Hands up who just thought “what kind of a stupid title is that for a blogpost?” A blogpost about why you shouldn’t read articles like this (or entire books on these topics) at all? Well, i’m convinced of the truth of it and i’m willing to bet a few of you will nod your heads in agreement when reading this post.
Recently in a meeting, the words “let’s think outside of the box” slipped out of my mouth without thinking. Afterwards, I was not only embarrassed but made a mental cross on my Bulls**t Bingo list for meetings. I also wondered if this statement was ever helpful, at any level. Maybe I should get some advice on the subject from the Internet? Googling sometimes helps…
Perhaps you even have one of those motivation books in your hand or have stumbled upon one of the countless articles in magazines or online? Those that promise to help you finally overcome writer’s block, to develop the most creative idea of your life, to arrive at a brilliant business idea in 5 minutes or to develop a business plan in a further 15 minutes. Or even to just simply think more “outside the box.” And so on.
The most brilliant thing about all these books is, in my opinion, their existence. It was a great idea for the respective authors to write a book about how to achieve this or that. To sell readers the idea that only a maximum of 182 pages of experience and tips by the author lie between now and the best idea in the world.
But if it were so easy to develop ideas, why do you need a book for it? And why hasn’t every reader had sales go through the roof with their brilliant idea? Because it really isn’t so easy. But the idea that it could be, is incredibly enticing.
The story of the pink elephant
For me, it plays out something like this. If someone says to me, “I want you to think outside of the box, now!”, I am—above all—blocked. I block myself and my thoughts by the compulsion to have to come up with a completely different idea now. What are the chances that the idea is just going to walk around the corner and yell “Look! Here I am!”? It’s kind of like when someone says, “DON’T think about a pink elephant.” What are you thinking about? I thought so.
The same is true with motivation books or calls for immediate creativity. If somebody writes that it’s easy to develop the idea of your life in this many steps, with which you can walk happily and self-satisfied to success, I feel—frankly—pressured, when it doesn’t work for me. At first, everything sounds quite inspiring, the book/article is great, but then you try it and it doesn’t work out. That’s when Rupert kicks off (you remember Rupert, that oh-so-helpful voice in your head who tells you all the things you can’t do?): “This is all on you. I bet all the other people who read this book have already started on the road to success. They’re certainly more determined—or maybe they just did it right.”
Thanks Rupert but that’s not exactly helpful.
The first stumbling block is Rupert, followed by the next hurdle: Your self-confidence hitting rock bottom. And then you sit there, a Rupert sitting opposite you, with a “I-could’ve-told-you-this-would-happen” look on his face. You’re then in a so-called creative dilemma, from which you only get out once you realise that it’s not possible to just bubble with ideas at the push of a button. Because honestly, when do you have your best ideas? Probably in the moments when you’re relaxed, feel great, are “in the flow” (a subject, my colleague Christian has written a great article about), exchanging ideas with people who inspire you and especially when you have a lot of fun with something. That’s how I feel at least. But just as creativity doesn’t work at the push of a button, the same goes for the “relax at the push of a button”, right?
Perfect is the opposite of good
So if you’re stuck in creative limbo, it’s not so easy to get out again (or is there a book on that?) “Get out of a creative slump in 5 easy steps” or “Finally relax in 10 Minutes.” Probably.
In films, the first step is often the following: After a desperate low, the main character has finally had enough and he or she gathers all the motivational self-help books and throws them collectively into the trash can, (the funniest cover easily readable on top). And as symbolic as it may be in Hollywood—no longer listening to well-meaning advice, not letting them make you feel pressured or influencing you can be a real first step. Whoever spends too much time on the theoretical meta-level of their project and browsing books, instead of simply trying something out, finds it increasingly difficult to get their ideas out into the world.
Sure, there are things you can’t just try out and see if it works—legal texts for an online store for example. But you don’t have to think about it yourself, that’s why there are experts. And if I want to write an “about me” text on my website today and don’t like it tomorrow, I can just change it again. Instead of waiting weeks to write anything at all. Done is better than perfect!
Do your own thing!
Just do it. This sometimes sounds much more difficult than it really is. And the more you think about a task, a challenge, a change, the bigger and more powerful it becomes to us and the more unattainable it seems in our minds. Doing is usually not the most difficult part, but thinking about it can make small things in our thoughts seem like huge, insurmountable hurdles. We all know the feeling when we finally tick off a long overdue task from the list, the feeling of relief and the thought “Hey, that wasn’t so difficult. Why did I wait so long?”
The more we make things simple, rather than build up our own giant obstacles, the less we have to deal with our Ruperts. They thrive on these dilemmas—as they provide a lot of material to be afraid of and to argue against. And in the case of Rupert, no one has written a motivational book about it yet. Not that we would recommend it…
What do you think? Do you know that feeling when you think about a topic for ages and afterwards wonder why it took you so long? What tricks do you try to move faster from thinking to doing? Let us know in the comments!