The Way Out of a Creative Block? Question Everything

A surefire way to cultivating better ideas

Google "creative block" and you'll get over 1.6 billion hits. From ways to overcome it to different types of it, there's no shortage of solutions to these "barriers to inspiration" or the inability to access your internal creativity. 

Interestingly, this block or "rut" is what we professional creatives are paid to help people get out of, or better still, avoid slipping into—in the same way a doctor or medical practitioner would treat the illness of a patient, or indeed more beneficially guide them onto a path of wellbeing so any future illness becomes a lot less likely. Our job is to create pathways for cultivating creativity. 

Prevention, as they say, is better than cure.

So, how do we prevent the enormously inconvenient onset of the dreaded rut syndrome for ourselves and for our clients, some of the world's leading brands and businesses?

It would be easy to suggest that the way to prevent such energy-sapping, confidence-degrading symptoms would be to simply "have more ideas!" At first blush, this makes sense. Let's just keep on generating ideas until the law of averages comes good and one shining example of brilliance pops out.

Unfortunately, experience shows this is rut-making at its finest—creating a rut that gets deeper, darker and more depressingly compromising. Plus, the longer time goes on without a smart and relevant answer, the hole you are in feels increasingly bottomless.

Rather perversely, I've found that the rut is not avoided by more answers, but by the ability to ask questions. These are questions that can qualify the original intention, questions perhaps no one dared to ask, questions that position the problem from fresh perspective. Questions are the lifeblood of our curiosity, and being curious is, of course, one of the fundamentals of being human.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing." —Albert Einstein

The great thing about a question is that anyone can feel empowered to ask it. Questions are the most inclusive, liberating and democratic of toolkits that any team could wish for. You don't have to be an expert with 30 years of experience on a specific task and doing things a particular way to ask a question. In fact, it's probably more beneficial to be a newcomer to the problem. Many studies seeking to understand the performance of group-based decision-making have found that when including an "outsider" or "outsiders" in the process, the group's performance and level of creativity would increase significantly. 

This is a tactic we support and deploy regularly. Not only do we make a point of bringing "outsiders" or those from the team who don't identify as the "creative" role (e.g., data scientist, technologist, junior account planner) but we empower them to speak up and raise questions with the support of a unifying methodology, a toolkit to ensure everyone and anyone can create, discuss and measure ideas. 

So when it comes to preventing teams from falling into a creative rut and needing to spark inspiration—I ask myself, I ask those around me, I ask the so-called dumb questions and sometimes the not-so-dumb ones. 

And if there were ever a need to reaffirm the power of a question to prevent oneself from falling into the trapdoor marked "rut," feel free to consider, as I have, the powerful words of the man that over 500 years ago was able to visualize the progress that technology and creativity would bring to the world: "Learning never exhausts the mind." —Leonardo Da Vinci

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Daniel Bonner
Daniel Bonner is global chief creative officer at Wunderman Thompson.

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