Most everyone is born creative. As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and contact them dinosaurs. But as time passes, as a consequence of socialization and formal education, many of us start to stifle those impulses. We figure out how to be warier of judgment, more cautious, more analytical. The world appears to divide into “creatives” and “noncreatives,” and many folks consciously or unconsciously resign themselves to the latter category.
And yet we all know that creativity is crucial to success in almost any discipline or industry. According to a newly released IBM survey of chief executives worldwide, it’s one of the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativity has allowed the rise and continued success of various companies, from start-ups like Facebook and Google to stalwarts like Procter & Gamble and General Electric.
Students often arrived at Stanford University’s “d.school” (which has been founded by among us—David Kelley—which is formally referred to as Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to produce their creativity. Clients use IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for similar reason. But in the process, we’ve found that our job isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to assist them to rediscover their creative confidence—the natural power to think of new ideas and the courage to try them out. We do this giving them ways to work through four fears that hold many of us back: nervous about the messy unknown, concern with being judged, fear of the initial step, and concern with losing control.
Easier said than done, you may argue. But we know it’s possible for individuals to overcome even their most deep-seated fears. Consider the work of Albert Bandura, a world-renowned psychologist and Stanford professor. In one compilation of early experiments, he helped people conquer lifelong snake phobias by guiding them through a compilation of increasingly demanding interactions. They would begin by watching a snake by having a two-way mirror. Once at ease with that, they’d progress to observing it via an open door, then to watching somebody else touch the snake, then to touching it themselves by having a heavy leather glove, and, finally, quickly, to touching it making use of their own bare hands. Bandura calls this process of experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The people that experienced it weren’t just cured of the crippling fear they had assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety plus much more success in other areas of these lives, taking up new and potentially frightening activities like riding and presenting and public speaking. They tried harder, persevered longer, along more resilience when confronted with failure. They had gained a new confidence within their power to attain the things they attempt to do.