It’s your turn to write the blog this week.  Doesn’t need to be long; a thousand words, no more than that.  And it can be about anything you like.

What could be easier?

Well, lots of things it turns out.

One of the things that makes writing about anything you like difficult, is the fact that you can choose to start anywhere.  The tyranny of the blank page has been a blocker to the creative process for as long as we’ve had pages.

Writers and painters have their own extreme version of this affliction.  Atelodemiourgiopapyrophobia is the fear of producing an imperfect creative process on paper; literally the fear of spoiling the pristine blank canvass.  As Van Gogh put it:

“You do not know how paralyzing that staring of a blank canvas is. It says to the painter, you can’t do anything…”

But most people who have ever been asked to create anything have experienced that being given the freedom to do anything, isn’t as freeing as it sounds.

The paradox of freedom has been a popular topic of philosophers through the ages.  In his book “Escape from Freedom”, 20th century German humanist philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm describes how the technological and social advancements resulting from capitalism have given a citizen of modern western democracies the luxury of wide personal freedoms and choices, while at the same time cutting him off the people, structures and culture that have enriched life for previous generations:

“Modern man, freed from the bonds of pre-individualistic society, which simultaneously gave him security and limited him, has not gained freedom in the positive sense of the realization of his individual self; that is, the expression of his intellectual, emotional and sensuous potentialities. Freedom, though it has brought him independence and rationality, has made him isolated and, thereby, anxious and powerless.”

In the business world, the opportunity of unconstrained creativity should be seen at best as a mixed blessing, and the assumption that creativity is inevitably superior to conformity creates real dangers.  As American economist and Harvard marketing professor Theodore ‘Ted’ Levitt describes:

“…creativity as it’s commonly defined—the ability to come up with brilliantly novel ideas—can actually be destructive to businesses. By failing to take into account practical matters of implementation, big thinkers can inspire organizational cultures dedicated to abstract chatter rather than purposeful action.”    [HBR, August 2002]

And the fact that during some of the coldest weather for a decade, UK households are deciding that they can’t afford to turn on their heating should alert our politicians and our media to the need to partner ambitious Net Zero goals with carbon transition plans that fully reflect the technological and political limits that will determine how fast the transition can actually be made.  

What might we conclude from this?  Possibly that more efficient and practicable creativity is best achieved by acknowledging the real-world constraints within which we look to innovate and using these to focus our creative effort.  Or as Erich Fromm might have put it, true freedom comes not from the absence of rules, but from the presence of frameworks which encourage rather than restrict.  

So, if it’s your turn to write the company blog this week and you’ve been staring at the scary blank page for a while, try a different tack: reject the blank canvas and impose a constraining framework on yourself.  For example, set yourself the rule that you have to write about something that happened to you this week or that is inspired by the next news item your read, project you work on, etc; anything that provides a start point and something to respond to. Or maybe just pick an obscure and interesting word to build your writing around and prepare to be surprised how it gets the creative juices flowing.  

By Kevin Cornwell
Categorized as blog

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