Nine Lessons from Stanford University Institute of Design Founders Kelly Brothers' Book "Creative Confidence"

The poster version of the book, taken from Kelly Brothers’ ideo.com

Ways for Discovering Your Creative Potential and Reclaiming Creative Confidence

"It turns out that creativity isn't some rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few - it's a natural part of human thinking and behavior. In too many of us it gets blocked. But it can be unblocked. And unblocking that creative spark can have far-reaching implications for yourself, your organization, and your community."
Tom Kelley, Creative Confidence

I’m a member of a book club called “Formula for Creating Value” led by a great friend and podcaster Mete Yurtsever. Each month we read one book and discuss it together with a number of friends from our LinkedIn community.

Previously, I have shared my learnings from Adam Grant’s Book “Original” and PayPal’s Founder Peter Thiel’s book Zero To One. Now it’s time to share my takeaways from Tom ve David Kelley’s book “Creative Confidence”.

About the authors

Kelley brothers are the pioneers when it comes to innovation and design thinking. They are the founders of the Stanford Design School (d.school)and IDEO, a global design and innovation company practicing human-centered design to create products, services, and experiences that improve the lives of people. Tom Kelley, is also the author of the two other bestselling books The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation.

Why you should read this book?

The main audience of the “Creative Confidence” is all kinds of creative explorers, business leaders, and professionals seeking the confidence to innovate but who say “I’m not creative”.

It’s an easy-to-read reference book that provides many real-life examples, and practical tactics that we can all apply in our everyday lives.

This book is important as it reminds us all once again that creativity is not magic, it’s a skill that can be mastered. When we read this book we can discover that we are all born to be creative and learn how to flex our creative muscles.

1. Creativity is not just about art.

When we hear creativity generally we think about artistic endeavors like sculpture, drawing, music, or dance. Because we equate “creative” with

However, creativity is about all kinds of imaginative innovation, not just genius masterpieces. Great creativity sometimes finds its expression in the fine arts, but it actually has a much broader application.

This does not only include the work of artists, but also the work of more analytical types, like CEOs or computer programmers. Indeed, these analytical types express their creativity whenever they make something new: for example, when the computer programmer creates a novel web interface, or the CEO develops a new business strategy.

When we were young children, we were all creatives; finger-painting and dancing around the room, building tree houses with our own hands and found interesting solutions to the problems we faced. Unfortunately, as we grow older, many of us stop acting out our creativity.

We never actually lose the ability altogether. Creativity is kind of a muscle that you can train and use to find innovative solutions to problems. Even if you haven’t flexed this muscle for a while, it only takes a bit of training and hard work before you can make it strong again.

2.  Creativity is becoming a highly desirable quality.

In our modern society, there is a myth surrounding creativity — that only those who do things like paint landscapes or sing in jazz clubs are paid for their creativity, not lawyers and CEOs.

But this anti-creativity mindset is changing. Today’s businesses have begun to recognize that the best way to find novel solutions to complex problems is by
investing more time and money in nurturing their employees’ innovative drives.

For example, an IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs reported that creativity is the single most important leadership skill for enterprises engaged in the complex world of global commerce, where innovative solutions are
necessary to pave the best possible path to success.

3. Develop the courage to explore your creativity.

Many people want to be creative, but they don’t really know how to do it. The most basic thing you can do is to give up the notion that you cannot be creative. You must remember that everyone — even you — has a creative muscle.

By adopting this growth mindset you will automatically change your perception of yourself and the world around you, and be empowered to flex your creative muscles and come up with innovative solutions.

One way to develop this mindset is to create a roadmap to guide you through creative processes. This roadmap has all the different techniques you need to train your creative muscles, providing you with an easy, straightforward path to follow.

One technique that the authors often use with so-called “non-creatives” is design thinking. Basically, design thinking helps us to identify human needs and create new solutions by thinking like design practitioners.

For example, in order to redesign a series of kitchen tools, the authors went out and talked directly with users who were experiencing problems, such as the elderly, in order to find out what bothered them about the existing designs. Afterward, they used the knowledge they gained to experiment with different solutions, and eventually put the best ones into production.

4. Allow yourself to fail in order to succeed.

Sometimes, when we’re on our way to achieving our goals, our steps falter, causing us to lose confidence and give up. But this is exactly where the difference between success and failure lies.

Don’t give up! Get up and try again! Even the greatest creative geniuses fail. However, when they do, they use their failure to their advantage.

Do you think that Mozart wrote his first masterpiece without writing garbage first? Or that Thomas Edison simply flipped the switch on the first lightbulb without sweating through many different models and test runs?

If we want to be successful in our creativity, then we need to think like Edison: a failure is only a failure if nothing has been learned from it.

