The Winning Mindset For Creative Solutions Under Pressure

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For fifteen years, part of my job was to come up with creative ideas—every week, under extreme time pressure, with roughly a million people watching.

I was good at it.

Really good.

But I didn’t start out being good at coming up with creative ideas under pressure. I had to learn.

In my case, creative ideas were necessary because I was the Executive Producer of a hit comedy TV show. In your case, creative ideas are necessary because the outcome of your situation may depend on them.

True, there are some high-pressure situations that don’t require creativity—particularly those that involve repeated physical actions. Shooting the game-determining free throw, for example, doesn’t require a great deal of creativity. It’s definitely high-pressure, but it’s accomplished more or less by rote.

Same with landing an airplane. Take it from me, a private pilot. I’ve made hundreds of landings and, aside from those first ones when I was just learning, they’re pretty much routine. And they’re even more routine for an airline pilot, who has made thousands and thousands of landings. They don’t require a great deal of creativity.

Until something goes wrong.

When things go wrong, you need #creative solutions. @billstainton #CrunchTime #pressure #ProducingUnderPressure #leadership Share on X

On July 19, 1989, United Flight 232, en route from Denver to Chicago, lost all three hydraulic systems 37,000 feet above the earth. What this means, in layman’s terms, is that all flight controls were instantly rendered useless. Imagine if you were driving on a highway and all of a sudden neither your steering wheel or brakes did anything at all. Now imagine you’re seven miles up in the air, traveling 500 miles an hour, with nearly 300 people in your car.

That’s pressure. And it required creativity.

Together, the crew discovered that they could maneuver the plane, albeit crudely, by manipulating the throttles on the multiple engines. It wasn’t perfect. The right wing scraped the runway upon landing, and the plane caught on fire. Nearly half the people on board died. But over half lived. Why?

Because the crew came up with a creative solution, in the middle of one of the most pressure-filled situations imaginable.

Your high-pressure situations may not be that dire—in fact, I feel pretty safe in predicting that they never will be. But, unless you’re shooting that free throw by rote muscle memory, they’re likely to require the same kind of creativity.

So here’s the key mindset you need to have in that situation: don’t rule anything out.

In a high #pressure situation, don’t rule anything out! @billstainton #CrunchTime #ProducingUnderPressure #leadership Share on X

“That’s crazy talk—let’s get back to reality!”

“I’m not going to listen to an idea that comes from a lowly intern!”

“That won’t work, because engines aren’t meant to turn the airplane!”

When the pressure is on, does it matter how far-fetched the idea may seem, or who came up with it?

Of course not. All that matters, at that moment, is a successful outcome.

So put your ego aside. Listen to all ideas.

Because that idea that you’re about to rule out…could be the one that saves the day.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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