Persevering for Creativity

Source: HBR, Dec 2015

Recent research of ours finds that one common factor often gets in the way: we tend to undervalue the benefits of persistence.

Why do we underestimate the benefits of persistence?

It’s because creative challenges feel difficult. People often have the experience of feeling “stuck,” being unsure of how to find a solution, or hitting a wall with one idea and having to start over again.

Trying hard and failing to make progress on a non-creative task, like an advanced physics problem, may appropriately signal that it’s time to stop working. But creative ideas take time. They are often generated after an initial period of thinking deeply about the problem, considering different ways to frame the problem, and exploring different possible solution paths.

Consider that Sir James Dyson developed over 5,000 prototypes before he patented his best-selling Dyson vacuum cleaner. Or that Walt Disney animated cartoons for nearly two decades before his first big hit, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

… some workers may have creative potential that goes untapped when they decide not to persevere with a challenge. Based on our research, we offer two recommendations to avoid this:

  1. Ignore your first instinct to stop. When working on a tough creative challenge, you will likely face a moment when you feel stuck and can’t come up with any more ideas. You’ll first want to quit and spend your time doing something else. 
  1. Remember that creative problems are supposed to feel difficult. Most involve setbacks, failures, and that “stuck” feeling. It’s part of the process. Suppress your instinct to interpret these feelings as a signal that you just aren’t creative or that you’ve run out of good ideas. Reaching your creative potential often takes time, and persistence is critical for seeing a challenge through to the end.
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