- Be afraid. Be very afraid. There’s nothing like fear to put a stop to any kind of creativity: fear of getting it wrong; fear of what other people may say; fear of embarrassment; fear of change. The more afraid that you are, the less creative you will be—and the less you will act on any creative thoughts that manage to break through the curtain of anxiety.
- Remind yourself of all the times that you failed in the past. Keep them fresh in your mind. Dwell on them—the pain, the shame, the hurt, the way others sniggered. Let your imagination go to work and really re-live those cringe-making moments. That should stop you ever trying again.
- Never waste time. Stay constantly busy. Never mind what the tasks are, just keep them coming thick and fast. Time is money, isn’t it? There’s no mileage in leaving any moments free from gainful activity—especially for self-indulgent activities like day dreaming or reflecting on what has happened. If you fill every waking moment with busyness, you won’t have to worry about creative thoughts sneaking up on you. There will be no space for them.
- Always try to fit in. Be much more than a good team player—be the person who never, ever rocks the boat. Whatever seems to be the majority opinion, go with it. People who have ideas of their own can face suspicion or—horror of horrors—criticism and dislike by the majority. Don’t risk being on the wrong side. The minute that it’s clear what the majority (or the most powerful players) want, that’s where your opinions and thoughts must be.
- Stick to what you know. Tried and true is what’s right for you. Change and novelty involve risk, and risks can go wrong. If you give in to entertaining innovative thoughts, you may find that what you’ve been doing all these years isn’t as good as you thought. That would upset you and maybe force you to do something risky, like altering your habits or changing your viewpoint. So don’t be rash. Caution must be your watchword at all times. Whatever that new idea is, let it wait a while—say a decade or so—before considering it seriously. You’ll be surprised how many will go away in far less time than that.
- Always defer to authority. The people in charge must know what they are doing, or they wouldn’t hold the positions that they do. It would be presumptuous to inject any of your own ideas, when they clearly have all the answers. Rules exist to be obeyed, not challenged. If you always do exactly as you are told, you won’t ever risk disapproval from your betters.
- Don’t ask stupid questions. Best of all, don’t ask any questions. They only get people into trouble. Folk who develop the nasty habit of questioning things may upset the status quo, and that simply causes trouble and disruption. Things are as they are. There’s no point wasting time or effort wondering whether they ought to be different in some way. Only dissidents and weirdoes don’t understand that simple fact.
- Always listen to your Inner Critic. It’s there to stop you making a fool of yourself. Whatever it says, pay close attention. It will unfailingly point out how useless, pointless, and silly those creative ideas really are. It will explain to you that they will never work, and how expressing them will only make you a laughingstock. It’s your friend. Trust it implicitly.
- Leave thinking to the experts. There’s no point in bothering them with with your pathetic notions or observations. If it was an idea worth having, the experts would already have thought about it. They have all kinds of qualifications and can use long words too. If you think that some change might be needed (and you can’t simply ignore such a disruptive idea), hire expensive, expert consultants to do the thinking. They’ll quickly tell you whatever you want to hear, then add what others are doing, so you can copy them. Best of all, if it goes wrong, you can first of all say that what you did was follow industry best practice (whatever that means); and, if that doesn’t disarm any criticism, you can blame the consultants.
- Keep it simple, stupid. The worst thing about creative ideas is that they so often make life more complicated. The best way to stay on an even keel is to keep everything very, very simple. Find one or two rules of thumb and stick to them like glue. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you that there aren’t simple, easy answers to every situation. There are. It’s just that, for some odd reason, they don’t work very often—if ever. Still, persistence is a great virtue. If you stay with these simple, superficial approaches long enough, one or two are bound to work in some circumstance, sometime. Then you can point out to the clever dicks that you were right all along. Why mess up your head with learning? It’s learning that allows creative ideas in the first place. Anyway, learning is for children. Adults like you don’t need it.
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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.
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