Break Through Your Students’ Creative Fear

Break Through Your Students’ Creative Fear

This exercise will help your students develop more creative ideas and more creative solutions to problems!

How do we Teach Creative Confidence?

In the video above Jim Hart explains his exercise for getting comfortable thinking creatively!

This article is a collaboration with Jim Hart at Southern Methodist University, who developed this exercise to enable students to be more confident thinking creatively by breaking through their fear/judgment barriers. This exercises teaches students how to recognize what an impulse feels like, and to allow themselves to follow an impulse without judging or fearing it.

Jim’s complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

The Set-up

To help students feel more comfortable being uncomfortable, show a clip from “Whose Line is it Anyway?” demonstrating improvisation theater, like this one:

Tell your students that this exercise will help become more creative, so they can work on the ideas that matter to them and that will challenge them because they are more creative ideas. 

Tell the students that you’re all going to play a fun game like what you just showed them in the clip, where you may all look a little foolish. Encourage them to allow themselves to look a bit foolish.

Because students may feel a bit uncomfortable during this exercise, you need to 

Create an atmosphere where it is safe to be open-minded and say anything. 

Explicitly tell your students they will not be graded on this exercise. Reassure them that each of them has really creative ideas in them, but that most of us struggle to be creative publicly because we are afraid of sounding or looking foolish.

Attempt #1

Place students standing in a circle, facing inward. Randomly pick two students. One is Student A, the other Student B, and they exchange as follows:

B: “What are you doing?”

A: [says a random activity – for instance, “eating a banana”]

B: [mimes the activity A just mentioned]

A: “What are you doing?”

B: [says a random activity – for instance, “riding a bicycle”]

A: [mimes the activity B just mentioned]

B: “What are you doing?”

The two students continue to do this until one of them pauses in answering the “What are you doing?” question. When one pauses, make a buzzer noise and tell that student he/she is out. Go to the next student in the circle, and they begin again with the remaining student from the original pair.

What typically happens is that students worry about what their peers are thinking and so are consistently and quickly buzzed out of the exercise.

Prep for Attempt #2

After roughly 20 minutes, stop Attempt #1. Tell the students the following story:

In the movie The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise plays an American Civil War hero who is brought to Japan to fight and defeat the samurai. He is eventually captured and the samurai take him to their camp in the mountains. Winter arrives and Cruise is stuck at the samurai camp until the winter weather passes. The samurai start teaching Cruise their ways, but he cannot compete with their sword skills.

Play the following clip:

Tell your students they are minding too much, that you don’t want them using their mind.

Encourage your students to let their impulses guide their words.

Get your students excited by telling them that you will teach them a technique to dramatically increase the time they can last in this exercise, and that they will reap the following benefits:

  • They will become more effective communicators.
  • They will develop more creative ideas for solutions to problems.

Attempt #2

Stand in the circle of students. Have your students close their eyes and imagine they are sitting in a movie theater, looking at a movie screen. That screen is their mind’s eye, and they will see images on it. Tell them you will say a word and they should allow the image to pop onto the movie screen in front of them; they should allow the image to pop into their mind.

Ask your students to say “got it” when they’ve got an image of the word you say in their mind.

Say “apple” [students say “got it”]. Say “tire” [students say “got it”], say “desk”, “blue sky”, “birds”, “samurai” (each time waiting until the students say “got it”).

Have your students to open their eyes. Stand in front of each student and ask them to nod when they have the word you’ll say to them in their mind’s eye. Say a random word to each student, wait until they nod, then move to the next student, and do this with each student.

Now conduct the original exercise again, starting with the original student pair. Wait until one student pauses too long, buzz them out, add the next student, and so on.


This exercise will help students follow their impulses and allow themselves to get into a stream of consciousness without judging it.

If your students can be more aware of the images and words in their consciousness, they can improve their creative confidence.

When your students are more creatively confident, they will develop stronger ideas and solutions to problems, and will engage in richer communication. This can be particularly useful if you have them making pitches later in the semester.

In the pitch process, students need to be very clear about every word they are saying, and need to be comfortable telling stories so they engage their audience. If they are more aware of the images and words they are trying to communicate, they should be better storytellers. This exercise will help them build that awareness!

Complete details to bring this exercise to life in your class, including all the instructions for you, are in the lesson plan below.

Get the “In My Mind’s Eye, Horatio” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “In My Mind’s Eye, Horatio” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan


It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

Thank You to Jim Hart

Dr. Jim Hart, Director of Arts Entrepreneurship; Professor of Practice; Director, Meadows Artist Bridge at Southern Methodist UniversityA big thanks to Jim for creating and sharing this exercise! For more information about Jim and the amazing work he’s doing at Southern Methodist University, click here.


Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference is Coming!

If you want to learn and practice exercises to better engage your students, and learn how to assess experiential learning,  join us on May 10th. Jim, Julienne Shields, and our very own Justin Wilcox will use our unique digital conference format to guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises they introduce to:

  1. Enable your students to work on big ideas
  2. Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  3. Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing! Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP  for a 50% discount!

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