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Patience and Persistence

The limitations of human potential are unknown and yet when it comes to thinking creatively and innovatively we are our own worst enemies.

Often it is a lack of patience that creates obstacles to our creativity and innovative thinking. The value of persistence should never be underestimated. Often we have epiphanies, intuitions and “out of the box” ideas which we, unfortunately, ignore or discard.  It is often these very ideas that might bring us the solutions to future creative challenges. The difference between success and failure is not the potential at hand but the lost potential from impatience and, an unwillingness to persist in spite of perceived challenges.


Multiple studies have shown that with patience and persistence creative thinkers could generate many more ideas for problem-solving than they had estimated themselves.

This is a pattern that exists not just among geniuses and visionaries. It could be used to help a charitable organization increase donations; to help professional comedians generate punch lines for a sketch comedy scene and help copywriters generate advertising slogans for a product.


Though many of us seek instant gratification, it may be more important to hold off on experiencing that gratification if one wishes to maximize creativity and innovative thinking. Concerning the creative process, studies have shown that ideas generated while being persistent even when doing so was not comfortable tended to be more creative than ideas generated initially. Not only did participants underestimate their ability to generate powerful ideas while persisting, but they also underestimated their ability to generate highly creative ideas at all.

It is easy to understand why we so often underestimate the benefits of persistence.  It’s because creative challenges feel difficult. Often we feel stuck, a bit out of control, unsure, and even frustrated as we seek a solution. We think we might have the right idea, find it doesn’t work, get frustrated and think about quitting…yet we persist.

“Am I even getting anywhere,” we ask ourselves.

Many of the great inventors have said: “Creative ideas take time.”

Here are the steps within a basic process for developing the most creative and innovative ideas.


  1. There is an initial period of thinking deeply about problem,
  2. Different ways to frame the problem are considered,
  3. Different possible solution paths are considered.
  4. The best solution is chosen, even if it is not a perfect solution

This process has its limitations for solving a complex and extreme problems. Here additional steps must be taken to get the best solution

  1. A “master mind group*” is formed of other experts who bring a wide range of ideas into the process.
  2. Through Collective and Collaborative Intelligence*, the most creative and innovative solutions are isolated
  3. Through Design Thinking*, the best solutions are drawn from these; “the best” meaning the most efficient, productive and cost-effective.


Consider that Sir James Dyson developed over 5,000 prototypes before he patented his best-selling Dyson vacuum cleaner, or that Edison often failed thousands of times seeking the solution to one problem.

The reason why I focus on persistence here is that it seems that when an important decision needs to be made but there is no immediate urgency our impatience can easily get the best of us. Creative challenges can feel difficult, and many of us lower our expectations about the benefits of “staying the course”. The result is that we underestimate our own ability to generate ideas and the best decisions.

It is important for any decision maker, especially a problem solver or innovative thinker to understand and appreciate the importance of persistence. This is so, specifically because what we believe usually has a strong influence on how we behave. If one does not recognize the importance of persistence in accessing the most innovative and creative ideas one will be less likely to persist when confronted with internal creative challenges.

In addition, those who do not understand the importance of persistence may have creative potential that goes untapped when they decide not to persevere with a challenge.

It is not always easy to be persistent when our minds tell us that all is lost or that the obstacles we are confronted with are just too great to transcend.


There is a solution to this dilemma of how to continue when all seems lost. Based on the research of various experts, there are two ways to avoid this:

  1. Ignore the inner voice that tells you to quit. This is especially important in the early stages of a project where you have not yet developed a momentum. Let that voice that says “quit” remind you that it is time to explore more ideas and different approaches to solving a problem or creating a solution. One can never know when or how soon a solution may appear.
  2. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99%perspiration.” The fact is that creative problem solving is almost never an easy process. Part of the game is built on challenges, obstacles, doubt and setbacks. This goes with the territory. Feeling overwhelmed is not a signal that you are overwhelmed. Attitude is as important to achieving success as any other factor. No matter how you feel mentally and emotionally it is important to “stay the course”. Patience and persistence are two sides of the same coin.  As the medieval French adage, states “Rome ne fu[t] pas faite toute en un jour – Rome wasn’t built in a day”.


Note: Many of the ideas in this chapter were drawn from research conducted at Northwestern University by researchers Brian Lucas and Loran Nordgren and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology ( Vol 109 (2), Aug 2015, 232)



What projects are you presently working on that could use a bit more persistence and focus?


Rudy is a wonderful film on being persistent and holding onto your vision. Sometimes a little bit of knowledge is all you need combined with the willingness to apply trial and error, and testing to determine what really  works and what doesn’t .

Mix that with emotional hunger, passion, and persistence and you can win the day. This movie has it all and it is based on the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who harbored dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite significant obstacles and ultimately succeeded.





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Lewis Harrison – RealUGuru, is a writer, mentor, success and wealth coach, content-rich, motivational speaker, and an entrepreneur specializing in problem solving and strategizing  based on game thinking, applied game theory and Game Thinking.

He is the author of over twenty-two books published in five languages.


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