Skip to content

How to get past a fear of creativity

Woman holding blanket over bottom half of her face to show fear

Share This Post

Why read this? : We look at where fear of creativity comes from, and the impact it has on new ideas. Then, we show why fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Learn how finding the right level of fear helps drive customers to act. Read this to learn how to deal with people’s fear of creativity. 

Our recent 5 thoughts about thinking article talked briefly about the importance of understanding the amygdala for marketers. 

The amygdala’s the “fight or flight” part of our brain’s emotional system. It alerts us when something’s not right in our world. It’s where fear originates in the brain. 

As a marketer, your brand has to find a way past this mental defence mechanism in your customers. If you can’t do that, your brand won’t connect with them. The most obvious way to get past the amygdala is trust. Your customer’s amygdala needs to see you as not a threat before it’ll let your brand in. 

But, fear also plays a role in lots of other business areas. It’s often what creates barriers to creativity, for example. So, without scaring you too much, that’s why this week we go deeper into the role of fear, and how you get past the fear of creativity. 

Fear is a bad thing?

Intuitively, fear feels like a bad thing. After all, who wants to be afraid? But that’s not necessarily the case. Not all fear is bad. It’s a natural human emotion. It exists because you need some fear to open your mind to new experiences. To trigger you to think and act differently. Our lives would be very boring without some fear in them. Overcoming our fears makes life more interesting.

Fear comes from new and unexpected experiences. New things grab our attention in a way routine things don’t. When we notice something new, we feel compelled to check it out.

Person holding up an illustration of an angry face

This is evolutionarily why the amygdala exists. It makes a fast assessment of whether this new thing is a threat or not. It quickly works out if we can trust it. If we can’t, we go into fight or flight. 

This means a customer seeing a new marketing idea might actively argue against it. That can’t possibly be true. Or even worse, they ignore it completely. And you see the same responses if people in your business have a fear of creativity. They put up barriers and find ways to kill your ideas.

Why do people have a fear of creativity?

Creativity can be a divisive topic in business. In principle, it’s a good thing. But in practice, it’s often a real challenge. And that often comes from a fear of creativity. 

Why is that?

Well, it’s partly because creativity deals with newness. And when new things come into our lives, we already know our amygdala goes on alert. It tries to work out if it’s something we should fear, or something we should trust. 

Marketers create new things all the time. New ideas, new products, new ways of working. They work with their creative agencies to improve packaging, build new advertising campaigns and improve the content on their websites and social media posts. 

But because customers might “fear” all this newness, that fear also transmits itself back into the business. It holds up approvals. It kills off ideas. People often fear doing something new will threaten the business. 

They fear the new idea might not work. That it’ll reflect badly on them and the business if something fails.

They fear they might get laughed at for trying something different. For not playing it safe and doing what everyone else is doing.

And they fear the new idea might disrupt what they’re doing now. A way of working they trust and feel comfortable with. 

These are all natural fears in reaction to newness. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad fears. They shouldn’t stop you being creative, and there are ways to get past them.

Fear of creativity - it might not work

About the only 100% sure thing in marketing is there’s no 100% sure thing in marketing. Even the best thought-out marketing plans can run into something unexpected and fail.

So marketing’s really about playing the percentages. 

Do everything completely off the cuff with no planning and no expertise and your chances of winning are low. 

But do the right things, and your chances of winning go up.

Wooden scrabble tiles that spell the words Learn From Failure

Do your market research. Test and learn. Follow the principles of brand strategy and innovation. Be great at brand activation.

You’ll still have some failures. But far fewer of them. And even if your idea doesn’t quite work, it’s a chance to learn from your marketing mistakes so you do better next time. Giving things a go is how you learn. 

But if you avoid taking any creative chances, you never learn. You never get better. That’s a dead end. You can’t move forward from there.

So if you have people who constantly reject creative ideas, ask them to come up with alternatives. Ask them to be creative and show you how to move forward. 

If they can’t, and their alternative is doing nothing, then your creative ideas will always look like a better way to go. As Ed Catmull of Pixar puts it in his book Creativity Inc, creative ideas should come from everywhere and from everyone. That’s how you make creativity work. 

Fear of creativity - I’ll get laughed at

There’s also a fear about how other people will react to your creativity. That they’ll think you’re foolish. They’ll laugh at you. And part of being creative is to be prepared for people’s reactions.

But here’s the thing. Being laughed at isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Interestingly there’s a strong connection between fear and laughter. Most jokes are about building up a tension. We don’t know what’s coming next when someone tells a joke. It’s a low level threat.

Neon sign saying "I am Bold"

As Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greave point out in their book The Naked Jape, laughter is then a release of tension on discovering a threat is not a threat after all.

Now, we’re not talking about the Simpson’s Nelson Munz style of finger pointing and saying “ha ha” here. But new ideas do create a tension. And creating a laugh when you relieve that tension is a good thing. It shows there’s some sort of emotional connection to the idea. The last thing you want from your ideas is no reaction at all. 

Develop a creative thick skin

Naturally creative people get this. As per our how to be a more creative company article, creators learn to develop a thick skin. Getting feedback, good and bad, is all part of the creative process. As Clayton Christensen puts it in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, you can always tell the pioneers in a company, because they’re the ones with arrows in their back. 

Yes, being creative takes some bravery and bravado. It’s hard being the first to do something. It means getting past that fear of being laughed at. It means taking a risk. In human evolution, people who took risks didn’t always survive. But without them the human race would never have learned, never have evolved. 

