The Cage, or Why ‘No’ is Creativity’s Greatest Enemy



From an early age our creativity is restrained by conformity. It is our responsibility to help those around us break free from this 'cage' and think more freely.

Once we go to school, or perhaps long before that, we are coerced into putting all of our thoughts and ideas into a cage which is then labelled ‘preconceptions and limitations’ or ‘reality check.’

We are not born with, or in a cage; the cage is more a sort of family heirloom, passed down by previous generations of children, parents and, crucially, educators. Some cages are bigger than others and some cages even grow, or at least stretch, as time goes by.

Sadly though, what is more common, is for the cage to shrink. Ultimately of course, the cage represents our creativity, or at least it measures our ability to think creatively. What too few people realise, is that creativity was never supposed to live in a cage.

When it is first put in there, it struggles and fights against the bars that have surrounded it and sometimes it might even slip through the bars and briefly escape, but it is quickly told ‘no’ and is scooped up and put back in the cage. Eventually, the creativity stops trying to escape and simply resorts to bouncing off the walls of the cage, constantly retreating back over ground that has been covered before. Finally, the creativity stops moving; the cage has won and begins to close in around it.

The 6 walls that hold your creativity captive are labelled above. Each plays a fundamental role in restricting and eventually restraining creativity. These ideas, much like the walls of the cage, rely on each other to reinforce the message that creativity is not wanted or valued.



FEAR of being ‘wrong’ or told NO leads to CONFORMITY, which leads to a TOLERENCE that believes in the status quo.

A constant message that FACTS & KNOWLEDGE (in its traditional form) are all that really matter leads to an INHIBITION when it comes to thinking creatively.

Believing only in FACTS & KNOWLEDGE leads to a reliance on yes and NO answers, which ultimately leads to shallow thinking based on a TOLERENCE of CONFORMITY and CONFORMITY will only take you so far before you hit a dead end – or indeed the side of a cage.

The foundation of the cage; the one upon which all the other walls are built, is NO. NO is what all the other walls of the cage rely on.

NO is one of the most powerful words in our language. It is absolutely loaded with connotations relating to danger, restrictions, negativity and failure. In classroom and boardroom alike, NO can be the most brutal and destructive of words.

It takes courage to put forward an idea, whether in a group (verbally) or singularly (perhaps on paper or one on one) and to be told NO can have a lasting impact on the desire to go on creating ideas. It is crucial to successful creative thinking at any age or level, that the word NO is removed. The word NO is linked to the idea of the impossible and no great idea or invention was built upon ‘impossible.’

Anything is possible.

Young children believe this. But, slowly, we begin to tell them NO and the process of eroding their unfettered belief in the incredible potential of everything gathers pace. Reality dictates of course that sometimes NO, really is necessary. But stop to consider how often you use the word NO in a dismissive or even belittling way; as a way of yielding power, or forcing others to conclude as you have already done. ‘Yes’ is a positive word. It is full of possibility and encouragement. It is one of the most motivating words in our language.


In order to think ‘cagelessly’ we must tear down the walls of the cage and allow ourselves to think without prejudice or restriction. The process of writing this book was born out of hearing too many creative thinking experts explain that what they wanted to get people to do, was ‘think outside the box.’ To me, this is the wrong mentality. This makes the assumption that to think creatively, we should raise our heads above the parapet long enough to have a creative or ‘left-field’ idea and then return back to our previous ways of seeing the world.

Cageless thinking is a way of seeing and thinking as broadly as possible. Eventually the cageless thinker will have a complete 360° panoramic picture of his options, unconstrained by anything. It is however, a big step to move out of the cage and discard it completely. After all, the cage can become rather comfortable and familiar, and whilst these things may not inspire creativity, they feel safe (‘Safe’ often being synonymous with both FEAR and CONFORMITY). Nonetheless, there is a step that can be taken between being stuck in the box and the end goal, Cageless Thinking…

Tags: creativity, education

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