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Intellectual Creative Block

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Read Time: 8 min
This post is part of a series called Let’s Talk About Creativity.
Creative Block: Environmental and Emotional
Don’t Squelch Your Creativity With the Constraints of Possibility

Beating any form of creative block is difficult, but hopefully this creativity session has helped so far. Today, we'll conclude our coverage of creative block, discuss some creativity techniques and prepare ourselves for becoming more creative.


Before we look at the final type of creative block, let's first summarize the content in the session so far. Are you still trying to be creative every day? Do you notice you're getting better at it? Keep it up! By the end of the session you have a wonderful habit.

The creative thinking process
  1. First Look: Define the exact problem
  2. Saturation: Collect information, gain knowledge
  3. Incubation: Think of possible solutions
  4. Relief: Your sudden stroke of genius
  5. Verification: Test your solution in reality

This knowledge is important in defining why exactly you're struggling with a creative problem. In other words, recognizing in which phase you have your creative block helps you find a solution. Once you have identified creative block, you can define what type of creative block you're suffering:

  • Observational block: Problems with seeing and understanding the problem or the information for solving the problem
  • Environmental block: Problems which are caused by your environment
  • Emotional block: Problems which hinder your freedom our intervene your personality
  • Intellectual block: Problems with strategy, persuasion and expression (more on this shortly..)

Defining what's caused your creative block is your biggest help in defeating it. For example, you might realize you're having trouble during the incubation phase because of an environmental block and that you're focusing too much on left-sided (creative) thinking.

Recognizing this, you take a break and later focus on logical thinking to solve the problem. Keep using these different terms, become familiar with them and they will absolutely help you with your day to day creativity.

The Intellectual Block

Alright, so far we've rehearsed the essentials of this session. Let's explore the final type of block; intellectual block. This type is often quite challenging to combat as it requires practice and refinement. Whenever we speak about intellectual block, we mean that someone has a problem with their strategy (the way a person works), their persuasion (the way a person sells his idea) or their expression (the way a person acts and talks).

As you'll notice, these can be issues which aren't specifically related to creativity, but they can influence your creative process none-the-less. Let's look at some solutions.

1. Choosing The Right Language

By "the right language" I mean the kind of "thinking language" we use. In general, our culture has an emphasis on verbal thinking. For analytic and logical thinking, that's pretty good, but for creativity other methods of thinking can be very helpful.

Sketchnotes on Dribbble

Remember in the first article, that the way we perceive the world is important as a creative person? Creative people are efficient observers, they have a great visual mind and they are able to put their visual thinking into analytic context. They not only look, they also see.

Naturally, this isn't the only way we think. For example, some people are great at mathematical thinking. Important for this specific problem is that you shouldn't be too focused on one specific form of thinking language. Verbal is great, but most probably you also need visual thinking to be able to solve the problem. Finding the right thinking language isn't an easy job and depends on the problem you have to solve, but some logical thinking to start with is never wrong. After all, you always need to start from a context before you can get creative.

If you're interested in different kind of thinking approaches, Edward de Bono has a wonderful theory called the Six Thinking Hats which offers a different perspective on how we think.

2. Flexibility in Your Strategy

I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do.

- Steve Jobs

One of the most important lessons you can draw when it comes to strategy is that we simply lose too much time in making a strategy choice. The great thing about selecting a strategy is that our intuition often does the right thing at the right time.

Whether you work in group or as individual, understand that finding the perfect strategy is difficult and often time-consuming (and time is precious in industry). That's why you'd be well advised to go with your intuition, but try to remain flexible in the choices you make. Flexibility is one of the key aspects of being an excellent designer and an excellent manager (even if it's just managing yourself).

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you notice that you have trapped yourself, it's important to remain rational and see what your possibilities are. Write them down and list the good and the bad aspects of each solution. Naturally, it's better to avoid trapping yourself. This is why flexibility in your choices are good during the creative thinking process. Never completely throw away a possible solutions and don't cut too many possible solutions in the very beginning. It's smarter to narrow down during the relatively late phases of a project.

3. The Right Information

This is something we've emphasized a couple of times during the session, but it's smart to repeat.

People, Projects and Bugs on Dribbble

The majority of creative blockages are caused by a lack of information or bad communication. For this reason, defining the exact problem is very important. When some of the information you receive is incorrect, everything you design can be put at risk. Some designers work with a brief the client has to fill in, this can work to always have certain questions answered or to force the client to be more specific about what they want.

Bad communication won't only happen between you and clients, but also between team members and you. Time you spend sitting with other people discussing a project is never lost time. Always finish conversations by questioning whether everyone understands what the expectations are. After all, mutual understanding reduces the risk of errors.

4. Bad Communication Skills

Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.

- Jim Rohn

One of the worst possible blocks to experience is that you have trouble with communication. Often, language is inadequate for expressing an idea properly. This is why mock-ups, wireframes, moodboards and so on are important when pitching.

It's not just about designing great products, it's also about being able to sell your great idea, hence the importance of being able to communicate with clients. A great way to practice speaking (in my opinion) is to fake the conversation with a client while looking in a mirror. Formulate tough questions and offer adequate answers. If you have an important pitch coming up, it doesn't hurt to practice with a friend or another designer.

Speaking in public and improving your expression and persuasion skills is something you can learn by practicing. In fact, it's just like creativity and design - the more time you spend doing it the better you get at it. Communication skills are as important as designing.

Using Your Newly Acquired Knowledge

This has been an extensive introduction to dealing with creative block! The question which remains now is how you can use this knowledge to combat the next block you come across.

Brainstorm on Flickr

Well, to make it easy, I usually take a piece of paper and write down the following:

  1. I write down the phases of the creative thinking process I've been through so far and summarize what the results of these different phases were.
  2. I try to figure out in which phase I'm stuck and what possible type of creative block I'm suffering.
  3. Once I've figured out the type of problem, I make the problem as specific and concrete as possible (eg. I'm completely out of inspiration and I have no ideas anymore).
  4. Afterwards I write down all possible solutions which spring to mind (eg. taking a break, find inspiration, get back to the saturation phase, ...).
  5. I figure out what the best solution is to attempt first. If that works? Great. If it doesn't, I try another approach.
  6. I repeat the process until I've defeated the block. If I'm in a position where nothing seems to work at all, I usually stop with the project for a day or two then afterwards I analyze my creative thinking process step by step to figure out what went wrong. A fresh mind is usually the best solution when you're completely stuck.

Concluding Creative Block

This concludes an extensive introduction in combatting a creative block. If you have any further questions or remarks, feel free to comment. This knowledge should be the perfect start when facing your personal creativity problems.

The next step, and probably the most important step, is actually increasing and improving your creativity and merging this with a business perspective. This will be the context for the following articles in our creativity session.

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