December 18, 2010 | Uncategorized
One piece of advice you will find very frequently when it comes to Internet marketing is to analyze everything – analyze your site, your traffic, your responses, your CTR, your ROI, etc. ad infinitum. While all of this analysis is important in order to gauge what is going to bring you the most success, it is possible to get analysis paralysis.
Analysis paralysis occurs when you get so caught up in the numbers, data, charts and graphs that instead of using them to make the right decisions, you can’t make any decision at all. There comes a point where you have to stop analyzing and take action.
When you feel that the numbers are starting to overwhelm you and you don’t know which way to go, take a step back and consider these things:
- What will most enhance the customer’s experience? One of the things that can get lost in all of the numbers and graphs is the customer experience. Although what the numbers are showing you are the customers reactions to what you are presenting to them, many people forget that human element. Take a step back from the data and think about the people to get a better grasp of the big picture and make a decision on where to go next.
- What is the worst thing that can happen? Many times people get analysis paralysis because of fear. Fear of making the wrong decision will stop people in their tracks. Many of the changes that come about due to data analysis of your ad campaigns, landing pages and the like are small changes. It is not likely that by moving a graphic from the top left of your landing page to the top right of the page that your business will go bankrupt. However, it is possible that you will see enough change that you can optimize your landing page for the best results. Don’t let fear stand in your way of success.
- Take it one thing at a time. The sheer volume of information coming at you can give you analysis paralysis before you even get started. Don’t try to tackle it all at once. Take one report on one aspect of your marketing and work it start to finish before moving on to the next thing.
Analysis is a very important aspect of Internet marketing success because it allows you to continually optimize your marketing to get the best results. That is if you can avoid the analysis paralysis…
Whether you’re trying to solve a tough problem, start a business, get attention for that business or write an interesting article, creative thinking is crucial. The process boils down to changing your perspective and seeing things differently than you currently do.
People like to call this “thinking outside of the box,” which is the wrong way to look at it. Just like Neo needed to understand that “there is no spoon” in the film The Matrix, you need to realize “there is no box” to step outside of.
You create your own imaginary boxes simply by living life and accepting certain things as “real” when they are just as illusory as the beliefs of a paranoid delusional. The difference is, enough people agree that certain man-made concepts are “real,” so you’re viewed as “normal.” This is good for society overall, but it’s that sort of unquestioning consensus that inhibits your natural creative abilities.
So, rather than looking for ways to inspire creativity, you should just realize the truth. You’re already capable of creative thinking at all times, but you have to strip away the imaginary mental blocks (or boxes) that you’ve picked up along the way to wherever you are today.
I like to keep this list of 10 common ways we suppress our natural creative abilities nearby when I get stuck. It helps me realize that the barriers to a good idea are truly all in my head.
1. Trying to Find the “Right” Answer
One of the worst aspects of formal education is the focus on the correct answer to a particular question or problem. While this approach helps us function in society, it hurts creative thinking because real-life issues are ambiguous. There’s often more than one “correct” answer, and the second one you come up with might be better than the first.
Many of the following mental blocks can be turned around to reveal ways to find more than one answer to any given problem. Try reframing the issue in several different ways in order to prompt different answers, and embrace answering inherently ambiguous questions in several different ways.
2. Logical Thinking
Not only is real life ambiguous, it’s often illogical to the point of madness. While critical thinking skills based on logic are one of our main strengths in evaluating the feasibility of a creative idea, it’s often the enemy of truly innovative thoughts in the first place.
One of the best ways to escape the constraints of your own logical mind is to think metaphorically. One of the reasons why metaphors work so well in communications is that we accept them as true without thinking about it. When you realize that “truth” is often symbolic, you’ll often find that you are actually free to come up with alternatives.
3. Following Rules
One way to view creative thinking is to look at it as a destructive force. You’re tearing away the often arbitrary rules that others have set for you, and asking either “why” or “why not” whenever confronted with the way “everyone” does things.
This is easier said than done, since people will often defend the rules they follow even in the face of evidence that the rule doesn’t work. People love to celebrate rebels like Richard Branson, but few seem brave enough to emulate him. Quit worshipping rule breakers and start breaking some rules.
