There are some who believe stress is a bad thing when it comes to creativity and innovation. However, those of us in the trenches know a little "good stress" can actually help boost creativity and innovation. So, what is the difference between good stress and bad stress? When asked if people want the good news first or the bad news first, most choose the bad news, so here goes. Bad stress includes time pressure and organizational impediments, like political problems, harsh criticism of new ideas, and emphasis on the status quo. I'm sure many of you have "been there, done that." Researcher Theresa Amabile, has spent much of her career studying time pressure and organizational impediments. If you're interested, check out Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side. Now for the good news, stress can also be positively linked to creativity and innovation.
Psychologist Mihaly CsikszCentmihalyi's book Flow documents this phenomena. One of my favorite excerpts in the book speaks to the benefits of good stress. It states, "Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments of our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times - to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."
For me, CsikszCentmihalyi's could not have captured the essence of good stress any better. As I think back on life's accomplishments and achievements, I am stricken by how far I was stretched, how at times the task at hand felt utterly impossible, yet how attaining the goal felt better than anything that had come before. Athletes, scientists, songwriters all report these types of experiences. And, you may have experienced them as well.
These experiences are referred to as flow, or as "CsikszCentmihalyi said, "the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it."
I've been fortunate to have experienced flow in my professional and personal life and look forward to many, many more moments. For me, moments of flow come when I'm pushing myself to do something that hasn't been done before. That's where creativity and innovation come into play. Nearly all of my experiences revolve around creativity and innovation.
To invite good stress and flow into your life is as simple as challenging yourself. There are plenty of opportunities to stretch, grow, and expand ourselves. It's just a matter of which, if any, you choose to pursue.