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Creative Confidence

Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

By: David and Tom Kelley

Reviewed By: Ramona Sukhraj

Many of us tend to label ourselves as “not being the creative type,” but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Perhaps you’re not a painter, musician, or writer, but that doesn’t mean you don't have the potential to be creative in your own right.

In Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, Tom and David Kelley make the strong case for this belief and provide mindset shifts and exercises anyone can use to unlock their hidden ability -- including marketers.

The Kelley brothers are the driving force of one of the world’s leading design consultancies, IDEO. IDEO designed many groundbreaking digital icons and devices like the first Apple mouse, the first Treo digital assistant, and the thumbs up/thumbs down button on the Tivo remote.

David is also the founder of the d. school at Stanford, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, while his brother, Tom, is general manager of IDEO and has been responsible for business development, marketing, human resources, and operations throughout his tenure with the family business.

Creative Confidence is a joint effort based on the brothers’ experience and insights from working in a creative industry and handling all aspects of a building and running a successful business.

A lot of business professionals and marketers shy away from the creative aspects of marketing and branding because they aren’t confident in their creative abilities, but the truth is consistent creativity is something that can be nurtured and improved.

In reality, many of those we deem naturally creative are simply those who aren’t afraid to exercise their ability. So, don’t be scared!

Here are three reminders shared by the Kelleys to help build your creative confidence and get your next big idea brewing.

Reminder #1: Creativity is a Choice

According to the Kelley brothers, “to be more creative, the first step is to decide you want to make it happen.”

Most of us make up our minds that we can’t be creative because we compare ourselves to great innovators and artists like Steve Jobs or The Beatles. We don’t consider that even to these individuals, their greatest ideas took time.

The Kelleys encourage you to not pay much attention to what others are doing and focus on being creative your way, no matter how it turns out or if someone has already done it before. Creativity is relative to each person, so something that’s creative for you might not be to someone else, but it doesn’t matter.

In fact, if you can’t come up with any original ideas yourself, you can always try to improve existing ideas (this is something Austin Kleon calls “stealing like an artist”).

In Creative Confidence, the Kelleys refer to research done by psychologist Robert Sternberg who says creative people tend to:

  • Redefine problems in new ways
  • Take sensible risks and accept failure as part of the process
  • Confront obstacles
  • Tolerate ambiguity
  • Continue to grow intellectually

The process of becoming creative starts with adopting the right mindset, and choosing to think outside-of-the-box.

Reminder #2: Failure is Part of the Creative Process

Becoming more creative takes practice and practice means trial and error. The problem is people don’t like failure so we often avoid creative endeavors altogether.

The Kelley Brothers refer to the famous story of Thomas Edison who said, “the real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into twenty-four hours.”

This should sound familiar, as ultimately, this is the driving ideal behind many inbound marketing endeavors including conversion rate optimization and growth driven design.

Basically, it’s saying that you need to knock out several drafts before getting a final winning product.

According to the Kelley brothers, the fear of failure is still the single biggest obstacle people face to creative success. What’s their advice?

To not to avoid failure, but to seek failure and treat it as a learning opportunity.

With creative failures, we can make improvements in each new draft and see exactly what changes have a positive impact and which changes lead to more failure.

The quicker we figure out everything that doesn’t work, the sooner we can narrow down what does work.

Once you make this simple mindset shift, it’s easier to proceed in creative pursuits without being locked down by a fear of failure, which is only going to prevent you from learning and improving.

Reminder #3: Action Always Precedes Great Creative Works

Before you can create something great, you have to create something period.

Planning, observation, and perfect timing can certainly play a role in the creation of a masterpiece, but it’s extremely rare.

100% of great creative works, however, started with someone taking action.

According to the Kelley brothers, people with creative confidence believe their actions can make a positive difference, so they don’t waste time on perfectionism. They “ship it” and believe in their ability to make corrections along the way.

It’s normal to feel the urge to over-plan, overthink, and basically do everything but the actual work, but creative confidence allows you to ignore that urge and forge ahead.

Taking action builds momentum and before you know it you no longer have the urge to procrastinate.

The 5 Action Catalysts to Getting Started Now

If you can’t seem to get started, the Kelley brothers provide several methods to force yourself to take action.

  1. Get help: Collaborate with team members or partner with someone who can help you brainstorm or start getting organized.
  2. Create peer pressure: Having people waiting or relying on you to get something done increases your motivation.
  3. Gather an audience: Share your ideas with someone who will give you an honest response and feedback.
  4. Do a bad job: Don’t be overly critical of yourself as you’re working. Just get the ideas flowing and don’t be afraid of coming up short. That only means you can improve.
  5. Lower the stakes: Believing your decision is “so important that everything hinges on it” can be debilitating. When brainstorming, tell yourself that this decision is just a drop in the bucket and leave room for flexibility or different solutions.

Another suggestion is using ‘creative constraints.’ This means reducing or eliminating your budget, deadline, assistance from others, or any other resources that normally make a creative task easier. It means limiting yourself from crutches you would usually lean on, in order to come up with new, more unique ideas.

This means reducing or eliminating your budget, deadline, assistance from others, or any other resources that normally make a creative task easier. It means limiting yourself from crutches you would usually lean on, in order to come up with new, more unique ideas.

Some of the most successful startups and works of art were birthed from tight creative constraints that forced the entrepreneurs/artists to think differently.

With unlimited resources, you can easily drag out a project for years, but with creative constraints, you force yourself to buckle down and in most situations, come up with something completely unexpected.