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Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

28 May, 2022 - 13 min read


I. Brief Summary

IDEO founder and Stanford d.school creator David Kelley and his brother Tom Kelley unleash their experiences and wisdom to be more creative and confidence in the business world. They show us how to effortlessly dance between the creativity of elementary school and the pragmatism of the business world. This book has gone into my re-read list.

II. Big Ideas

  • What is creative confidence?

    • People's imagination, curiosity, and courage can be renewed quickly with just a small amount of practice and encouragement.
    • We don't have to generate creativity from scratch. We just need to reignite in people that they are capable of imagination and nudge them to brave enough to act on those ideas. That combination of thought and action defines creative confidence: the ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out.
    • It turns our creativity isn't some rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few. It just needs to be unblocked.
    • Creative confidence is a way of experiencing the world that generates new approaches and solutions.
  • Self-efficacy does not mean arrogance or over-confidence (let this sink in, important lesson to take away).

    • People with creative confidence have a greater impact on the world around them——whether that means getting involved with their child's school, turning a storage room into a vibrant innovation space, or harnessing social media to recruit more bone marrow donors.
    • As legendary psychologist and Stanford professor Albert Bandura has shown, our belief systems affect our actions, goals, and perception. Individuals who come to believe that they can effect change our most likely to accomplish what they set out to do.
    • Bandura calls that conviction “self-efficacy.” People with self-efficacy set their sights higher, try harder, preserve longer, and show more resilience in the face of failure.
  • Chapter breakdowns:

    • Flip | From Design Thinking To Creative Confidence

      • Human-centered design can lead to breakthrough innovations.
      • A creative mindset can be a powerful force for looking beyond the status quo. For example, a GE executive turning scary looking MRI machines into a playful machine that kids were no longer afraid of. While competitors focused on the never-ending battle surrounding technical specifications (scanning speed, resolution, etc), this GE executive found a whole new way to improve the lives of patients and their families.
      • Imagine a Venn diagram: find a sweet spot of feasibility (technical), viability (business) and desirability (people).
      • Cool technology alone is not enough. If it were, we'd all be riding Segways and playing robotic dogs.
      • Being human centered design is at the core of innovation process. Deep empathy for people makes observations powerful sources of inspiration. Go stand beside surgeons in operating rooms, wash clothes by hand, and stay at guests in housing projects. Get your hands dirty if you want to be befriend empathy.
      • People with strong analytical skills tend to snap instantly into problem-solving mode. They leap for the finish line and start defending their answers. Whereas creative thinkers, are careful not to rush to judgement. They recognize that there are many possible solutions and willing to go wide first, identifying a number of possible approaches before converging on the ideas most worth implementing.
    • Dare | From Fear to Courage

      • One of the scariest snakes in the room is the fear of failure, which manifests itself in such ways as fear of being misjudged, fear of getting started, fear of the unknown.
      • Experiment ending in failure is not a failed experiment——as long as constructive learning is gained. In fact, every failure can be crucial to success in innovation. Because the faster you find weakness during an innovation cycle, the faster you can improve what needs fixing.

        • The Wright brothers launched a first successful flight. But that overlooks the hundreds of experiments and failed flight trials in the years that led up to that first successful flight.
      • Creative people simply do more experiments. They take more shots at the goal. That is the surprising compelling mathematics of innovation: if you want more success, you have to be prepared to shrug off more failure.
      • Number of product cycles you go through (mileage) trumps the number of years of experiences. This rapid innovation cycles will give you familiarity with process and confidence in your ability to assess new ideas. And that confidence results in reduced anxiety in the face of ambiguity when you are bringing new ideas into the world.
      • Acknowledging mistakes is also a part of learning and moving on.
      • Letting go of comparison prevents questioning our self-worth and embracing creativity. Once insecurity takes hold, it can create a vicious cycle. Give other people credit when it's due. Pay attention to signs that someone around you is feeling undervalued or has lost his or her self-confidence. Because when you don't address insecurity, it's like the family secret that everyone knows about no one talks about. The conversation may be uncomfortable and painful but worth it in the long-term.
      • Resilience is often thought of as a solo effort——the lone hero who falls and rises up again to do battle. In reality, however, reaching out to others is usually a strategy of success. It doesn't have to be an admission of weakness. We need others to help us bounce back from adversity and hardship.
    • Spark | From Blank Page to Insight

