How to build your creative confidence | David Kelley


Timothy Covell Reviewer: Morton Bast I wanted to talk to you today about creative confidence. I’m going to start way back in the third grade at Oakdale School in Barberton, Ohio. I remember one day my best friend Brian was working on a project. He was making a horse out of the clay our teacher kept under the sink.

And at one point, one of the girls that was sitting at his table, seeing what he was doing, leaned over and said to him, “That’s terrible.

That doesn’t look anything like a horse.” And Brian’s shoulders sank. And he wadded up the clay horse and he threw it back in the bin. I never saw Brian do a project like that ever again. And I wonder how often that happens, you know? It seems like when I tell that story of Brian to my class, a lot of them want to come up after class and tell me about their similar experience, how a teacher shut them down, or how a student was particularly cruel to them. And then some kind of opt out of thinking of themselves as creative at that point.

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And I see that opting out that happens in childhood, and it moves in and becomes more ingrained, even, by the time you get to adult life. So we see a lot of this. When we have a workshop or when we have clients in to work with us side by side, eventually we get to the point in the process that’s kind of fuzzy or unconventional. And eventually, these big-shot executives whip out their BlackBerrys and they say they have to make really important phone calls, and they head for the exits. And they’re just so uncomfortable. When we track them down and ask them what’s going on, they say something like, “I’m just not the creative type.” But we know that’s not true.

If they stick with the process, if they stick with it, they end up doing amazing things. And they surprise themselves at just how innovative they and their teams really are. So I’ve been looking at this fear of judgment that we have, that you don’t do things, you’re afraid you’re going to be judged; if you don’t say the right creative thing, you’re going to be judged.

And I had a major breakthrough, when I met the psychologist Albert Bandura. I don’t know if you know Albert Bandura, but if you go to Wikipedia, it says that he’s the fourth most important psychologist in history — you know, like Freud, Skinner, somebody and Bandura. Bandura is 86 and he still works at Stanford. And he’s just a lovely guy.


So I went to see him, because he’s just worked on phobias for a long time, which I’m very interested in. He had developed this way, this, kind of, methodology, that ended up curing people in a very short amount of time, like, in four hours. He had a huge cure rate of people who had phobias. And we talked about snakes — I don’t know why — we talked about snakes and fear of snakes as a phobia. And it was really enjoyable, really interesting. He told me that he’d invite the test subject in, and he’d say,

“You know, there’s a snake in the next room and we’re going to go in there.”

To which, he reported, most of them replied, “Hell no! I’m not going in there, certainly if there’s a snake in there.” But Bandura has a step-by-step process that was super successful.

I thought a lot about: What was I put on Earth to do? What was my calling? What should I do? I was lucky because I had lots of options. We’d been working in health and wellness, and K-12, and the developing world. so there were lots of projects that I could work on. But then I decided and committed at this point, to the thing I most wanted to do, which was to help as many people as possible regain the creative confidence they lost along their way. And if I was going to survive, that’s what I wanted to do. I survived, just so you know. (Laughter) (Applause) I really believe that when people gain this confidence — and we see it all the time at the and at IDEO — that they actually start working on the things that are really important in their lives. We see people quit what they’re doing and go in new directions.

We see them come up with more interesting — and just more — ideas, so they can choose from better ideas. And they just make better decisions. I know at TED, you’re supposed to have a change-the-world kind of thing, isn’t that — everybody has a change-the-world thing? If there is one for me, this is it, to help this happen. So I hope you’ll join me on my quest, you as, kind of, thought leaders. It would be really great if you didn’t let people divide the world into the creatives and the non-creatives, like it’s some God-given thing, and to have people realize that they’re naturally creative, and that those natural people should let their ideas fly; that they should achieve what Bandura calls self-efficacy, that you can do what you set out to do, and that you can reach a place of creative confidence and touch the snake.

Thank you.

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