10 Mental Blocks To Watch Out For!

Roger Von Oech, in his book ‘A Whack on the Side of the Head’ talks about ten “mental locks” that are particularly hazardous to our creative thinking. These are attitudes or beliefs that over time turn into conditioning. The key to unlocking an individual’s creativity is to unlearn these attitudes. The first step in that direction is becoming aware of them.  

Presenting a list of 10 mental blocks to watch out for! 

1) The Right Answer

We can blame this one on our education system. Most of us grew up believing in the importance of getting that “one right answer.” Being rewarded for this, further strengthened this mental conditioning for us. Even the competitive exams with ‘Objective Type’ questions require one to choose one out of the four choices.

Having recognised as one of your mental blocks, one way to break is to ask ourselves in every situation,

“What is the second right answer?”

2) That’s Not Logical

An unintended consequence of the “scientific temperament” is that many of us believe that everything has to be consistent and non-contradictory in nature. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset except for the fact that most of life is ambiguous. Often, our intuition or hunches, when followed, can lead us to try a different and more efficient problem-solving approach.

3) Follow The Rules

“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”
– Pablo Picasso

This single mental lock is so strongly entrenched in our culture that it completely inhibits creative thinking. “This is how things happen out here,” has killed many a wonderful ideas. Even in the business world, organisations often find themselves being constrained by their own rules and ‘holy cows.’ But, to enable the infinite potential of the creative mind, it is important to allow yourself the required creative freedom. 

4) Be Practical

The Theory of Relativity was first proposed by Albert Einstein. It came into existence when he tried to picture in his mind that ‘what it would be like to travel so fast that you could catch up with a light beam?’ 

Doesn’t sound very practical, now, does it?

Similarly, the structure of ‘Benzene’ was revealed by August Kekule, a German chemist, and his somnolent vision of a ‘snake biting its own tail.‘ We could give you a host of similar examples of the most amazing discoveries happening ‘by accident’ or because a person refused to ‘fit inside a box.’

We place undue importance on “being practical.” Why?

5) Play Is Frivolous

“Don’t just play around!”

This one sentence has been hammered into our thinking for far too long. And yet, if you ask people, when do they get their best ideas? Often, it is when they are relaxed and playing; Because play gives us a license to try different approaches without the fear of penalty. History is replete with discoveries all done when someone was playing around!

Indulge in play.

6) That’s Not My Area

The dangers of being narrowly focussed on one’s area of specialisation has been beautifully elucidated by Theodore Levitt when he wrote about ”Marketing Myopia.” A more popular example is of Kodak not venturing into digital cameras and being narrowly focused on film based cameras, hence hastening their demise. Cross-fertilisation works.


7) Don’t Be Foolish

A Japanese proverb says it best:

The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.

And so, society teaches us to merge, to not stand out, to conform. And yet, like the Challenger space shuttle disaster has taught us, this often leads to group. The way to beat this mental lock is to wear a fool’s cap. Be irreverent, think the opposite, use your sense of humour

8) Avoid Ambiguity

Most of us have learned to “avoid ambiguity” because of the communication problems it can cause. However, in situations that call for creativity, too much specificity can stifle imagination.

For example, instead of telling your child to describe a house as it is, ask her to describe why the house is magical? Or why it is actually a spacecraft? And watch the ambiguity germinate creativity.

9) To Err Is Wrong

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you are not trying anything very innovative.”
– Woody Allen

Unfortunately, most of our education system looks down on errors as something to be starkly avoided. But can’t they be sources of learning? We can learn from our failures. They often open up new paths. Don’t demonize them.

10) I Am Not Creative

Most creative people think they are creative. And less creative people think they are not creative. The interesting insight here is that, it is actually a self-fulfilling prophesy. When you think of yourself as creative, you will take a few more risks, try some new approaches, play around with ideas, give yourself license to fail…. And voila! … You suddenly do become creative!

Do give these ideas a spin yourself – and let us know if it helped you become more creative!

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