10 Ideas from Creative Confidence

I collect books. My wife would tell you I buy too many. They pile up in our house, on nightstands, shelves and window sills. Most are about design or photography or street art. Some are biographies. A few are novels. Every now and then I actually read one, front to back.

Recently I finished Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All by brothers Tom and David Kelley. Tom is bestselling author of The Art of Innovation. David is founder of renowned design consultancy IDEO and the Stanford d.school. They came together to share the best stories they’ve gathered from students, friends, coworkers and professors over the years, with the intention of helping individuals and teams — across disciplines — develop creative confidence. They define creative confidence as: believing in your ability to create change in the world around you.

Whether you are a seasoned pro leading a large organization, or a young member of a small team, I highly recommend adding this one to your reading list. Here are 10 ideas I circled in the book:


Creative Confidence

1. Keep A Growth Mindset

Individuals with a growth mindset do not believe that their capabilities are set in stone. They understand that, regardless of initial talent or IQ, a person’s true potential is unknowable, and we can expand our skills through effort and experience. “A growth mindset is a passport to new adventures.”

2. Practice Urgent Optimism

Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, motivated by the belief that you have a reasonable hope of success. If team members feel that every idea gets fair consideration, they tend to work harder, persist longer and maintain positivity along the way.

3. Creativity In Hindsight

Former d.school student Ankit Gupta learned that, “Creativity is always in hindsight. It’s not about just coming up with the one genius idea that solves the problem, but trying and failing at a hundred other solutions before arriving at the best one.”

4. Initiate Action

“The organizations, communities and nations that thrive are the ones that initiate action, that learn by doing as soon as they can.”

5. The Knowing-Doing Gap

Many of us get stuck in the knowing-doing gap: the space between what we know we should do and what we actually do.

Writer Anne Lamott captures this feeling in a great story from her childhood. Her 10-year-old brother was assigned a school report about birds, and hadn’t started until the night before it was due. “He was at the kitchen table close to tears, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

 6. Write The Bad Ad

One way to get traction at the start of a project is to write the “bad ad” first: a quick, goofy advertisement that describes what the finished product will be. Just get something down.

7. Really Alive

Many of us at times reach a level of dissatisfaction with our work. One way to respond to this feeling is to jot down moments in your life when you feel really alive. What were you doing and who were you with? What about it did you love? How can you recreate key elements in other situations?

8. Be Intentional About Your Workspace

Great company culture results from being intentional about your workspace. “If you want a team of smart, creative people to do extraordinary things, don’t put them in a drab, ordinary space.”

9. The Courage to Leap

“While everyone has enormous potential for creativity, our experience suggests that successfully applying creativity in your work and life requires something more: the courage to leap.”

10. How Might We

Language — what we say and how we say it — can deeply affect a company’s culture. To avoid the effects of negative speech at IDEO, team members use the phrase “How might we…” as a way of seeking out new possibilities. The “how” suggests that improvement is always the goal. The word “might” allows us to consider a wild or improbable idea. And the “we” establishes ownership of the challenge and implies that creating a solution will be a team effort.

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