Most individuals are born creative. As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and call them dinosaurs. But over time, because of socialization and formal education, many of us learn to 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 too many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves towards the latter category.
And yet we realize that creativity is vital to success in almost any discipline or industry. According to a recent IBM survey of chief executives around the world, it’s essentially the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativity means the increase and continued success of various 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” (which has been founded by among us—David Kelley—and it is formally referred to as Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to build up their creativity. Clients assist IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for similar reason. But as you go along, we’ve discovered that our job isn’t to show them creativity. It’s to assist them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to think of new ideas and the courage to try them out. We do this by offering them ways to get past four fears that hold many people back: nervous about the messy unknown, nervous about being judged, nervous about the initial step, and anxiety about losing control.
Easier said than actually doing it, you could argue. But we realize it’s possible 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 number of early experiments, he helped people conquer lifelong snake phobias by guiding them through a group of increasingly demanding interactions. They would start with watching a snake via a two-way mirror. Once at ease with that, they’d progress to observing it through an open door, then to watching another individual touch the snake, then to touching it themselves via a heavy leather glove, and, finally, in several hours, to touching it with their own bare hands. Bandura calls this procedure for experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The those who went through it weren’t just cured of your crippling fear they had assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety and much more success in other parts of the lives, using new and potentially frightening activities like horseback riding and presentation. They tried harder, persevered longer, along more resilience in the face of failure. They had gained a new confidence inside their ability to attain whatever they attempted to do.