      • To keep thinking fresh, constantly seek out new sources of information.
      • Conduct cross-pollination by sourcing inspiration from different cultures and organizations.
      • Relaxed attention lies between meditation, where you completely clear your mind, and the laserlike focus you apply when tackling a tough math problem. Our brains can make cognitive leaps when we are not completely obsessed with a challenge, which is why good ideas sometimes comes to us while we are in the shower, or taking a walk, or a long drive. So, if you find yourself stuck on a problem, take twenty minutes or so off the grid; let your mind disengage temporarily.
      • Build empathy in the midst of abundance data. Empathy is a gateway to better and sometimes surprising insights that can help distinguish your idea or approach. At IDEO, we hire design researchers with social science backgrounds and advanced degrees in the fields like cognitive psychology, anthropology, or linguistics, people who are sophisticated at gathering and synthesizing insights from interviews and observations.
      • Do observations in the field. They are a powerful complement to interviews, turning up surprises and hidden opportunities. When you spot a contradiction between what you see and what you expect, it's a sign that you should dig deeper.
      • No matter how high you rise in your career, no matter how much expertise you gain, you still need to keep your knowledge and insights refreshed. Otherwise you may develop a false confidence that might lead you to the wrong decision. Informed intuition is useful only if it is based on information that's accurate and up to date. As Mark Twain said, “it's not what you don't know that gets you into trouble, it's what you know for sure that ain't so.” Don't be fooled by what you think you know for sure about the industry, business and customers.
    • Leap | From Planning to Action

      • This was the best chapter in my book. There is so much wisdom in this chapter that helps you move the needle. If you are seeking to have bias for action, this chapter is a must-read!
      • Basic elements of action mindset:

        • Do something.
        • Minimize planning and maximize action.
        • Prototype quickly and cheaply.
        • Put constraints on both time and money.
      • To embrace high level of experimentation, don't get stuck in the planning stage.
      • Innovation is all about turning ideas into action. Isaac Newton's first law of motion suggests that “a body in rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion.” Newton's principle of inertia at work is applicable to people and organizations as well. Some people remain stuck while others move forward. To overcome inertia, good ideas alone are not enough. Learning by doing serves better.
      • Creative confidence people are not just passive observers. They live in the active voice. They recognize waiting for a perfect plan or forecast might take forever, so they move forward.
      • Don't turn talk a substitute for action. This is called knowing-doing gap. The space between what we know we should do and what we actually do. This can lead to company paralysis.
      • As Yoda says: do or do not; there is no try.
      • If you want to make something great, you need to start making. Striving for perfection can get in the way during the early stages of the creative process so don't get stuck at the planning stage.
      • Action catalysts: get help, create peer pressure, gather an audience, do a bad job, or lower the stakes.
      • Use constraint to fuel creative action. We would all love more of everything but that is not realistic. Work on a shoestring budget. This will open up thinking and force rapid iteration.
      • Prototype for an experimentation because prototype embodies your idea. It gives something to show and talk about it with other people. Use videos, tools such as foam or clay or a storyboard.
    • Seek | From Duty to Passion

      • There is always a tension with a heart on one side and the dollar on the other. Heart represents humanity and the dollar sign represents the financial well-being which keeps the light on. There are many ways to balance the two. Start a side project and follow your curiosity and passion.
    • Team | Creatively Confident Groups

      • You need teamwork the right combination of leadership and grassroot activism to achieve innovation at scale.
      • Change within organizations and institutions is seldom a solo activity.
      • Nurture a creative culture across the board. Behavior change is hard, but it takes an entire organization to cultivate creative culture.
      • Implement karaoke confidence which depends on open conversation, and absence of fear of failure and judgement. Here's how to do it:

        • Keep your sense of humor.
        • Build on the energy of others.
        • Minimize hierarchy.
        • Value team camaraderie and trust.
        • Defer judgement at least temporarily.
      • Prevent egoistic language because language is the crystallization of thought.

