Obstacles to Creativity … And How to Overcome Them!

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This blog is based on the book Unleashing Engineering Creativity by Joe Berk, Eogogics Principal Faculty. The book is part of the Eogogics Unleashing Engineering Creativity Workshop, but it’s also sold separately.

Nx300xbook.jpg.pagespeed.ic.hbORgF3AfwCreativity obstacles can emerge as the result of structured thinking patterns, timidity, a fear of failure, resource myopia, fear of the unknown, overconfidence, personal and physiological factors, and not knowing how to be creative. This article outlines and recommends approaches for overcoming creativity obstacles.

Structured Thinking Patterns

“We’ve always done it this way” and “that’s not the way we do things around here” are common indicators of an organization mired in structured thinking patterns. Organizations don’t make conscious decisions to get stuck in a rut; it just happens. Our minds naturally gravitate toward what we already know.

One of the oldest concepts for stimulating creativity is brainstorming. Brainstorming is a good technique but it has limitations. If your organization is stuck with using structured thinking patterns, it’s not likely that brainstorming will lift you out of the rut – you’ll just brainstorm concepts surrounded and constrained by the rut. If we recognize that our thinking has defaulted to preconceived solutions (the way we are used to thinking about things), we can consciously decide to consider alternative approaches. The Eogogics Unleashing Engineering Creativity Workshops specifically address this issue.



In many situations people are afraid to offer new ideas. It’s the psychology of silence, and it’s usually driven by a fear of ridicule or of looking stupid, and sometimes by cultural considerations. It’s paralyzing to an organization, especially a scientific or engineering organization that must survive on creativity. In order to overcome this creativity obstacle, your team needs to accept and embrace the idea that not all ideas will survive further scrutiny, and that failure is an inherent part of the creativity process.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is a powerful demotivator. If you or others in your organization are afraid to explore new design concepts or offer alternative solutions, consider what these great people had to say on the topic:

  • Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • To have a great idea, have a lot of them. – Thomas Edison
  • The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail. – Edwin Land (inventor of the Polaroid camera)
  • If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate. – Dale Carnegie
  • If an idea does not seem absurd at first, there is no hope for it. – Albert Einstein

All of these people intuitively understood that failure is not to be feared. Failure is something to be welcomed, as it brings us closer to success.

Resource Myopia

Sometimes our creativity is stifled by a sense of defeatism driven by a perceived lack of resources. We often don’t realize the rich resources in every organization.

To overcome this obstacle, make a list that identifies everyone and their expertise in your organization. Include what they have accomplished in past assignments and in prior organizations. Add your supplier base to this list and include their areas of expertise. Do the same for the consultants available to you. Then list all of your accomplishments and the accomplishments of your suppliers and other outside resources. You might be surprised at just how much expertise and experience is readily available to you. The bottom line is that your resources are usually far greater than you might initially imagine.

Fear of the Unknown

Sometimes we’re afraid to explore new ideas because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. This is typically exhibited through almost endless analysis (“analysis paralysis”) and an inability to make a decision. In many ways, fear of the unknown is similar to a fear of failure and it can be managed with many of the same tools. Dale Carnegie’s advice in this area was simple: Assume the worst case outcome and decide in advance what to do if that happens. When we consider problems from that perspective, many of our worries and fears disappear.


This is the situation in which we are certain the answer will magically appear. It’s good to be confident; it’s not good to be recklessly confident. We can’t launch into a project counting on a miracle happening in time. If there are significant creativity requirements they should be tackled as early as possible. Doing so provides more time for a solution. If the creativity requirement cannot be met, recognize it early and apply more resources or abandon the project if necessary.

Personal and Physiological Factors

There are many personal and physiological obstacles that can obstruct or interfere with creativity.

Sometimes we are not creative because we feel inferior (this is just another form of the fear of failure). New engineers often convince themselves that more experienced engineers will have better ideas, which is unfortunate because fresh thinking is exactly what new engineers have to offer.

Sometimes even experienced folks have a bad day. When this occurs, do something else until the feeling goes away.

Fatigue and a general lack of mental alertness negatively affect creativity. It’s important to get a good night’s sleep, it’s important to exercise, and it’s important to eat properly.

Finally, focus is critical. When we need to be creative, we can’t do other things at the same time. Move to an area without a phone, a television, music, or other distractions. Turn off your email and your cell phone. You might even consider having your “new idea” meetings offsite to isolate the group from the day-to-day distractions that occur in any workplace.

Not Knowing How to Be Creative

We often think creativity is something that just occurs. It doesn’t. We need to know how to be creative, and we need to know what tools we can use to stimulate and guide our creativity. Surprisingly, this is something that’s not taught in engineering school, and it’s an area in which most engineers need help. That’s what the Eogogics Unleashing Engineering Creativity Workshop all about.


There are many obstacles to creativity that can interfere with our ability to develop new ideas and new designs. The good news is that creativity obstacles can be overcome. The table below summarizes creativity obstacles and suggested approaches for overcoming them.

Creativity Obstacle

Obstacle Elimination Approach

Structured thinking patterns
Recognize the default to conventional thinking patterns, and apply
creativity stimulation techniques included in the Eogogics Unleashing Engineering Creativity Workshop.
Advise team members that they will not be thought of as stupid or
incompetent if unusual concepts are offered; in fact, unusual and wild
ideas are to be encouraged during activities requiring creativity.
Fear of failure
Encourage failure. Promote the concept that failure is an inherent part of the creativity process.
Resource myopia
Inventory skills and accomplishments of internal and external resources, including team members, suppliers, consultants, and other resources.
Fear of the unknown
Identify, assess, and prepare for worst case consequences.
Recognize when individuals or team members are recklessly pushing problems into the future. Address creativity requirements as early as possible.
Personal and physiological factors
Recognize overlaps with fear of failure and fear of the unknown obstacles. Emphasize appropriate sleep, diet, and exercise requirements. Provide environment allowing for focused creativity application.
Not knowing how to be creative
Use appropriate techniques as included in the Eogogics Unleashing Engineering Creativity Workshop.

Want to know more? Please visit www.Eogogics.com/creativity. You can also email us, or call us at +1 703 281-3525 or (in the USA) 1 888 364-6442.