How to Build Your Creative Confidence


[TED Talk, 11:47" – watch on YouTube]

A couple of years ago I talked to a recruiter who was seeking connections to talented candidates on behalf of her client, IDEO. My first reaction was, wow, I would love to work there. She thought the position was for a more junior person… so although we made a connection at a personal level, the opportunity went to someone else.

IDEO is the place where some of the creative professionals I have been following for quite some time have found a home. Working with positive, "can do" people does reinforce our sense of possibility. There is an unspoken permission to be creative in the air that is energizing.

When I watched David Kelley tell the story of his best friend Brian back in third grade school in Ohio, I thought about the main reason why we stop believing in our abilities.

Brian was working on a project — he was making a horse out of the clay the teacher was keeping under the sink. At one point, one of the girls at his table, seeing what he was doing, leaned over and said to him "that's terrible. That doesn't look like anything like a hose." 

Brian's shoulders sank, he wadded the clay horse and threw it back into the bin. He never saw Brian do a project like that never again.

How often does that happen? Has it happened to you?

I bet if we were having this conversation over coffee, or in person, many of you would share similar experiences of how someone shut down something — a teacher, a particularly cruel peer (they get more cruel every time we tell the story or think back, by the way) — and then somehow opted-out of thinking of yourself as creative from that point on.

Several examples from my first grade come to mind, all the way to this week. In fact, if you factor in seagull-style comments thrown over the fence in social networks, I'd say we encounter that kind of dismissive judgment quite frequently.

When that happens in the formative years, it is much harder to come back from it because it becomes engrained in our memory at a time when we're particularly vulnerable, then an automatic reaction.

A teacher once told my mother I would never amount to anything. Good thing my mother had confidence in me to spare. My sin was asking too many "why" questions, in case you were wondering. Didn't deter me, did it?

[As an aside, how limiting to carry around thoughts like that about others.]

Creativity is felt and seen as a risk, a sort of thing we don't have time for in business. And this is holding us back.

Kelley has been looking at this question of how to build creative confidence and overcome the fear of judgment we have. There is indeed a lot of energy being expended in judging and talking about stuff with little first hand experience of it.

When we err, we err on the side of silence.

This is precisely why I'm encouraging you to approach questions with a spirit of inquiry, to look at business with new eyes, to seek to comprehend so you can put things together in ways that are more appropriate (and more effective) to a different context perhaps, or a new situation.

It's a process of deconstructing what you know to reconstruct it differently.

And it's uncomfortable at first, because you replace the connections you think you made at individual level — and by and large accepted practice by everyone else (this part is very important, social proof becomes social pressure) — with new mechanics.

I'd like to emphasize that part. It's not about a magic number or pixie dust. It's about using a process to uncover opportunity where you would have not thought of looking.

This process is harder in environments that operate under stable conditions, like the corporation. Processes and systems honed over years of practice dictate how things are done. Being a team player is often interpreted as fitting in and going with the program.

It can be a lonely proposition to challenge the status quo. Especially when your premise is a hunch.

So you probably opt for making all the right moves and dream your escape secretly — both with anticipation and fear. If you are dreaming your escape, by the way, I recommend you get a copy of the $100 Startup.

Things do seem scarier and more daunting if we don't find a way to confront our inner fear.

Kelley talks about "guided mastery" and "self-efficacy" both within the context of using a series of step to allow individuals and teams to build their creative confidence. Through the process, people learn to think about themselves differently — they change the story they're used to telling themselves.

We all wrestle with uncertainty and doubt to varying degrees.

How we go about doing things anyway, trusting the creative process and giving ourselves permission both help us build confidence. Then, success creates success. And by success I mean anywhere from completing a tough project, to finding that the snake is actually a beautiful creature as in the example in the talk.


How do you tap into your creativity with confidence?


[hat tip Diego Rodriguez]


For a proposal delivered with confidence, contact me today.


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