Most everyone is born creative. As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and give them a call dinosaurs. But as time passes, due to socialization and formal education, many of us will stifle those impulses. We figure out 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 for the latter category.
And yet we know that creativity is vital to success in a discipline or industry. According to a current IBM survey of chief executives worldwide, it’s one of the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativeness has allowed an upswing and continued success of countless companies, from start-ups like Facebook and Google to stalwarts like Procter & Gamble and General Electric.
Students often come to Stanford University’s “d.school” (that was founded by one of us—David Kelley—which is formally referred to as Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to build up their creativity. Clients help IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for the similar reason. But on the way, we’ve found that our responsibility isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to help them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural capacity to come up with new ideas and also the courage to use them out. We do this by giving them ways of work through four fears that hold many of us back: fear of the messy unknown, concern with being judged, nervous about step one, and anxiety about losing control.
Easier said than done, you may argue. But we all know it’s feasible 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 through a compilation of increasingly demanding interactions. They would start by watching a snake by way of a two-way mirror. Once comfortable 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 by way of a heavy leather glove, and, finally, quickly, to touching it using own bare hands. Bandura calls this means of experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The people who underwent it weren’t just cured of an crippling fear they had assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety plus more success in other parts of their lives, using new and potentially frightening activities like riding and presenting and public speaking. They tried harder, persevered longer, along more resilience in the face of failure. They had gained a whole new confidence within their power to attain what they got down to do.