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Creativity Blocks

Constancy means that an individual becomes wedded to one way of looking at a problem or to using one approach to define, describe, or solve it. It is easy to see why constancy is common in problem solving since being constant, or consistent, is a highly valued attribute for most of us. We like to appear at leas moderately consistent in our approach to life, and constancy is often associated with maturity, honesty, and even intelligence.

On the other hand, constancy can inhibit solution of some kinds off problems. Consistency sometimes drives out creativity. Two illustrations of the constancy c block are vertical thinking and using only one thinking language.

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Vertical Thinking
The term vertical thinking was coined by Edward deBono (1968). It refers to defining a problem in a single way, then pursuing that definition without deviation until a solution is reached. No alternative definitions are considered. All information gathered and all alternatives generated are consistent with the original definition. In a search for oil, for example, vertical thinkers determine a spot for the hole and drill the hole deeper and deeper until they strike oil.

Lateral thinkers, on the other hand, generate alternative ways of viewing a problem and produce multiple definitions. Instead of drilling one hole deeper and deeper, later drill a number of holes in different places in search of oil. The vertical-thinking conceptual block arises from not being able to view the problem from multiple perspectives-to drill several holes-or to think laterally as well as vertically in problem solving. Problem definition is restricted.

A Single Thinking Language
A second manifestation of the constancy block is the use of only one thinking language. Most people think in words-that is, they think about a problem and solution in terms of verbal language. Rational problem solving reinforces this approach. Some writers, in fact, have argued that thinking cannot even occur without words (Vygotsky, 1962). Other thought languages are available, however, such nonverbal or symbolic languages (e.g., mathematics), sensory imagery (e.g., smelling or tactile sensation), feelings and emotions (e.g., happiness, fear, or anger and visual imagery (e.g., mental pictures). The more languages available to problem solvers, the better and more creative will be their solutions. As Koestler (196! puts it, "[Verbal] language can become a screen which stands between the thinking and reality. This is the reason that true creativity often starts where [verbal] language ends."


Commitment can also serve as a conceptual block to creative problem solving. Once individuals become committed to a particular point of view, definition, solution, it is likely that they will follow through on that commitment.

A host of other studies have demonstrated the same phenomenon - that commitment can sometimes lead to dysfunctional or foolish decisions, rigidly defended Two forms of commitment that produce conceptual blocks are stereotyping based on past experiences and ignoring commonalities.

Stereotyping Based on Past Experiences
March and Simon (1958) point out that a major obstacle to innovative problem solving is that individuals tend to define present problems in terms of problems they have faced in the past. Current problems are usually seen as nations on some past situation, so the alternatives proposed to solve the current problem are ones.

Ignoring Commonalities
A second manifestation of the commitment block is failure to identify similarities among seemingly disparate pieces of data. This is among the most commonly identified blocks to creativity. It means that a person becomes committed to a particular point of view, to the fact that elements are different, and becomes unable to make connections, identify themes, or to perceive commonalities.


Some conceptual blocks occur not because of poor thinking habits or because of inappropriate assumptions but because of fear, ignorance, insecurity, or just plain mental laziness. Two especially prevalent examples of the complacency block are a lack of questioning and a bias against thinking.

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Sometimes the inability to solve problems results from a reticence to ask question to obtain information, or to search for data. Individuals might think that they will appear naive or ignorant if the)1 question something or attempt to redefine a problem. Asking questions puts them at risk of exposing their ignorance. It also may be threatening to others because it implies that what they accept may not be correct. This may create resistance, conflict, or even ridicule by others.

Bias Against Thinking
A second appearance of the complacency block is in an inclination to avoid doing mental work. This block, like most of the others, is partly a cultural bias as well as a personal bias. For example, assume that you passed by your subordinate's office one day and noticed him leaning back in his chair, staring out the window. A half hour later, as you passed by again, he had his feet up on the desk, still staring out the window. And twenty minutes later, you noticed that his demeanor hadn't changed much. What would be your conclusion? Most of us would assume that the fellow was not doing any/work. We would assume that unless we saw action, he wasn't being productive.

Source of Reference:
David Whetten and Kim Cameron, Developing Management Skills, , Prentice Hall. You can obtain this fine book here