Is human potential lost, or just crippled?

The key question isn't "What fosters creativity?" But it is why in God's name isn't everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.

- Abraham Maslow

Maslow's got a point when he asks, "Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled?" But I think he's off base in asking why everyone isn't creative. I don't buy it. Part of the reason this blog exists is because over the course of years in the corporate world, I've worked in cubicles alongside some amazingly creative people who were wellsprings of bright and big ideas, regularly churning out three or four at a time. It's possible that one or two of those hundred ideas is currently in the works, but most never made it past the point of being bounced off of a few friends. How many are abandoned only to evaporate into thin air?

The problem is not that we're not creative, but that few of us want to gather up the strength to fail. We know chances are good that a bright new concept will find itself facing a series of tall brick walls. That risk is exactly what big ideas are made of!

Risk aversion is the counterweight balancing human potential.

That statement is an obvious one, but acknowledging it is most often used to give ourselves an out. We can explain away our reasons for limiting our own potential by convincing ourselves we're just being smart. Unlike Maslow, I don't believe the potential is lost at all. Instead, it's crippled by the fact that though we know a degree of risk aversion is necessary, we have no idea how to work past that counterweight even when we'd like to try. Maybe we should try desensitizing ourselves to failure. Why not build, right from our conceptual launchpad, a clearly outlined plan for several potential areas of failure and an even stronger and more detailed plan for the steps to recovery. So what if we don't fail in the exact way we'd imagined, we will still have worked through the exercise. Why not gather a group of friends who not only pat you on the back for your bold new idea, but help you face the potential for public humiliation, then assist in formulating that plan for recovery? Put the possibility that you will make a mess out there for your friends to see and let them give you feedback.

Is a better question the one no one really wants to ask: "How do I practice my failure"?

I want to find a mentor to teach me just that. If you have a wellspring of experience in that area, you can count me in as a fan.

1 comment:

  1. One of the ways in which video games are more supportive learning environments than schools is that create a system where the risk for failure is lowered to allow for experimentation and, thus, learning by doing. Go down a new passageway, boom! You're dead. You didn't have something you needed (be it skill, tool, whatever) but you get to try again. As we go through schools, that's not the case - it's VERY risky to fail in schools. We spend years in a system that measures us against our peers through grades and test scores, that doesn't allow us to safely try things out to see what will happen, and that is a hot bed for ridicule for not conforming. If there were ways to redesign school learning to support risk-taking, then you might have more friends trying out their bold new ideas!