Most individuals 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 result of socialization and formal education, a lot of us begin to stifle those impulses. We discover how to be warier of judgment, more cautious, more analytical. The world appears to divide into “creatives” and “noncreatives,” and too many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves to the latter category. And yet we realize that creativity is crucial to success in a discipline or industry. According to a newly released IBM survey of chief executives worldwide, it’s essentially the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativeness means the rise 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 certainly one of us—David Kelley—and is formally known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to formulate their creativity. Clients assist IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for similar reason. But as you go along, we’ve found that our job isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to enable them to rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to produce new ideas along with the courage to try them out. We do this by giving them ways to manage four fears that hold most of us back: anxiety about the messy unknown, concern with being judged, anxiety about the first task, and concern with losing control. Easier said than can be done, you may argue. But we understand it’s feasible 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 begin by watching a snake through a two-way mirror. Once confident 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 having a heavy leather glove, and, finally, quickly, to touching it with their own bare hands. Bandura calls this means of experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The people who had it weren’t just cured of the crippling fear that they had assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety plus more success in other parts of these lives, trying out new and potentially frightening activities like horse riding and public speaking. They tried harder, persevered longer, coupled with more resilience facing failure. They had gained a fresh confidence in their capability to attain the things they attempt to do.
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