original ideas.


Sign up to our daily Max Minute newsletter for your tech news in 60 seconds:

[mc4wp_form id=”269″]


  • Hamish

    Great tips and sound advice, Annie. 🙂

    • Annie Peachman

      Thanks Hamish! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

Leave a Comment