By Tom Kelley & David Kelley
Anyone can be creative. That's the message this book drives home by showing that creativity is an innate ability that requires courage to uncover. It's not so much a case of learning how to be creative, but rather learning how to release creativity by overcoming fears and doubts. The key to being creative is to learn how to take action. Everyone has good ideas at one time or another, but those creative ideas never see the light of day because most people don't have confidence in their creative abilities. They are afraid of failure or being judged.
“If you want more success, you have to be prepared to shrug off more failure.”
Learning how to control all those doubts takes the willingness to forgive failure and learn from the lessons those failures hold. No great breakthrough or innovation succeeded without failures. Through tenacity and commitment, creative efforts can survive the uncertainty and setbacks that are always a part of innovation. By refusing to give in and following through, by taking action, confidence in creative abilities grows. With practice and repetition, the creative confidence to experiment and implement becomes a skill that can be learned by anyone.
The first step to putting a creative idea into action is to come up with one. Many people struggle with getting the creative juices flowing which leads to them thinking that they just aren't creative. But it's simply not true. Creative thinking requires learning how to reveal those ideas just waiting to get out. Like any other skill, there are certain steps or prompts that make creativity easier.
“Look for ways to grant yourself creative license, or give yourself the equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
- Choose creativity. It takes a conscious commitment to wanting to be creative to get things going. Don't second guess or question, just choose.
- Think like a tourist. Inspiration is not usually just hanging around waiting to show itself. It can often only be found in a different environment with new experiences and ideas. Get out of the office and find a different view, read something different, get exposure to something new.
- Take a break. Creativity seems to thrive during periods of relaxation. Stop focusing on the specific task and allow the mind to wander. This wandering will often uncover connections that can't be seen during focused work.
- Who is the end user and what do they want (or need)? Asking this question, whether about an idea, a problem or a product, creates empathy and the ability to focus on some of the more important points.
- Field work. Another reason to get out and about, field work involves simply observing. By observing with no set agenda, it's possible to find those “aha” moments of clarity and revelation.
- Why? This may be the most important question ever when it comes to understanding and creating. By asking “why?”, over and over again, the big picture starts to break down into smaller pieces that can expose core elements or issues.
- Re-frame. By re-framing questions or views, a problem or idea can be seen from different angles providing different information. These questions can start with “I wonder what...” and “What if...” or a host of other similar approaches.
“What it means is there is no such thing as a flash of genius. What may appear as a flash of genius is a result of some new connection made by the discoverer’s relaxed mind building upon years of study and hard work.”
Until someone learns how to put ideas into action, no amount of creativity is going to amount to anything. The action stage is where the ability to overcome fear and doubts is critical. It took courage to commit to creativity and to learn the steps for creative thinking. Now that same courage has to pick up speed and move things forward quickly. Instead of elaborate, detailed plans, the action stage requires moving fast and ignoring the fear of failure and judgments. By setting small goals and checkpoints, the process of taking action becomes less overwhelming and gets the ball rolling.
Here are some of the “action catalysts” suggested by the book to get rid of some of that fear.
Ask for help — Two heads are better than one, especially in creative efforts. It doesn't have to be someone with particular expertise or even experience with creativity. Just bouncing ideas back and forth with someone who can be objective is often more than enough.
Peer pressure — It worked in high school, and it works here. Publicly announce the decision to take action and see what happens. It will be nearly impossible to not follow through without at least a little shame!
Take the stage — By gathering an audience, whether it's a formal focus group or coworkers around the copier, the goal is to have everyone chime in on those creative ideas. The results are often surprising and useful.
Be bad — Perfectionism is the enemy of action. When someone gives themselves permission to produce something completely horrible, it takes the pressure off. The key is to get something, anything, out there and tweak it later. Besides, it's good practice.
Lower the bar — Similar to the willingness to create something awful, lowering the bar means relieving some of the pressure by putting expectations in the right perspective. Very few activities are “life and death” issues. Not everything rides on a single decision, so it's OK to be less than perfect.
“Like a muscle, your creative abilities will grow and strengthen with practice.”
The approach a pottery class took and the results illustrate why taking action is so important in creativity. Half of the students were told that they would be evaluated on the quality of a single clay pot to be completed by the end of the class. The other half were told they would be evaluated on the number of pots they made. It seemed to be a race between quantity and quality.
The students in the first group worked intensely and deliberately week after week to create the very best pot they could. The second group threw pot after pot as quickly as they could with little concern for quality. In the end, the most well-crafted pots came from the second group. The repetitive act of just putting something out there honed their abilities through trial and error, resulting in well-developed skills.
Creativity is not some mystical concept, reserved for those “special” people and their vivid imaginations. It's a skill that can be learned. By practicing ways to put fears and doubts in their place, it's possible to build confidence and skill.