        • Remove the words, That won't work! or We've tried that before. Instead, use How might we...?
        • Remove ego because no one person is responsible for the final outcome. This one is mine is countercultural in a creative organization.
      • Create environment and space that welcomes open conversation and collaboration.
      • Leaders are multipliers or diminishers. Leaders can't dictate culture, but they can certainly nurture it. Steve Jobs was a multiplier. Here's how to multiply the impact of your team:

        • Be a talent magnet.
        • Find a worthy challenge.
        • Encourage spirited debate.
        • Give team members ownership.
      • Warren Bennis, one of today's leading thinkers on the art of leadership, spent years studying groundbreaking groups such as Walt Disney Studios, Xerox PARC and Lockheed's Skunk Works. Highlights from his learnings:

        • Great groups believe they are on a mission from God. Beyond mere financial success, they genuinely believe they will make the world a better place.
        • Great groups are more optimistic than realistic. They believe they can do what no one else has done before.
        • Great groups ship. They are places of action, not think tanks or retreat centers devoted solely to the generation of ideas. They have dreams with deadlines.
      • Prototyping is both a powerful innovation tool and a powerful cultural value.
    • Move | Creative Confidence To Go

      • This chapter consists of handy tools that will help you move. For example, Mindmaps, Empathy Maps, Like/Wish, Speed Dating, Nickname Warm-up, Customer Journey Map, and more.

III. Quotes

  • Creative confidence is like a muscle——it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience. Our goal is to help build that confidence in you.
  • Creative confidence is a way of seeing that potential and your place in the world more clearly, unclouded by anxiety and doubt.
  • We think of creativity as using your imagination to create something new in the world.
  • In the business world, creativity manifests itself as innovation.
  • For the people we've worked with, opening up the flow of creativity is like discovering that you've been driving a car with the emergency brake on——and suddenly experiencing what it feels like when you release the brake and can drive freely.
  • In our experience, everybody is the creative type.
  • Creative energy is one of our most precious resources.
  • A growth mindset is a passport to new adventures.
  • Effort is the path to mastery, so let's at least give it a try.
  • Designers always act with intention.
  • Everything in modern society is the result of a collection of decisions made by someone.
  • Failure sucks, but instructs.
  • We believe the lessons learned from failures may make us smarter——even stronger.
  • Relentless practice creates a database of experience that you can draw upon to make more enlightened choices.
  • Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
  • When our self-worth isn't on the line, we are more willing to courageous and risk sharing our raw talents and gifts.
  • A sketch is worth a thousand words.
  • Courage is only the accumulation of small steps.
  • Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.
  • Daydreaming gets a bad rep, but prolific mind wanderers score higher on tests of creativity.
  • The first step toward a great answer is to reframe the question.
  • Nurture the kind of prepared mind that seizes the moment when an epiphany occurs.
  • Creative confidence people are not just passive observers. They live in the active voice. They write the scripts of their own lives, and in doing so they have a greater impact on the world around them. They believe actions can make a positive difference.
  • The most effective way to practice design thinking is by showing, not telling.
  • Don't turn talk a substitute for action.
  • Show, don't tell.
  • The most innovative companies in the 21st century have transitioned from command-and-control organizations to a participatory approach that involves collaboration and teamwork.
  • Few people think about it or are aware of it. But there is nothing made by human beings that does not involve a design decision somewhere. — Bill Moggridge