Design By Wood

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Most folks are born creative. As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and give them a call dinosaurs. But as time passes, as a consequence of socialization and formal education, many of us will stifle those impulses. We learn to be warier of judgment, more cautious, more analytical. The world generally seems to divide into “creatives” and “noncreatives,” and too many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves for the latter category. And yet we all know that creativity is crucial to success in any discipline or industry. According to a recent IBM survey of chief executives around the globe, it’s probably the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativeness means an upswing and continued success of numerous 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” (that has been founded by one of us—David Kelley—and it is formally called the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to formulate their creativity. Clients use IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for the similar reason. But in the process, we’ve found that our responsibility isn’t to train them creativity. It’s to assist them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural power to come up with new ideas along with the courage to attempt them out. We do this by providing them ways to manage four fears that hold many of us back: anxiety about the messy unknown, nervous about being judged, anxiety about the initial step, and anxiety about losing control. Easier said than can be done, you could possibly argue. But we 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 by way of a number of increasingly demanding interactions. They would begin 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 individual touch the snake, then to touching it themselves by way of a heavy leather glove, and, finally, in a few hours, to touching it with their own bare hands. Bandura calls this process of experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The those who went through it weren’t just cured of a crippling fear they had assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety and much more success in the rest with their lives, taking up 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 fresh confidence inside their power to attain what they set out to do.

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