Most people are born creative. As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and give them a call dinosaurs. But with time, as a result of socialization and formal education, a lot of us start to stifle those impulses. We discover how to be warier of judgment, more cautious, more analytical. The world usually divide into “creatives” and “noncreatives,” and many folks consciously or unconsciously resign themselves towards the latter category.
And yet we realize that creativity is important to success in a discipline or industry. According to a recently available IBM survey of chief executives around the globe, it’s essentially the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativeness has enabled 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 has been founded by one of us—David Kelley—and it is formally called the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to produce their creativity. Clients help IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for the similar reason. But on the way, we’ve found out that our responsibility isn’t to train them creativity. It’s to help them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to come up with new ideas and also the courage to attempt them out. We do this by offering them ways of get past four fears that hold most of us back: concern with the messy unknown, anxiety about being judged, nervous about the first task, and anxiety about losing control.
Easier said than actually doing it, you could argue. But we know it’s easy for people to overcome even their most deep-seated fears. Consider the work of Albert Bandura, a world-renowned psychologist and Stanford professor. In one number of early experiments, he helped people conquer lifelong snake phobias by guiding them by way of a group of increasingly demanding interactions. They would begin by watching a snake through a two-way mirror. Once at ease with that, they’d progress to observing it using an open door, then to watching another person touch the snake, then to touching it themselves through a heavy leather glove, and, finally, in a few hours, to touching it with their own bare hands. Bandura calls this procedure for experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The people who underwent it weren’t just cured of a crippling fear that they assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety plus more success in other areas with their lives, trying out new and potentially frightening activities like riding and speaking in public. They tried harder, persevered longer, together more resilience when confronted with failure. They had gained a whole new confidence of their capability to attain what they attempted to do.