5. New experiences will help you explore the creativity within you.

How many times have you waited around for your inspiration to come to you? Often people sit around waiting for the proverbial apple to fall on their head, but it never works.

If you want to gain inspiration, you’ll need to have new
experiences. New experiences allow us to see the world in a different light, thus helping novel ideas come to us more easily.

For example, two of the authors’ students were once faced with the task of finding a way to decrease child mortality. After doing some research on the internet, they decided that the only way they could really grasp the problem would be to go to the countries and the hospitals where this problem was worst.

The insights and experiences they gained from their travels helped them to develop a cheap sleeping pouch with a built-in heating pad that has kept countless children living in remote, harsh climates safe from hypothermia.

6. Work with other people who support and share your passions.

The typical image of creative geniuses, such as composers or great thinkers, is that of the intense loner, developing their strongest ideas in complete isolation.

However, this solitary approach is not the best way to exercise your creativity. In fact, quite the opposite is true: innovation is a product of teamwork. Indeed, the most creative environments are those where many people work closely together.

A team increases the number of circulating ideas exponentially as people inspire one another and then reciprocate this inspiration in return.

One example of these principles in action can be found at the consulting firm IDEO, where the authors work. They installed a wall-sized blackboard on which people could jot down their ideas, questions, or quotes in order to maximize the potential for inspiration.

So don’t be afraid to accept help. Even the smallest inspiration can be enough to destroy the dam that prevents your creativity from flowing.

7. Embracing the “do something” mindset helps you see that you can and should change things for the better.

How many times have you wanted to do something, like apply for a new job or approach an attractive person at a bar, but didn’t because you were too scared?

Even when we know what we should do — like buy that person a drink — we simply don’t. Instead, we just sit down and discreetly appreciate.

Luckily, we aren’t doomed to continue letting opportunities pass us by; it all starts with your mindset. Changing your mindset from, “I know I should probably do this,” to “I will do this,” is the most powerful means you
have of taking charge of your own life.

Even when the outcome is not successful, you will have no regrets, because you know that at least you tried. The worst mistake you can make is to not try and never learn.

8. Balance money and passion to find a job that fulfills all your desires.

What kind of job would you rather have: one that pays as much as possible or one that allows you to pursue your passions?

Usually, people want both, and this can cause a lot of stress. However, it’s rare that both our passions and big money are equally represented in our job opportunities, so we often have to choose between the two.

At first, it might seem as though a high-paying job will make you happy in the long run — but what if that same job required you to work through weekends, birthdays, or holidays?

On the other hand, doing social work for free might feel like a personally rewarding way to spend your time. But what happens if you can’t pay rent and end up needing the help of social services yourself? Can you still be happy if you abandon financial security in favor of committing to your passions?

Neither of these is an appealing solution for most. That’s why finding the balance is so important. But you’ll need to dare to be creative, finding ways of achieving that balance in order to satisfy all your needs. Even if it takes time and effort to balance the scales so that you’re happy, it will be time well spent.

9. Channeling your creativity will improve your work and make you happier in your private life.

Allowing yourself the freedom to think creatively and to innovate is one of the best ways to ensure your own happiness, both professionally and personally.

For starters, when there’s innovation, engagement, and creativity in your work, your employers will start paying attention. Nowadays, companies recognize the great value of people who can pitch new ideas and help their projects achieve new heights. Not only that but the recognition and success will make your job far more challenging and fun.

Nearly everyone who has worked with the authors to rediscover their creative potential has their own stories of how cultivating creativity did marvel for their career. It’s allowed CEOs to involve themselves in innovative, grassroots
work and helped lawyers approach tough cases in a novel and intelligent way, leading them to win more cases.

A creative mind can do wonders for your personal life as well. We all become bored or unhappy with our life trajectories at some point. However, when you experience life with new eyes and see the value in even the smallest things, you put a fresh spring in your step.

Not only will this new perspective help you to enjoy the mundane aspects of life, but the life you’ve built for yourself will further inspire and motivate you.
So be creative, be innovative, and take control of your life. It’s not time to be afraid; go out and do something!

Final Thoughts

Creativity isn’t just for artists. It’s in our blood. And although society does everything it can to smother it, you can still flex your creative muscles in order to win it back.

The only way to do that, however, is to face your fear of failure and take immediate action.

I strongly recommend for you read and use this book, if you do or have already done so, please share your thought in the comments below.

You can find the actionable advice, resources, and tools that they are using and recommending on the d.school’s and Ideo’s websites.

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Selim Uysal

Selim Uysal

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦Dad & Husband, 🩹Humanitarian Professional, 📚 Lifelong Learner. I share my learnings on personal growth and productivity. linktr.ee/selimuysal
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