Most everyone is born creative. As children, we experience imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and contact them dinosaurs. But as time passes, as a result of 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 appears to divide into “creatives” and “noncreatives,” and so many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves on the latter category.
And yet we understand that creativity is vital to success in almost any discipline or industry. According to a recently available IBM survey of chief executives around the globe, it’s the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativity means the increase and continued success of countless companies, from start-ups like Facebook and Google to stalwarts like Procter & Gamble and General Electric.
Students often arrive at Stanford University’s “d.school” (which has been founded by considered one of us—David Kelley—and is also formally known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to formulate their creativity. Clients work with IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for a similar reason. But in the process, we’ve discovered that our responsibility isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to enable them to rediscover their creative confidence—the natural power to come up with new ideas as well as the courage to test them out. We do this giving them methods to get past four fears that hold many people back: nervous about the messy unknown, nervous about being judged, anxiety about the first task, and anxiety about losing control.
Easier said than actually doing it, you could possibly argue. But we all know it’s practical 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 compilation of early experiments, he helped people conquer lifelong snake phobias by guiding them via a series of increasingly demanding interactions. They would start with watching a snake through a two-way mirror. Once at ease with that, they’d progress to observing it via an open door, then to watching another person touch the snake, then to touching it themselves through a heavy leather glove, and, finally, quickly, to touching it with their own bare hands. Bandura calls this procedure for experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The those who underwent it weren’t just cured of an crippling fear they'd assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety plus more success in the rest of their lives, taking up new and potentially frightening activities like horseback riding and presentation. They tried harder, persevered longer, coupled with more resilience in the face of failure. They had gained a fresh confidence in their capability to attain the things they attempt to do.