Common Barriers to Creativity in Business

Barriers to Creativity and Innovation

Take the Leap into Innovative Thinking

If infusing creativity into a business were easy, every business would be a creative powerhouse. Adding creativity to your business may not currently be standard operating procedure. But with a little knowledge around common pitfalls and how to conquer them, you can put your business on a fast track to creative success. Here are a handful of barriers to creativity we’ve identified, and a few tips and tricks you can use to avoid them. 

Lack of Autonomy

Autonomy can be a polarizing term. After all, every organization needs to have some level of management over crucial big things. This can include who does what work, how deadlines are determined, and how to define deliverables. When it comes to inhibiting creativity, it’s the micro-management that can stifle innovation. 

Studies show that those who feel more individual control over how they work are more motivated, more productive, and more creative. To flourish creatively, your team needs the freedom to decide how they want to deliver within your predetermined boundaries.

Give them the option to experiment, iterate, and maybe even fail, as long as they can ultimately deliver according to your expectations. Surprise them with proven creativity boosters. Offer flexible schedules. Allow people to working where they’re most comfortable, as opposed to always working in the office. Fill the existing space with sensory enhancers like low-key music or abstract art.  

Unclear Direction

One of the most frustrating barriers to creativity is unclear direction. Without a starting point or a finish line, energy that could be spent imagining new concepts is instead applied to figuring out mundane details. The flip side of promoting autonomy and self-motivation is to provide clear objectives, clarity around goals and metrics, and outlined boundaries.

This includes giving everyone a glimpse of the big picture, so they can envision how their responsibilities fit into it. This in turn prompts people to venture outside of their own department or area of expertise. They may collaborate and share ideas – a fantastic way to foster creativity and innovation. 

Businesses should supply their teams with clearly stated expectations, key performance indicators they can use to measure success along the way, and a desired outcome. They should also ensure that employees are aware of how to share their ideas. Perhaps there is a regular forum to brainstorm upcoming initiatives and collect feedback from a variety of stakeholders. Whether it’s a standing meeting, or a dynamic website, make sure your team feels heard with a regular cadence.

Leadership should provide multiple opportunities for sharing and evaluating suggestions and ideas. This will spark creativity. Then leaders can have the opportunity to interject with guidance as needed.  


Fear of failure is one of the most common barriers to creativity in business; so is fear of not being creative enough, fear of being judged… the list goes on and on. Luckily, there are many well-documented practices for overcoming this common barrier. Perhaps the solution repeated most frequently is to just begin the creative process, and let the ideas light the way. 

And note that fear can actually indicate a deep dedication to the work. Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, has this to say about creativity and fear: 

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates the strength of Resistance. Therefore, the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.”

Inadequate Resources

Businesses big and small can suffer from a lack of resources. The lack of human power needed to accomplish a task in a given timeframe. The need for the latest software that can make or break a design project. A facility that that is not set up for collaboration, spaces for multiple meetings, or alternative workspaces. 

Perhaps the most valuable resources- time and talent- are not unlimited. Within most organizations, both are tightly tied to high-priority projects.

Inadequate resources can serve as one of the barriers to creativity that can be corrected by your businesses leadership.

The answer to this common creativity killer?

Make creativity a high priority as well.

Give it a line item in your budget, if need be.

If leadership values creativity, creativity and innovation will be seen as essential tools to success. Since research shows that businesses that value creativity are measurably more successful, this should be a fairly easy decision to make. Don’t treat creativity like a “nice-to-have” when tough decisions need to be made. Instead define it as a key factor in your business success. 

And always remember that a pipeline of great ideas costs nothing at all; at the bare minimum, you can always encourage innovation by establishing that pipeline and keeping it flowing at all times. 

Functional Fixedness 

Finally, from the realm of neuroscience comes the cognitive concept of functional fixedness, defined as a bias that drives us to use objects in a traditional, expected way. This fixedness comes naturally, hence the idiom “if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” However, it can be a huge hindrance when it comes to creative thinking, preventing the sort of outside-the-box exploration that can lead to breakthroughs, and causing our brains to fix themselves into a rut where innovation is scarce. 

Luckily, we can bust out of that rut by looking at an issue as an abstract concept, rather than a problem to solve, and applying inspiration to the concept to reverse-engineer an uncommon solution, instead of simply taking the same approach you’ve tried time and time again. This is something we can and do practice in our daily lives- for instance, when we use a cheese grater to shave chocolate into a decorative pattern onto a cake, or fashion a sock into a puppet. 

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