Most individuals are born creative. As children, we experience imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and call them dinosaurs. But over time, as a result of socialization and formal education, a lot of us begin to stifle those impulses. We learn to be warier of judgment, more cautious, more analytical. The world seems to divide into “creatives” and “noncreatives,” and so many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves for the latter category.
And yet we all know that creativity is important to success in different discipline or industry. According to a recently available IBM survey of chief executives all over the world, it’s essentially the most sought-after trait in leaders today. No one can deny that creative thinking has allowed 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 arrived at Stanford University’s “d.school” (that was founded by certainly one of us—David Kelley—which is formally known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) to build up their creativity. Clients work with IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for the similar reason. But on the way, we’ve found out that our obligation isn’t to instruct them creativity. It’s to assist them to rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to develop new ideas and also the courage to test them out. We do this giving them methods to work through four fears that hold many of us back: anxiety about the messy unknown, concern with being judged, anxiety about the initial step, and nervous about losing control.
Easier said than done, you might argue. But we all know it’s feasible for individuals 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 by having a series of increasingly demanding interactions. They would begin with watching a snake via 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 using own bare hands. Bandura calls this means of experiencing one small success after another “guided mastery.” The individuals who went through it weren’t just cured of an crippling fear they had assumed was untreatable. They also had less anxiety and more success in other areas of the lives, taking up new and potentially frightening activities like horseback riding and speaking in public. They tried harder, persevered longer, and had more resilience in the face of failure. They had gained a fresh confidence in their capability to attain the things they attempted to do.