Most people are born creative. As children, we experience imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and give them a call dinosaurs. But over time, due to socialization and formal education, most of us start 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 so many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves on the latter category.
And yet we know that creativity is essential to success in a discipline or industry. According to a newly released IBM survey of chief executives all over the world, it’s the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creativity has enabled the rise and continued success of numerous companies, from start-ups like Facebook and Google to stalwarts like Procter & Gamble and General Electric.
Students often visit Stanford University’s “d.school” (that has been founded by among us—David Kelley—and it is formally known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to develop their creativity. Clients help IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for the same reason. But on the way, we’ve found out that our job isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to assist them to rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to test them out. We do this by offering them ways to work through four fears that hold the majority of us back: fear of the messy unknown, concern with being judged, concern with the first task, and fear of losing control.
Easier said than actually doing it, you may argue. But we know it’s possible 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 group of early experiments, he helped people conquer lifelong snake phobias by guiding them via a number of increasingly demanding interactions. They would start by watching a snake by having a two-way mirror. Once more comfortable with that, they’d progress to observing it using an open door, then to watching somebody else touch the snake, then to touching it themselves via a heavy leather glove, and, finally, in a few hours, to touching it using own bare hands. Bandura calls this procedure for experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The individuals who experienced it weren’t just cured of a crippling fear that they assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety and much more success in other parts with their lives, taking on new and potentially frightening activities like horse riding and presenting and public speaking. They tried harder, persevered longer, along more resilience when confronted with failure. They had gained a fresh confidence inside their capacity to attain what you attempt to do.