And really, which would you rather be? The creative who helps others grow. Or the critic who kills ideas? Wouldn’t you rather control your creative destiny than preserve the boring old status quo?

In most businesses, playing it safe and doing nothing isn’t a long-term survival strategy. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Everyone fails at something at some point. Yes, you’ll get laughed at. And that might not feel like fun. But you’ll get over it. And other people will definitely get over it. Better to have tried and failed, than done nothing.

Even the biggest companies in the world tried stuff and failed. No one wears Google Glasses, do they? Or uses an Apple Newton. And just look at Microsoft’s acquisitions. Most of them got worse, right? Skype. Nokia. LinkedIn. All better before Microsoft got their hands on them. 

Fear of creativity - it’ll disrupt what I’m doing now

Creative and innovative people know creativity is a process driven by change and experimentation.

You try stuff out to see if it works. If it doesn’t, you move on. Try the next thing. So, other creative people won’t laugh at you, because they’ll be doing the same thing

The one’s laughing are the ones trying to protect the status quo. The critics. The unimaginative ones. Trying to protect cosy, comfortable ways of working.

But that’s often only short-term focussed. 

Close up of a man's hands holding a light bulb that's illuminated

Yes, habit and routine are good. They build efficiency. Help you drive towards your goals. Too much change, and you get chaos.

But too much predictability leads to inflexibility. You inhibit your ability to react to changing circumstances in the market. Your business becomes dull. Always playing it safe. That’s boring. If you don’t disrupt sometimes, disruption will happen to you. 

That’s where creativity comes in. Creativity thrives in changing circumstances. It gets its energy from coming up with ideas, testing them out and then implementing the good ones. It thrives on disruption. 

So, challenge those who have a fear of creativity because it’s disruptive. Talk about why your business needs the stimulation of creativity. How it helps you be more in control of disruption rather than have it happen to you. Creators move the world forward. Be proud of your creativity. Make it part of your culture. Don’t let other’s fear of creativity hold you back. 

What does fear of creativity look like?

This fear won’t show itself as the stereotypical horror movie type of fear. No hands over the face, screaming out loud and running away. 

But look hard enough and you’ll see watered down versions of these types of high fear behaviours. Watch people’s faces and body language when you present a new idea to them. You can see fearful face and body movements. 

For example, if people are interested and unafraid, they physically lean in. They get closer to what you’re showing them.

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

But if their amygdala kicks in, they lean away. Their eyes dart around looking for a way out of the conversation. They look slightly flushed, slightly sweaty. Their voice tremble a little. That’s what happens when your new idea creates fear. 

Once you know the signs, you can plan ahead on how to reduce fears. On what you can say to build people’s trust and get past their amygdalas. To show evidence why they should believe you. To point out the risks of not being creative. It’s all about finding the right level of fear to make things happen. 

Finding the right level of fear

This concept of fear in creativity and marketing isn’t new. We even found it referenced in our (very old) copy of Kotler’s Marketing Management

It talks about using emotional appeals like fear in marketing messages. These clearly relate to the emotional benefit in your positioning. You need enough fear to drive action and deliver your benefit. But not so much it puts people off. 

Finding this right level is particularly useful for capturing people’s attention. And for boosting your call to action. You can use it to nudge customers to take the next step. 

Small metal statue of lady of justice holding scales

For example, you can create a fear of missing out (FOMO) on an opportunity by using behavioural science ideas like scarcity. We only have 5 off these left. This offer ends on Sunday. These types of offers work on a customer’s fears. They’re particularly effective with early adopters. Early adopters fear being slow to be in the know with new products. 

But to get these types of offers approved, approvers need to understand why this customer fear is good. How it drives people to act. Why this type of mild fear is good for your business. 

But you can also be more overt about the consequences of not buying a product. In some categories like health or insurance, fear of the consequences of not buying is obvious. 

Toothpaste to prevent dental decay (a fear), for example. Travel insurance in case the worst happens on holiday (another fear). It’s not about full-on scaring your customers, but using a fear to trigger them to act. To do something. Reducing or preventing fear is a big motivation for customers. Good creative people know how and when to use this idea to drive customer actions.

Conclusion - How to get past a fear of creativity

Getting past the fear of creativity starts with recognising fear isn’t always a bad thing.

You may not actively rush towards something which scares you. But a little bit of fear in your life is motivating. It drives you to act. And those actions are usually good for you in the long-run. 

So start with small steps in overcoming this fear of creativity. Talk about why creativity matters. Show that creativity is a process, and a skill you have to practise to get better. 

Woman holding blanket over bottom half of her face to show fear

Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Doing nothing is the only sure fire way to fail. 

Then, look out for the signs of those who fear creativity and be prepared to talk about the benefits of getting past that fear.

Does it really matter if sometimes it doesn’t work? No, because you learn from your mistakes

Does it matter if they laugh at you? No, because creators have a thick skin, and are necessary for long-term improvements. 

And does it really matter if it disrupts what you do now? Nothing stays the same forever, anyway. Entropy means everything eventually declines. 

So, choose to embrace your fear of creativity. Be ahead of that decline. Or choose to be a critic. And then wonder what happened when that disruptive wave washes over you, and you’re completely unprepared for it. We know which of those sounds better to us. 

Check out our how to be a more creative company and how to use emotions articles for more on this. And fear not, you can always contact us if you need help reducing your own fear of creativity.  

Photo credits

Woman covering face under blanket : Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

Angry face : Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Hand / Stop : Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Learn from failure : Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I am bold : Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Light bulb : Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Woman peeking out from bush : Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Legal scales : Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Share this content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest blog posts

Subscribe to get three-brains updates