Don't (just) release your inhibitions
In the world of creativity, disruption, and anti-comfort zone practice, there’s a lot of focus given to *Natasha Bedingfield voice* releasing your inhibitions. The philosophy assumes that the main barrier between a person and their ability to innovate is mostly just how unforgiving they are of their own mistakes and harebrained first-attempts, and how those harsh self-judgments keep them from even attempting to do something beyond their comfort zones.
Don’t get me wrong; unlearning those inhibitions is paramount for anyone wanting to be a force for change in their work, relationships, art, or whatever other arena of play they find themselves in. But as poets and musicians know well, doing this alone often isn’t enough to facilitate creative ideas and output.
Quick explanation of why with an example:
I occasionally go through periods during which I get my creative writing done first thing in the morning. I roll out of bed, grab a journal and pen or a Google doc, set the timer for anywhere between 3-30minutes, and write continuously, without stopping to think and without really thinking about what I’m writing at all. It’s the closest thing to what musicians feel when they improvise that a poet can experience, I think.
And again, this practice is super valuable for finding nuggets of interesting or new ideas that are worth tugging on after the brain dump is over and seeing where their threads lead. But what I’ll often find when practicing this ritual for a couple of weeks at a time is the same thing that musicians often find over time as they improvise: even when creating “freely,” without inhibition, we tend to cling to certain phrases and ideas that we like or are familiar with or that feel safe.
Even when your first order volition is to discover new ideas by letting go of the judgments that stop you from exploring, there’s a second order volition just out of sight that’s still doing things to keep you in the safe zone, against your wishes!
The insight here for leaders and innovators is that even when setting out to change our company culture, products, and relationships for the better, we carry the baggage of our most familiar routines and comforts. Rather than expecting that it’s enough to just “show up” to these opportunities to experiment and tackle them without thinking, sometimes the answer is to slow down and think harder about the patterns we see emerging when we try to break from the status quo; what gravity pulls us back towards the behaviors with which we’re most familiar.
By nurturing that deliberate curiosity about what our improvisational energy is missing, we can give ourselves more time to build our vocabularies out in those ways.
That way, when we next decide to wade back into unfamiliar territory, we'll be better-equipped to stay there.