If you want to foster creativity, the common advice is to step outside of your comfort zone to gain inspiration. The general solutions include everything from mixing up your daily routine, to traveling to new cultures, or anything else that will aid you to take risks and try new things in your work. However, we must be careful to not build so much discomfort that we end up producing fear.
Discomfort encourages creativity by opening our mind to the new while fear locks us down in survival mode. Inflexible deadlines with hard deliverables create anxiety where we are not willing to risk failure. We are concerned only with our personal task at hand and lose sight of the project end goal. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Yesware VP of Product Jake Levirne explains the difference between discomfort and fear:
There was discomfort with how big our goals were at the beginning, but discomfort put us on edge in a different way than fear did. Fear was paralyzing, but discomfort made us want to move, want to act, want to create. When we made the roadmap more aspirational and less cut-and-dry, our team was much more comfortable asking questions like “Why?” and “Is this the best way?” and “What if?” They were also more comfortable communicating these thoughts with one another and working together to solve problems.
Finding the perfect balance between discomfort and fear comes down to changing your creative process and continually reevaluating it.
We realized that the first roadmap’s lack of flexibility set us up for failure. This time, instead of setting a checklist, we set a vision. We considered the big-picture goals we wanted to accomplish and left it up to the team to decide how to execute.
By encouraging open and honest communication within the team, he was able to ensure a level of discomfort without producing fear. In Levirne’s experience, they found that employees enjoyed the challenge of deciding how to execute a project goal, but not the act of deciding what that goal should be. Their evaluation of the creative process allowed them revise their process and address any problems before moving forward.
Personal evaluation is important as well. Be honest with yourself and ensure that you are being challenged, but not taking on too much that you are paralyzed. If something isn’t working for you, it’s okay to change how you work.