Unlocking Impactful Creative Ideas Through Radical Openness

The act of making an idea into an impactful endeavor lights up every “cylinder” in us.  As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who coined the term “flow”) said in his 2008 TED talk, “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” You seek this sense of fullness through imagination, artistic expression, and even subconsciously through the quirky ideas pop into your head unbidden every once in a while. Yet you don’t pursue them, or you complete your project only to stow it away in the attic of your mind thinking “maybe someday.” You hide what could be your most potent ideas, not only from yourself, but from others that could benefit from them. Why?

When we surveyed our global community of readers on this topic, we were surprised by the answer. I had thought that lack of time or resources or support might have topped the list. Instead, what held back these accomplished professionals, published authors, smart consultants and coaches and knowledge workers and leaders was this:

Fear. Fear of judgment, rejection, backlash, failure. 

The fear of revealing our unique ideas to the world holds us back from growth and discovery. Many of us have potentially brilliant ideas. Many of us have the potential to make a rippling difference in this world with our endeavors. Yet what separates the people whose ideas ripple from others is this: they work with their fear and reveal the innermost workings of their minds. They practice radical openness.

Creativity does not arise in a vacuum, but rather from a dialogue between the creator and their environment. Radical openness is the language through which creatives nurture their imagination, fuel their work, forge deep human connections, and (hopefully) change the world as they see it.

Your Soul Spills Out

Sharing your ideas and imaginative aspirations is risky business because it exposes a vision or version of yourself as yet untested by society. But the intimacy of this act can be immensely rewarding for the very same reason. 

In a recent study, psychologists Jack A. Goncalo and Joshua Katz studied exactly this phenomenon. Across five experiments they confirmed that generating creative ideas is revealing of the self (sometimes even to the one generating them) but furthermore, that this kind of sharing can “provide the foundation for bonding, intimacy, and social connectedness.” Further research in higher education institutions revealed that social capital, trust, and identification are far more important to fostering individual creativity than organization structure.

What, then, does this all mean for those of us who want our ideas to spread to other people? 

The Creative Conversation

People who learn to trust their own ideas and creative process bring their own experiences, worldview, and bias to their work. No matter how novel the idea, it is shaped or influenced by the outside world. So contrary to popular belief, creativity is inherently a shared, dialectic process: It is a conversation between creator and community. Just think of all the inventors who looked at the technology or art of the day and were inspired to find a way to make something better, or simply different. 

Take Twitter, for example. Where did the idea for a platform that originally limited messages to 140 characters come from? Before he co-founded Twitter, Jack Dorsey launched a company in Oakland that dispatched emergency services, taxis, and couriers via the Internet. When instant messaging really took off in 2000, Dorsey saw an opportunity to fuse the functionality of his dispatch platform with the social value of free, instant communication and thus, Twitter was born. While Dorsey’s story may show how creative people improve upon or contribute to the world around them, some creations might not be “useful” in a conventional sense, but they are influential.

The French artist Marcel Duchamp comes to mind with his work “Fountain.” The sculpture is simply an upturned urinal with Duchamp’s signature on it. Unveiled at a world-renowned art show in 1917, the piece was an outrage. Duchamp strove to “de-deify” the artist through found art, and he succeeded. That’s what made the Society of Independent Artists so uncomfortable. Duchamp was radically open to inspiration from the ordinary, to going against the artistic tide, and to sharing his controversial perspective with a society that scorned him. The result? Almost a century later, “Fountain” is considered one of (if not the most) influential artworks of the 20th Century.

In either case, these individuals are in the annals of history because they chose to share their ideas, artwork, project, or solution with the world regardless of whether it was ridiculed, contested, or questioned by some. They show that it is only through unveiling your creative mind that you can start the conversation, and reimagine new ways of doing things.

Radical Openness and the Brain

How open are you? How open to new experiences and new ideas are you? Your openness to experience might be more important than intellect when it comes to fostering your creative potential – at least according to many recent studies in the psychology of creativity.

Innovators’ openness to experience is most often correlated with innovation in the arts, literature, crafts, performances, music, but it is integral to math and science as well. Even in business, experts have come to realize that increased openness or transparency in a work environment leads to increased trust, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. 

But we’re not talking about the passive openness of unapologetic self-expression. No, for openness to truly inspire and empower it has to be active. It has to be radical.

Radical openness is being present and willing to consider all possibilities. Looking forward without assumptions or expectations, and back without judgment or shame. It is eroding the wall of your ego to let the verdant garden of your imagination run wild, and let the sunlight of others’ perceptions and opinions shine in.

It’s no wonder that radical openness can foster such inventiveness and human connection. When you are open to new experiences and perspectives, you are more likely to engage in divergent thinking that produces more novel, “outside-the-box” solutions. When you are open to collaborate with other people, you synthesize your collective energies to produce something that you alone would not have, could not have. And when you share a genuine creative thought, you not only reveal a part of your inner self. You give that part of yourself and that idea to the world.

By practicing radical openness, we can unlock our creative potential.

Be well, and thanks for running with me, 


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