Let go of any crippling anxieties for a second and think back to childhood. Remember the fear and trepidation you felt the first time you peered down from the top of the playground slide—which immediately turned to utter joy and triumph when you reached the bottom? Our creativity is hampered by that same type of fear, according to innovation and design firm IDEO founders (and brothers) David Kelley and Tom Kelley.
Great innovators, including Steve Jobs, do "insanely great" things by adopting a bias toward action, forging creative strategy with active practice. Everyone will have their own unique methods that work for them, but oftentimes the hardest part is starting the exploratory process. They argue that it's well worth the effort to break through the societal pressures and corporate norms that scare us toward normalcy.
In their new book, "Creative Confidence," the authors offer a number of strategies that can spark creativity and unleash the innovative potential in us all. While not all of us are artists, they argue that creativity is a mindset, a way of thinking, and a proactive approach to finding new solutions that can only improve our lives. Here are eight tactics from their book to start you off.
1. Search for the big easy.
Tough, daunting challenges tend to deter rather than spark creative action. So start with an easy win, or break down that bigger challenge into more manageable chunks. Outline the individual steps to be taken, and look for ways to innovate each of them. Try focusing your creative energy on a task where progress can take place quickly and you have a good chance of success.
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What creative project could you tackle by focusing on it for half an hour each day before work?
2. Experiment with experiences.
Approach the world with a sense of childlike wonder, and see what new ideas you can identify and explore. Seek out new experiences. Get another stamp on your passport. Reach out to colleagues at other companies. Or seek out an undiscovered part of your own hometown. Try sitting in the front row at your next big company event (it may seem scary, but it can actually be fun). Pick up a new magazine you've never read before. Take a class in the evening—or online. Make a lunch or coffee date with someone new at work. Do whatever works; just make it new.
3. Surround yourself with a supportive network.
Culture and environment have a big impact on your creative confidence. So surround yourself with like-minded innovators. Find a group to join, online or in person. In addition, think about the individuals you spend time with. Do they tend to reinforce your creativity, or are they skeptics reluctant to consider ideas outside the norm? When you're looking for collaborators or just feedback, seek out creative supporters and avoid those whose default mode is negativity. Having partners or colleagues who are also interested in unleashing their creative confidence can be really helpful at this stage.
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4. Start designing your life.
Treat the next month of your life as a design project. Do field research on yourself, looking for unmet needs in your own daily routine. Generate ideas about what changes in your behavior might be viable, feasible and desirable. What improvements can you quickly prototype, test and iterate? Be intentional about choosing actions you can take right now that might add more joy and meaning to your own life—and the lives of the people around you. How might you work within constraints? Keep iterating. Try this out for a month and ask yourself what's working and what's not.
How can you continue to create more positive impact?
5. Build on existing processes.
The workplace is a great area to strengthen your creative muscles, but know that there is such a thing as "too outside of the box." Sometimes a more gradual change has a higher chance of success than a radical revolutionary approach. Don't treat creative design as a separate thing to learn, teach or apply. That's a strategy that's sure to immediately alienate others. Instead, treat it as part of everyday life, kind of like hiding vegetables in children's food. Creativity doesn't always imply revolutionary.
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6. Double deliver.
If you're struggling to get people on board with your creative approach, remember that even the most dyed-in-the-wool skeptics respond to success. The next time you are given an assignment, give your boss what he or she asked for, but also deliver a creative thinking–oriented alternative. If you end up with a creative solution that works, deliver both to your boss. Be sure to explain that the process was different, as well as the result. The creative solution won't succeed every time, but if you score even a few direct hits, you may win over your management team. Watch for the moment when your boss starts saying he or she supported the creative approach all along. That's when you know you've won.
7. Be remarkable about the extracurricular.
Volunteer to do extracurricular things, and do them in an extraordinary way. For example, sign up to organize the annual company party or the next management offsite. Start an innovation book club. Host a lunchtime lecture series with visiting experts. Make them a remarkable experience, and everyone will notice. Succeed at a few such visible things, and before long, you'll become the go-to person for creative thinking.
8. Create an innovation lab.
If you're a manager or leader at your organization, you are in a great position to nurture and grow creative confidence in your company. Dedicate a separate space for innovation; help a small group of innovators transcend the usual practices and constraints and generate new-to-the-world innovations. Apple did it with the Macintosh team. Lockheed Martin did it with their Skunk Works, where they developed exotic aircraft ranging from the U-2 spy plane to the SR-71 Blackbird. Every company can benefit from a lean-startup attitude; an innovation lab can help reinforce it.
Reprinted from the book "Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All" by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. Copyright (c) 2013 by David Kelley and Tom Kelley. Published by Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.
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