A winning mindset for creative solutions under pressure

For fifteen years, part of my job has been to come up with creative ideas – every week, under extreme time pressure, with about a million people watching.

I was good at it.

Really good.

But I didn’t start being good at creating 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 situations under high pressure that do not require creativity – especially those that involve repeated physical actions. For example, shooting in the free throw that determines the game does not require much creativity. It is definitely under high pressure, but it is achieved more or less by heart.

It’s the same with landing planes. Take it from me, a private pilot. I’ve made hundreds of landings and, other than the first ones when I was just learning, they’re pretty routine. And they are even more routine for an airplane pilot, who has made thousands and thousands of landings. They don’t need a lot of creativity.

Until something goes wrong.

On July 19, 1989, United United Flight 232, en route from Denver to Chicago, lost all three hydraulic systems at an altitude of 37,000 feet above the ground. In layman’s terms, this means that all flight controls have become useless at the moment. Imagine you were driving on a highway and suddenly neither your steering wheel nor the brakes did anything. Now imagine you’re seven miles in the air, traveling 500 miles an hour, and there are almost 300 people in your car.

It’s pressure. And creativity was needed.

Together, the crew discovered that they could fly the plane, albeit roughly, by manipulating the gases on multiple engines. It wasn’t perfect. The right wing scraped the runway when it landed, and the plane caught fire. Almost half of the people on board died. But more than half lived. Why?

Because the crew came up with a creative solution, in the middle of one of the hardest possible situations imaginable.

Your high-pressure situations may not be so daunting, I feel pretty confident predicting it will never be. But unless you’re shooting that free throw of muscle memory, they’re probably going to need the same kind of creativity.

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

“These are crazy conversations – let’s get back to reality!”

“I’m not going to listen to an idea coming from a low trainee!”

“It won’t work because the engines aren’t meant to turn the plane!”

When pressure is exerted, does it matter how exaggerated the idea may seem or who came up with it?

Of course not. At that point, only a successful outcome matters.

So put your ego aside. Listen to all the ideas.

Because that idea you’re going to rule out … could save the day.