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How to get past a fear of creativity

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

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Why read this? : We look at how a fear of creativity inhibits new ideas. Learn ways to deal with this, and why fear isn’t always a bad thing. We show why the right level of fear can be a strong catalyst for action. Read this to learn how to get past a fear of creativity. 

Our recent 5 thoughts about thinking article talked briefly about the importance of understanding the amygdala for marketers. The amygdala is the “fight or flight” part of our brain’s emotional system. It alerts us when something doesn’t feel right. It’s where fear starts in the brain. 

Brands have to find a way past this mental defence mechanism in customers. If they don’t, they won’t connect with them. The most obvious way to get past the amygdala is trust. Your customer’s amygdala will stay dormant if the customer trusts you. 

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 article goes 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 dull 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 push back or reject it. That can’t possibly be true. You see the same responses from people in your business with 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. Many people fear it. 

Why is that?

Well, it’s partly because creativity deals with newness. And when new things enter 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 can trust. 

Man on apartment balcony holding hand in front of face to say stop

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 update their website and social media content. 

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

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

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

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 the face of newness. And they’re not necessarily bad fears. But you shouldn’t let them stop you from being creative. Because there are ways to get past them.

Fear of creativity - it might not work

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 off the cuff with no planning and no expertise, and your chances of winning are low. 

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

Wooden scrabble tiles that spell the words Learn From Failure

Do your market research. Test and learn. Do your brand strategy and innovation plans properly. 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 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 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 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 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 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 ones 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.

However, 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 closely and you’ll see watered-down versions of these fear behaviours. Watch people’s faces and body language when you present a new idea to them. You’ll see fear-based subconscious reactions. 

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 trembles a little. These are signs your new idea is creating fear. 

Once you know these signs, you can plan how to reduce fears. Plan what to say to build trust and get past people’s amygdalas. To show evidence of 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 of 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 away, approvers have to understand why this customer fear is good. How it drives people to act. Why this type of mild fear is good for business. 

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 customers, but using a fear to trigger them to act. To do something. Reducing or preventing fear motivates customers to act. Smart marketers know how and when to use this fear to drive action.

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.

Maybe you don’t rush towards something which scares you. But a little bit of fear in your life motivates you. 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 for the signs of those who fear creativity, and talk about the benefits of getting past that fear.

Does it 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 matter if it disrupts what you do now? Nothing stays the same forever. Entropy means everything eventually declines. So, choose to embrace your fear of creativity and you can be ready to jump onto the next creative idea when this one’s done. 

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 drop us a line if you need help reducing your own fear of creativity.  

(Note : This article also features in our review of our most popular lessons from 2023). 

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

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