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Shaun Ang

3 psychological biases that may be holding back your creativity

Most of us like to think of ourselves as rational people. We go about our daily lives making reasonable decisions, based on good sound judgment. Right? Well, we’re certainly capable of such clear-headed reasoning. But over the years, psychological research has cast doubt on how often we actually think so rationally. Psychologists have uncovered many human biases that cloud our thinking, which affect even the wisest among us.

The good news is that once you learn about these biases, you can take steps to overcome them. Many companies have set up systems that get employees to examine their own mental blind spots, enabling them to be better thinkers in the workplace. This sort of thinking is especially necessary in creative industries, where fresh ideas are often sought to shake up the market.

In this post, I will discuss three psychological biases that are particularly relevant to creative workplaces. Overcoming these biases can be the first step to unleashing your innovative ideas.

#1: Availability heuristic

This cognitive glitch was identified by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1973. Essentially, Tversky and Kahneman found that people assigned more importance to things that could be easily recalled or were readily available. For example, ask people to come up with a brand for a new social media platform. Chances are that you’ll get a brand logo inspired by Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram. That’s perfectly natural–these brands come easily to the mind. And there’s nothing very wrong with such inspiration (unless your copyright lawyers disagree). But to develop a brand that stands out, we need to overcome the readily available ideas, and to get to the ones we could have scarcely imagined.

#2: Semmelweis reflex

Even when we do dream up out-of-the-box ideas, we may reflexively dismiss these ideas as being too ridiculous. It’s too crazy, we tell ourselves, it would never work! Back in 1847, Dr Ignaz Semmelweis had a crazy idea too: If physicians washed their hands properly, they could drastically reduce the spread of illness. At that time, medical infections still weren’t fully understood. And many doctors ridiculed this proposal, believing that the hands of gentlemen physicians could never be unclean. Pish posh! Of course, Semmelweis’ wild idea has now become a standard practice in all hospitals.

Moral of the story? Don’t dismiss an idea just because it goes against what’s normal.

#3: Groupthink

And don’t dismiss an idea just because other people might disagree with it. How often have you found yourself in a meeting room, holding back a dissenting opinion for fear that it would sow discord? That’s groupthink at work: Thinking more for the harmony of the group than for developing a good idea. It’s a natural tendency for us to simply nod along and keep quiet. Is voicing out a disagreement really worth risking conflict? Often, the answer is yes. Encourage your office to challenge each other’s ideas if they feel something’s wrong. Get each other to ask “instead, what if?”, and your office could be where the next Apple or Amazon is born.

So now that we know about these psychological biases, how can we boost our workplace creativity? We need to nurture a culture of thinking beyond the run-of-the-mill, to identify those ideas that we might too easily dismiss as crazy, and to see if they take us anywhere. All this takes serious work, as well as serious play. At antics@play, we believe in taking the time to explore wild areas outside of our comfort zone, to expand our creative faculties. These ‘play’ sessions often help us to generate fresh ideas for our branding campaigns. Of course, not every wild idea is pure gold: We need each other as sounding boards. In our office, we help each other to refine our ideas, and to turn our playful takeaways into the next big brand.