Links between fear and creativity

PrintDoes fear inhibit or enhance creativity? Several online news outlets have published different answers to this question in the past few weeks. In two articles that focus on creativity in the workplace, the consensus is that fear does have a detrimental impact on creativity. According to one article, 85 per cent of business leaders interviewed in the North West of England felt that creativity was critical to business performance, though many admitted their company didn’t have a “freedom to fail” culture which hampered creativity.

Similarly, in a different article on the animation company Pixar, fear was considered damaging to workers’ creativity so action was taken to counteract this. In How uncoupling fear and failure unleashes creativity at Pixar, The Economic Times describes how the chief executives at Pixar and Disney Animation wanted to instate the principles of candour, fearlessness and trust to boost a demoralized workforce. They thought it would take two years to instill these principles but it actually took four. Through specific strategies such as removing authority from ‘senior’ people in meetings, and discussing failings in a positive light as a group, people became more confident to speak up and not worry about making mistakes. A limitation of both these articles is that they appear to equate risk-taking with creativity, when it is arguably much more multi-faceted.

In contrast to the above articles, a piece just published by Pacific Standard cites a new study, which found that worry could actually inspire creativity. The study indicated that for certain people where worrying is their default state, intensifying it slightly made them more successful in carrying out a creative task and more flexible in their thinking.

Based on our own experience with the 53 Million Artists workshops we’ve run, it seems that fear does seem to play a key role in confidence and engagement in creative activities. As such, perhaps we can develop strategies like the Pixar executives to develop a space where people feel failing doesn’t matter, or is even experienced as something positive.

The conflicting and paradoxical articles suggest that the emotions that enhance creativity are different for individuals and dependent on a whole range of variables. More research is needed that focuses on affect and emotions in relation to creativity to establish just what these differences are.

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