Can You Spot the Creatures of Habit at Work?

Can You Spot the Creatures of Habit at Work?

Published on 17th October 2016

Ambition recently invited innovation expert Simon Jack into our offices to run a highly interactive workshop. It was a fantastic session full of fun that taught us to leave our ‘creatures of habit’ behind and uncover new ways of thinking. As a result, consultants came up with some great new ideas to benefit and improve the way we work.  In this guest blog, Simon expands upon the seven common habits that suppress creativity...


These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a company that doesn’t strive to be more creative and innovative.

In fact, many recognise that innovation is becoming more of a top priority as competition intensifies.

But what does that mean and more importantly, where do you start?

Yes, you could begin by looking at management styles, employee collaboration tools and there’s certainly no harm in dusting off that suggestion box. But what about the everyday habits that influence, even control, the way people think and approach their challenges?

It is estimated that habits control as much as 40% of our daily actions. Putting that into a work context, almost half of what we do is on autopilot. 

Now imagine how many opportunities for creative thought might go wasted as we carry out actions through our unconscious decisions.

If a regular supply of new creative ideas are what’s needed, then the first thing is to recognise the habits that already exist; the ones responsible for keeping you on the same thinking path and curbing your creative imagination. These are your Creatures of Habit.

Routine

Routine loves efficiency. It works to automate thinking to ensure we don’t exert any more mental effort than necessary. However, the more we repeat tasks and actions, the more they become ingrained in our brains and the harder it becomes to see any other way. That’s bad news for creative change.

As soon as you recognise you’re riding along a mental conveyor belt, it’s time to switch it up. Try changing your physical environment and talking to different people. You can also uncouple the deep-rooted associations by forcing yourself to think in a different frame of reference.

Next time you approach a creative task, try drawing parallels with an unrelated metaphor and see what new associations you can conjure up. For example, if you are looking for new ways of attracting customers, you might think how attraction works in nature and which concepts could apply to your challenge.

Obvious

Obvious is lazy and is always on the look out for quick answers. Once a satisfactory answer is found, Obvious has no motivation to stretch its imagination and look any further. The trouble is, if you are able to come up with the blatant approaches, you can bet your bottom dollar your competitors can too.

For novel solutions, you often have to dig deeper. Once you can exhaust the ideas that come to mind first, you enter a new creative territory where far more interesting possibilities exist. That’s where you find the 'aha' moments that surprise and delight. One way to do this is to set yourself an ideas quota; the first few will come easily, but then you’ll have no choice but to get inventive.

Follower

Follower needs social conformity and is desperate for the approval of others. It usually responds to whoever is the most vocal or the most authoritative. This habit stifles the ambition to break from the comfort of the herd and go off in search of other solutions. Follower is heavily influenced by what others are doing, including competitors, which can end up in things getting all a bit samey.

Creativity and innovation often require individuals to stick their neck out and overcome the need for immediate acceptance. These are the people that will actively look to shake things up by challenging the existing social norms and looking at things the other way round. They are able to step outside the group mentality by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and search for solutions from an entirely different perspective.

Judgement

Judgement learns critical thinking from a very young age and understands there is always a right answer and a wrong answer. Its job is to weed out the wrong answers and bad ideas before they cause disruption or damage. However, Judgement is hopeless at spotting useful concepts and hidden potential. It finds it far easier to criticise than invent.

New ideas are fragile. They don’t usually fit the existing logic and require a bit of sculpting in order to adapt the creativity into a workable solution. If Judgement has its way, these ideas will never see the light of day. You must be able to suspend Judgement’s negativity and explore conceptual thinking rather than see things as black and white. Ask, ‘how else?’ and ‘in what other ways?’ to find the hidden alternatives. If there are objections, stay positive and focus first on what can work, then manage other negatives in turn.

Obedience

Obedience is worried about the consequences of breaking any rules and will often blindly comply without stopping to question. Rules are often merely assumptions passed on until they are taken as read. Such rules create barriers that keep us blind to other possibilities.

In actual fact, one of the quickest routes to innovation is to break down these assumptions by listing down everything that’s known then seeing what can be changed or removed and what is genuinely fixed. It’s common to find even the ‘fixed’ rules can be tweaked. Once you are ready to overcome assumptions, you can start thinking bigger and see what ideas you can come up with without the usual restrictions.

Protection

Just because something has been done before, it doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Everything has the potential to be improved. Protection is often the blocker as it cannot stand change and needs to feel comfortable in the knowledge there is a certain order and predictability.

Instead of being a slave to process, accept that things can change for the better. Let the bugs and frustrations of current methods fuel creative solutions. Once the negatives are exposed, it’s much easier to switch into positive solution mode.

We know that necessity is the mother of invention, so another way to overcome Protection’s strangle hold is to force it to explore other ways. By creating purposeful constraints in the current methods, we have no choice but to use our brains to snap out of the status quo and start getting inventive.

Being aware of these creative habits as we go about our business can trigger some surprising new creative insights. When this happens, we can switch from autopilot to fighter pilot.

But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy; old habits are notoriously hard to shift. That’s where the management and team-mate support really comes in. Being able to recognise and overcome limiting habits in work situations together is when innovation moves from a desire to a reality.

Be warned, there is one other Creature of Habit that can be more powerful than all the others put together if you let it take hold. This is Repression. To be continued…

To learn more about how to recognise these Creatures of Habit and what actions can be taken to overcome them, visit www.creativeencounters.co.uk


About the author: Simon Jack is a creative scientist who has made it his mission to help others understand what limits their creative abilities and gain confidence to come up with new ideas and approaches. As a communicator and designer, he believes there is always an alternative and never ever accept the ordinary.