Most folks are born creative. As children, we enjoy imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and refer to them as dinosaurs. But after a while, because of socialization and formal education, a lot of us begin to stifle those impulses. We learn 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 on the latter category.
And yet we understand that creativity is essential to success in any discipline or industry. According to a current IBM survey of chief executives around the world, it’s probably the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativity means the increase and continued success of varied companies, from start-ups like Facebook and Google to stalwarts like Procter & Gamble and General Electric.
Students often visit Stanford University’s “d.school” (which was founded by certainly one of us—David Kelley—and is formally called the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to produce their creativity. Clients assist IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for similar reason. But on the way, we’ve found that our responsibility isn’t to show them creativity. It’s to assist them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural capability to develop new ideas and also the courage to attempt them out. We do this by giving them strategies to see through four fears that hold the majority of us back: nervous about the messy unknown, anxiety about being judged, anxiety about the first step, and concern with losing control.
Easier said than can be done, you could argue. But we realize it’s easy for visitors to overcome even their most deep-seated fears. Consider the work of Albert Bandura, a world-renowned psychologist and Stanford professor. In one group of early experiments, he helped people conquer lifelong snake phobias by guiding them by having a compilation of increasingly demanding interactions. They would start by watching a snake by having a two-way mirror. Once confident with that, they’d progress to observing it with an open door, then to watching another person touch the snake, then to touching it themselves via a heavy leather glove, and, finally, in several hours, to touching it using own bare hands. Bandura calls this means of experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The people that experienced it weren’t just cured of your crippling fear that they assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety plus much more success in the rest of the lives, taking up new and potentially frightening activities like riding and speaking in public. They tried harder, persevered longer, coupled with more resilience when confronted with failure. They had gained a fresh confidence of their capacity to attain whatever they set out to do.