4. Being Practical
Like logic, practicality is hugely important when it comes to execution, but often stifles innovative ideas before they can properly blossom. Don’t allow the editor into the same room with your inner artist.
Try not to evaluate the actual feasibility of an approach until you’ve allowed it to exist on it’s own for a bit. Spend time asking “what if” as often as possible, and simply allow your imagination to go where it wants. You might just find yourself discovering a crazy idea that’s so insanely practical that no one’s thought of it before.
5. Play is Not Work
Allowing your mind to be at play is perhaps the most effective way to stimulate creative thinking, and yet many people disassociate play from work. These days, the people who can come up with great ideas and solutions are the most economically rewarded, while worker bees are often employed for the benefit of the creative thinkers.
You’ve heard the expression “work hard and play hard.” All you have to realize is that they’re the same thing to a creative thinker.
6. That’s Not My Job
In an era of hyper-specialization, it’s those who happily explore completely unrelated areas of life and knowledge who best see that everything is related. This goes back to what ad man Carl Ally said about creative persons—they want to be know-it-alls.
Sure, you’ve got to know the specialized stuff in your field, but if you view yourself as an explorer rather than a highly-specialized cog in the machine, you’ll run circles around the technical master in the success department.
7. Being a “Serious” Person
Most of what keeps us civilized boils down to conformity, consistency, shared values, and yes, thinking about things the same way everyone else does. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but if you can mentally accept that it’s actually nothing more than groupthink that helps a society function, you can then give yourself permission to turn everything that’s accepted upside down and shake out the illusions.
Leaders from Egyptian pharaohs to Chinese emperors and European royalty have consulted with fools, or court jesters, when faced with tough problems. The persona of the fool allowed the truth to be told, without the usual ramifications that might come with speaking blasphemy or challenging ingrained social conventions. Give yourself permission to be a fool and see things for what they really are.
8. Avoiding Ambiguity
We rationally realize that most every situation is ambiguous to some degree. And although dividing complex situations into black and white boxes can lead to disaster, we still do it. It’s an innate characteristic of human psychology to desire certainty, but it’s the creative thinker who rejects the false comfort of clarity when it’s not really appropriate.
Ambiguity is your friend if you’re looking to innovate. The fact that most people are uncomfortable exploring uncertainty gives you an advantage, as long as you can embrace ambiguity rather than run from it.
9. Being Wrong is Bad
We hate being wrong, and yet mistakes often teach us the most. Thomas Edison was wrong 1,800 times before getting the light bulb right. Edison’s greatest strength was that he was not afraid to be wrong.
The best thing we do is learn from our mistakes, but we have to free ourselves to make mistakes in the first place. Just try out your ideas and see what happens, take what you learn, and try something else. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen if I’m wrong? You’ll often find the benefits of being wrong greatly outweigh the ramifications.
10. I’m Not Creative
Denying your own creativity is like denying you’re a human being. We’re all limitlessly creative, but only to the extent that we realize that we create our own limits with the way we think. If you tell yourself you’re not creative, it becomes true. Stop that.
In that sense, awakening your own creativity is similar to the path reported by those who seek spiritual enlightenment. You’re already enlightened, just like you’re already creative, but you have to strip away all of your delusions before you can see it. Acknowledge that you’re inherently creative, and then start tearing down the other barriers you’ve allowed to be created in your mind.
Flow – “An almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness.”
When we are in flow, we are fully absorbed in whatever we are doing and find it easy to achieve peak performance. The experience is accompanied by intense feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
Flow can occur in many spheres of human activity, physical and mental. Athletes call it being in the ‘the zone’, but we don’t have to run a marathon or win an Olympic medal do experience flow – we have all experienced the enjoyment of becoming absorbed in doing a task well.
Flow is particularly common in artistic and creative spheres, during those times when ideas, images, feelings and/or words seem to flow easily and the work takes on a momentum of its own. Many artists make big sacrifices in other areas of their lives so that they can pursue creative flow. Professional creatives have typically had powerful experiences of flow, and can relate to the intense feeling of satisfaction when they enter flow – and equally intense feelings of frustration when they are unable to get into flow in their work.
