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Under Pressure

Ease tension and get the creative juices up and running again.

The starting point for every creative act is the unknown. For most of us, this is not good news. Uncertainty is uncomfortable.

So how do you encourage people to step into the unknown when embarking on a new creative process? Providing a safe environment is essential. When asking your employees to create something innovative, let them know they won't be punished if they don't succeed. Clearly communicate you know the outcome is uncertain, and provide the time and resources your people need to create. And, as always, define the desired parameters of the outcome so you can measure success.

If you don't get a workable result, hold a debriefing session to learn what to do differently next time. The tone and mood of this meeting are very important. Don't use the meeting as a time to place blame for a missed deadline or an unworkable result; ask questions, listen to your team and learn from what they tell you. The project team at one company I know writes a report and shares it with the entire management team so everyone can learn from their experience. The company's CEO makes it clear she doesn't define not succeeding as failure. It's a learning experience.

What do you do when you're way behind schedule and no solution is in sight? Cultivate creative stamina-in other words, learn how to manage frustration and anxiety. This stressful period is a common part of the creative process. Here are a few strategies to help you and your staff:

  • Take breaks. Don't keep going when no ideas are coming. Break the tension by taking a brief break, and then get back to work. Remember, too much tension makes it very difficult to be creative.
  • Go for a walk. Moving your body gets your brain moving. If the ideas aren't flowing, take your colleagues out of the conference room to get some air.
  • Learn and practice some breathing relaxation exercises. Even a minute of conscious breathing can dissipate tension.

It takes courage to step into the unknown and risk failure, and it takes courage to hang in there when the process is not going well. Learning how to navigate uncertainty and ambiguity will keep you going until you reach the creative breakthrough.


Juanita Weaver is a creativity coach and consultant. Tell her how your company sparks creativity by writing her at juanita@juanitaweaver.com.

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This article was originally published in the August 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Under Pressure.

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