Reclaim Your Creative Confidence

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Most people are born creative. As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, and draw blobs and call them dinosaurs. But over time, because of socialization and formal education, a lot of us start to stifle those impulses.

We learn to be warier of judgment, more cautious, and more analytical. The world seems to divide into "creatives" and "non-creatives," and too many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves to the latter category.

And yet, we know that creativity is essential to success in any discipline or industry. According to a recent IBM survey of chief executives around the world, it's the most sought-after trait in leaders today.

As Tom and David Kelley observe in "Reclaim Your Creative Confidence" in the December 2012 Harvard Business Review, no one can deny that creative thinking has enabled the rise and continued success of countless companies, from start-ups like Facebook and Google to stalwarts like Procter & Gamble and General Electric.

Tom Kelley is the general manager of the innovation consultancy IDEO and an executive fellow at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. David Kelley is the founder and chairman of IDEO and the founder of Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, known as the "d.school."

They argue that the big challenge isn't to help businesspeople learn creativity. Rather, the challenge is to help them rediscover their creative confidence.

At the d.school and at IDEO, the Kelleys do this by giving their students and clients strategies to get past four fears that hold most of us back:

  1. Fear of the messy unknown.
  2. Fear of being judged.
  3. Fear of the first step.
  4. Fear of losing control.

Over the past 30 years, they've used a psychological approach called "guided mastery," which is normally applied to dealing with phobias, to help people transcend the fears that block their creativity.

This technique breaks challenges down into small steps and then builds confidence by succeeding on one step after another. The process may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but the discomfort quickly fades away and is replaced with new confidence and capabilities.

How does this work in practice? Let's start with the fear of the messy...

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