“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
We laugh when we hear this, and we love to share this wisdom with our friends. When it comes to ourselves, however, we may not find it to be so funny.
There is validity to this premise. Economist Tim Harford explains that our obstacles may be the key to unlocking our greatest creativity. In his TED talk, he shares 3 ways that we can leverage our difficulties to achieve extraordinary results.
1. Embrace The Unexpected, the Impossible, and the Never-Been-Done.
In 1975, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, arrived at a performance only to discover that the concert hall had provided him with the wrong piano. Jarrett contemplated not performing. He then sat down at the unplayable piano, and began to play. Because of the piano’s condition, he had to play standing up to avoid the black notes which stuck, and the upper keys that were out of tune.
The Köln Concert recording remains the best-selling piano and solo jazz album in history. Rather than seeing limitations, Jarrett saw opportunity. He applied unconventional thinking to an unexpected obstacle to create an outcome that far exceeded his expectations, and resulted in one of the greatest performances of his career.
Psychologist Robert Epstein implores us to challenge ourselves as a way of neurologically accelerating the creativity process. When common solutions to problems don’t work, we must resort to other methods.
2. Incorporate New Perspectives.
Are a group of strangers or a group of friends more creative and effective at problem-solving? Research shows if you include one stranger in with a group of friends, the group becomes substantially better at problem-solving.
Columbia University shares a study comparing two control groups. One group included close friends, and the other group included a group of friends and one stranger. When tasked with solving a hypothetical murder mystery, the mixed group performed better.
Researchers concluded the following:
- Strangers reduce the chance of group think occurring because they aren’t loyal to anyone else in the group.
- Strangers introduce an element of diversity, and even cause some awkwardness that the group must overcome to work together and problem-solve.
Introducing new ways of thinking from people with whom you don’t typically engage can yield great results.
3. Create a Dilemma Where None Exists.
What do David Bowie, U2, Phil Collins, Talking Heads, and Coldplay have in common? Brian Eno. Eno is a prolific performer, composer, and producer who intentionally infuses chaos into the production process to yield exceptional results.
He has created a technique called “Oblique Strategies,” which he applies when he is working with his clients in the studio. He forces musicians to switch up their typical way of making music by demanding chaos.
Artists have no idea what to expect when they show up. They only know that he’s going to throw curve-balls at them to jump-start new ways of thinking. When they arrive, he tells them to draw from his now infamous deck of cards that contains eccentric suggestions that they must follow.
For example, a card may read, “Tape your mouth shut,” “Switch instruments,” or “Try faking it.”
These interventions have yielded some of the most successful songs and albums in music history.
These strategies aren’t limited to the performing arts. They apply to anyone who feels “stuck” in any situation. There are always more solutions than we initially think.
Sometimes it takes a difficult situation, a new perspective, or an outside instigator to help us see our unlimited possibilities.