Cultivating Creativity from Frustration.

Tony Fadell said it here, and when he mentions his creativity comes from frustration, we think it makes perfect sense.

Getting Frustrated is the Easy Part.

You’re a consumer, which means you probably use the products you buy. If the product doesn’t work like you expected, you (understandably) get frustrated. For example, you just bought an instant juice maker in an attempt to eat a healthier lunch. But it leaves little chunks left behind instead of fully juicing, which you’re unhappy with. At first, you don’t care why it’s not working, you just know that what you’re using isn’t good enough. Then the wheels start turning … you want to improve it and you subconsciously come up with ways to do that. “If only the blades were closer together…” or “If I’d have invented this, I’d have included another speed setting.”

But you’re thinking “I’m not frustrated at work, so how does this pertain to fostering creativity in my professional life?” But we think it has everything to do with it. Because while creativity doesn’t always come from frustration, we think it comes most easily this way. And if you recognize your thought process when you’re fed up, you can use it even when you’re not ready to throw that instant juice maker through the window.

What’s Really Going On?

Before we get into how you can use frustration to generate the next big idea, we think it’s important to understand a little bit about what goes on inside our skulls. There’s a very important thing happening in our brains when we get frustrated. According to neuroscientist Nancy Andreasan, nobody knows for sure what goes on during a creative spike. But we do know that when creative thoughts start flowing, the part of the brain called the association cortex becomes incredibly active. One idea leads to another, and then boom – your winning idea arises from the ashes.

Just Roll with it.

For creativity to have a chance, the brain needs to get out of its own way and go with the flow.

That flow, the one that comes from the association cortex, is the one we have to pay attention to. We think it’s human nature to want to fix things when they’re broken. But between giving up because it’s too complicated, and overanalyzing things till they don’t even make sense anymore, we often get stuck without finding a solution. The happy medium is something more easily attainable than you might think. Get out of the way. Let your brain do its thing. Pretend you’re in an observation room, taking notes on how a detective questions her suspect. Then when it’s calmed down a little bit and the suspect is cleared, step back and take a look at how she arrived at that conclusion. What was her thought process? Your brain has its own way of working through things, too. You just have to let it react.

Apply your Notes.

So now you’ve “watched yourself work” when you’re frustrated. That’s the hardest part! You’ve taken creativity that comes naturally to you, and now you can apply it to other situations you’re not actually upset about.

Here’s a great example. A company comes to you and says they want their website redone. They’ve been in business for ten years, and they’re ready to bring in customers with it rather than just be a presence on the web. It’s a huge (and maybe even daunting) task, but you have something concrete to work from: their current website isn’t working for them. It’s a mock frustration, if you will. Now that you’ve identified the problem, you can treat it just like your real frustration. Ask these question:

* If you could redesign it, what would you do differently?
* What fundamental flaws do you notice that would help it run more smoothly?
* How can you help toward a better user experience?
* What do you like about it?
* What do you hate about it?

Don’t Get Carried Away.

We know it sounds like we’re suggesting you treat everything like a frustration, which is, of course, not our intention. What we’ve realized, though, is that creativity doesn’t come easily to everyone. There are hundreds of people out there who will gladly tell you how to make yourself creative, but we think you already are creative. You just have to tap into the most free-flowing, easy form of creativity there is – and we think that comes from frustration. Harbor it, and the rest is history.

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