Csikszentmihalyi identifies the following nine characteristics of flow:
- There are clear goals every step of the way. Knowing what you are trying to achieve gives your actions a sense of purpose and meaning.
- There is immediate feedback to your actions. Not only do you know what you are trying to achieve, you are also clear about how well you are doing it. This makes it easier to adjust for optimum performance. It also means that by definition flow only occurs when you are performing well.
- There is a balance between challenges and skills. If the challenge is too difficult we get frustrated; if it is too easy, we get bored. Flow occurs when we reach an optimum balance between our abilities and the task in hand, keeping us alert, focused and effective.
- Action and awareness are merged. We have all had experiences of being in one place physically, but with our minds elsewhere – often out of boredom or frustration. In flow, we are completely focused on what we are doing in the moment.
- Distractions are excluded from consciousness. When we are not distracted by worries or conflicting priorities, we are free to become fully absorbed in the task.
- There is no worry of failure. A single-minded focus of attention means that we are not simultaneously judging our performance or worrying about things going wrong.
- Self-consciousness disappears. When we are fully absorbed in the activity itself, we are not concerned with our self-image, or how we look to others. While flow lasts, we can even identify with something outside or larger than our sense of self – such as the painting or writing we are engaged in, or the team we are playing in.
- The sense of time becomes distorted. Several hours can ‘fly by’ in what feels like a few minutes, or a few moments can seem to last for ages.
- The activity becomes ‘autotelic’ – meaning it is an end in itself. Whenever most of the elements of flow are occurring, the activity becomes enjoyable and rewarding for its own sake. This is why so many artists and creators report that their greatest satisfaction comes through their work. As Noel Coward put it, “Work is more fun than fun”.
So that’s the theory – read how to put it into practice through coaching
Creative types on the other hand, gravitate to situations where creativity is not only encouraged but expected of them – art schools, ad agencies, design studios, artists’ quarters, writer’s colonies, film sets and ‘clusters’ of creative businesses. By surrounding themselves with others engaged in creative work, they immerse themselves in the latest ideas and developments in their field – and some of that creativity rubs off.
These three factors help them develop their raw creative talent into accomplished skills. This is not to deny that some of us are naturally “gifted” with more talent than others, but this is a matter of degree rather than kind – and talent is nothing unless you put it to work.
How you can be a more creative person
So what are the implications for someone who wants to be more creative, either as a professional or keen amateur? It boils down to doing these three things:
1. Assume you are creative. Don’t worry about labelling yourself a creative or uncreative person. Just assume that creativity is humanly possible, and you are a human, therefore it’s possible for you.
2. Follow your heart. Your passion for creativity is your guide to developing your talent. When your curiosity is aroused, when you feel yourself becoming absorbed, fascinated and excited by a creative task – that’s your talent telling you you’re getting warm – it’s saying “Do more of this”. Creativity can be hard work, and it requires dedication and commitment to keep going, but if you apply yourself and follow your heart, sooner or later you will taste creative flow, at the point where your motivation, talent and experience blend together.
3. Hang around with creative people. Get involved. Go to work in somewhere creativity is encouraged; go to readings, galleries and concerts; attend classes and stay behind for a drink and a chat with the other students; read books; read magazines and offer to write for them; hook into online communities via blogs, mailing lists and and discussion boards. Whatever your chosen medium, soak it up by hanging out with the people who are doing it. Get familiar with the whole of your chosen field, its history as well as its present – that way you have a chance of contributing to its future.
So back to the original questions – I hope I’ve shown that I’m not putting labels or restrictions on people. Anyone can be creative, provided they do these three things.
And why do I work with creative professionals? Partly it’s a matter of personal taste – I’m a writer myself and love working with people with a similar passion for creativity. If you’re going to spend a lot of time coaching others to do something, I think you should have experience of it yourself.
The other reason is that the “creatives” don’t put any limits on their creativity, which makes them very exciting to work with. They are not essentially any different from other people, but they are doing the three things listed above, consistently – which means they are enjoying their work more and producing better and better creative results, working towards the possibility of creating something extraordinary.
And if you want to, so can you.