If we do not take time to see other possibilities, we are imprisoned in following one way because it appears as the only way. This lack of imagination and creative approach in conceiving different paths works well for those who benefit from the status quo. For example, student loan companies would want you to believe that the only path to success is to be beholden by debt for many years. There is not much space for exploring different narratives about success. There is no space for deconstructions of the notion of success in the first place. Divergent thinking and openness to paradox will set us free from dominant ideologies and free us to explore our own ideas of happiness.
What constrains our creativity? The opposite of creativity is the conviction that there is only one way of achieving something. You may have seen it happen once and follow that way blindly without considering its drawbacks. You may want to replicate something just because it has already succeeded. You may subconsciously go for something safe without risking failure. It is reassuring to have a blueprint and execute it with the accomplishment in view.
Some ideas about the “one way” of doing things work on us in a subliminal way. For example, we are repeatedly shown certain images of an ideal life: the “normal” family, household equipment, lifestyle, set of “must-haves.” Without even knowing it, we may pursue those things by default ignoring what it is that we actually want. What would our unique self strive for if it were not guided by advertisements and the definitions of normalcy?
How can we activate divergent thinking? There is research showing that highly creative people have certain characteristics. However, we should not limit ourselves by attributing unattainable talents to some and resign if we do not see them in ourselves. This is just another way of submitting to the status quo and becoming more and more helpless.
Divergent thinking is an attitude. We can develop a discipline of questioning systematically if we decide that this is what we value. And in order to value it, we may need to allow pain and frustration and actively tell ourselves that the model carved out for us by others is not satisfying. Many people are too afraid of losing their illusion of normalcy because that kind of change requires immediate action.
Isolated with the stories that have been put into our heads, we can feel helpless, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Magic happens when we invite others to get us out of our constriction. There may be real, important people out there for us to meet, but waiting for them to come into our lives is just another form of procrastination. Other people are within our reach.
If you are convinced that you have to choose a certain path or that there is only one way of getting where you want to arrive, read stories that show other pathways. For example, if you feel pressure to go to college, read about people who have been college dropouts. There is growing literature on alternative ways of doing business such as the 2014 book, Reinventing Organizations, and the 2018 book, Better Work Together by the Enspiral team. Ricardo Semler has questioned many assumptions both in running a company and schooling and has successfully implemented solutions to these questions.
Identifying as a certain type of person and trying to live up to the image is a prison. You deprive yourself of the richness of diversity in your life. We learn to categorize early in school and it scares us to live outside of a category. One would rather cling to a role, status, a well-defined plan, and identity.
The pain of embarrassment when responding to the question “What do you do?” keeps us from exploring other avenues or multiple roles. How would you feel if you were to respond that you have five activities or more? Do you anticipate being considered as not serious?
The concept of categories, roles and professions may lead to the omission of the fact that we have diverse talents, needs, and predispositions. Western culture has socialized us into thinking that specialization is the only way to achieve a high quality. Eastern culture is focused more on context and diversity. For example, pursuing different disciplines can bring a different type of quality and a new depth of understanding.
Many people who do not understand my personal philosophy have suggested that I should focus on one thing. They were worried that I was too dispersed. I consider it to be the source of my creativity. It empowers me to create projects that respond to various needs rather than flattening expectations and playing small.
Debunking the fallacy of narrow-mindedness can help us bring more integrity and wholeness in our lives and creations.
Embrace paradoxes! You can be deep and fun. You can allow sorrow and superficiality. You can be doing a lot and doing nothing. You can know what you want and negotiate with others. You can earn a living and do good for the marginalized. You can talk things through and be spontaneous. You can be masculine and feminine. You do not have to choose. By stating the opposite, you create a gap. If you decide to work in it, you can bring about something unique and new, something that is enticing because it feels more balanced and holistic.
Many organizations are dead and lacking joy because they do not ask what the alternative to their paradigm could be. This stagnation will rot them from the inside. Similarly, a person not allowing themselves to live the multiple aspects of their personality may become depressed because of the suppression of some parts of themselves.
I invite you to do a journaling exercise about imagining. Imagine and write alternative stories. If your organization is about organizing fun activities, how can you bring other emotions to them to have a deeper fun? If you are nurturing intellectual and mental capacities, how can you bring the body into the picture and make sure that the mind and body are in balance? If you are getting funding from the government, how can you include the citizens and serve your constituency? If you are made up of people from a middle-class background, how can you include and relate to the people of different class backgrounds?
We need to tell stories of diversity.
We need to tell stories of others who go against the grain.
We need to tell imagined stories that explore the alternatives to the ways we are stuck.
In this way, we cultivate divergent thinking and imagination that will help us to make more informed decisions and liberate ourselves from paradigms that may not serve us.
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