Could Positive Thinking Limit Creativity?

Positive thinking, creativityThis week has been a very strange one for me as a coach. In my work, I’ve had two very remarkable conversations with small business owners that showed how they are moving forward in eliminating their negative beliefs and habits. On the other side, I’ve run across at least three posts that disparaged positive thinking as limiting one’s ability to think creatively or pro-actively.

What is positive thinking?

Positive thinking comes from a combination of sources. Some of it is from schools of psychology (i.e. cognitive psychology, positive psychology) while other sources include philosophy and famous role models. In a nutshell, it’s the concept that you have cognitions that support high self-worth and confidence. You could follow Norman Vincent Peale, Wayne Dwyer, Anthony Robbins or  view The Secret for this message.

It’s clear that negative thinking interferes with our creativity

Negative thinking undermines our performance on all levels. Experiencing the world as stressful and adversarial can physically hurt us. When we engage in black and white thinking, catastrophizing or other cognitive distortions, we create cognitive biases that limit our abilities to absorb new or contradictory information, acknowledge alternatives or even use our imaginations.

How could positive thinking be limiting?

The abundance of optimism embedded in positive thinking could be the culprit. According to David Collinson of the Lancaster University School of Management, the emphasis on optimism in organizations becomes more important than critical thinking, feedback or accurate reports of how the business was really performing. Aside from creating a culture that ignores risk management, there is also the effect it has on creativity.

Creativity is a messy exploration

If we must think that we are wonderfully gifted, then it could easily be seen that all of our ideas are perfect from the start. But creativity requires more. There is an essence that the base idea is simply a first step. As Linda Naiman (member of our #KaizenBiz community) points out, “If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.” The idea goes through an evolutionary process until there is a product or result at the end. If you are working within a group, forbidding dissension or skepticism eliminates the triggers for that evolutionary process. There is a tendency for individuals to only seek out messages that confirm their current mindset. Again, this stunts the evolutionary process.

If positive thinking interferes with information gathering, why do we persist in encouraging it?

This is an interesting conundrum.We hear stories about how business people endured adversity and use  positive thinking to move forward in their careers. We’re certainly familiar with the idea that believing in ourselves and our abilities creates success. But could it also be a handicap?

What role does tension play in the creativity process?

How do you describe the connection between creativity and positive thinking?

When could anger, resentment, sadness or worry be useful to creativity?

What psychological tools/behaviors promote greater access to our creativity?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.