Are Any of These Creativity Killers Sabotaging Your Work?

Dec 19, 2016
Post Masthead

We all tend to have some element of creativity involved with our work and finding the best environment and circumstances in which to thrive are important for our daily workflow.

That being said, there are some insidious creativity killers out there that just might be jamming your flow.

Doing brilliant work means being able to experiment, take the odd risk and generally work in the right kind of environment and mindset. If you’re starting to hit a wall, you may have encountered one the “killers” out to sabotage your work.

Here’s what we mean:

Your Own Ego

“Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.” - Ann Landers

Ego can express itself in many ways, some of which can be destructive to your daily work. We’ve all heard about the “too big to fail” companies or overly self-important people, and it’s true that inflated ego can cause trouble for your work; however, ego can manifest itself in other destructive ways, too.

Defending Your “Turf”

This is actually seen quite often in workplaces where someone feels that another person is encroaching on “their” area of influence. You may have had a manager who aggressively (or passive-aggressively) discourages others from presenting ideas that they feel will somehow show them up or make it look like they are gunning for the job. We’ve all probably come across the person who gets defensive about “this is the way we do things around here.”

This kind of reaction is often based on perceived threat. If you recognize this in yourself, what are you worried about? Perhaps that you’ll be overlooked for promotion while the other person gets pushed ahead?

If you catch yourself often reacting with cynicism or harsh criticism toward the ideas of others, it’s time to give yourself a wake-up call and realize something: this behavior could be sabotaging your own potential.

A quote from Brian Herbert says it nicely: “The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The willingness to learn is a choice.”

If you are shut-off to the idea that others may have valuable input simply because you feel that they are a threat to “your” territory, you’ll miss out on potential opportunities to grow and expand your knowledge.

Remember, confidence in your abilities is great and actually is a help for producing good work, it’s when ego leads to over-confidence that you could potentially sabotage yourself.


Taking Offense Easily

This is another potential stumbling-block that is related to ego. If you perceive every bit of feedback as a personal slight or every disagreement as a sign the other person is questioning your competence, you’re missing the bigger picture.

Those who take offense easily often tend to miss the more important lessons that they can apply in order to grow and improve their work. None of us are infallible and we all have different backgrounds or experiences to bring to the table.

If you are this type of person, you will find that others become unwilling to collaborate with you because they get tired of walking on eggshells around you. Recognize that most people do not offer feedback because they’re looking to criticize, they genuinely want to help and provide something useful to work with. Don’t let this kind of attitude sabotage your work!

Role or Project Mismatch

Being stretched is a great way to develop new skills and broaden your experiences, but if you find yourself in a role or taking on projects that are too much of a mismatch, you can find a distinct negative effect on your work.

There is a known correlation between skill mismatch and lowered productivity - “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The wrong role or project can leave us in a constant state of over-stress while we struggle to keep up. While some pressure has been proven to be good for creativity and productivity, there’s a line where it becomes too much and kills creative efforts.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s better to be honest about it, with yourself and any key stakeholders as early as possible. Perhaps you are able to muddle through and pull off something respectable, but if you really can’t, be honest.

Too Many Restrictions

There are some instances where self-imposing restrictions can actually promote better creativity (such as by selecting a very specific topic before brainstorming ideas for it). However, if you’ve ever been blocked by “this is the way we do things around here” you’ll understand how restrictions can also sabotage the potential of your work.

Teresa Amabile researched creativity in the workplace and presented her research in Harvard Business Review. She found that workplaces (usually unintentionally) undermine creativity every day simply by imposing restrictive conditions. Of course, businesses need to consider factors, such as budget and time, but they should also consider how they can promote better creativity and productivity.

“When it comes to granting freedom, the key to creativity is giving people autonomy concerning the means—that is, concerning process—but not necessarily the ends. People will be more creative, in other words, if you give them freedom to decide how to climb a particular mountain. You needn’t let them choose which mountain to climb. In fact, clearly specified strategic goals often enhance people’s creativity.”

For workplaces who wish to promote better productivity, they should create an environment where offering new ideas is welcome and any restrictions are carefully based on need, rather than imposed arbitrarily.


Lack of Diversity

When we discuss diversity here, we’re not just discussing social diversity, although that certainly does come into play. We’re also talking about diversity of experience and culture, of which social diversity is a part.

If you stick to the “same old” when it comes to experiences, you simply don’t allow yourself the diversity that can enhance creativity and productivity.

The same goes for having a tendency to hang out in homogenous groups or cultures. There’s been a lot of talk in the recent political climate about “echo chambers,” and part of that comes from people sticking to the groups and people who they feel reflect the same beliefs as them. In the workplace, this can lead to very narrow views and put a lid on potential creativity.

Be deliberate about seeking out new experiences and people with backgrounds which are different to yours. Growth happens when we’re willing to learn.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, our work isn’t quite up to where it could be, especially if it’s being sabotaged by any insidious creativity killers.

The ability to self-assess is also a tricky discipline, but take note of whether you could be sabotaged by your own ego, including aggressive “turf defense” or the tendency to take offense. Take steps to be more open-minded.

Beware of role or project mismatches and act early. You need to understand the difference between “stretched” and “beyond my experience.”

Take note of any restrictions that are putting a lid on your creative work and take steps to have new experiences and meet diverse people. Don’t let any of these “killers” sabotage your work!