Innovation isn’t a mystical process reserved for Silicon Valley visionaries, think tank futurists or teams in white lab coats. Tom and David Kelley’s “Creative Confidence” shows us anyone can discover how to hone and focus their creativity.
It just takes learning a few new tricks and debunking some age-old conventional wisdom.
The Heart of Innovation
If you’ve ever organized a garage, tinkered with a workout routine or optimized a weekly carpool route, you’re already an innovator.
Key question: How do we organize, tinker and optimize to innovate and improve our lives in deeper, more meaningful ways?
Roger Martin, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, describes what excellent designers do differently.
They always act with intention.
As the Kelley brothers explain, “While others may go with the default option, design thinkers make everything a conscious and original choice: from how they arrange their bookshelf to how they present their work. When they look around the world, they see opportunities to do things better and have a desire to change them…Everything in modern society is the result of a collection of decisions made by someone. Why shouldn’t that someone be you?”
First, we need to demystify the whole notion of innovation. Innovation is not abstruse alchemy. It’s something we do every day. We just don’t think of it as innovation with a capital “I”. We call it “organizing the garage” or “training for a half-marathon”.
Second, we need to think, live and work more intentionally. Modern life is full of distractions and non-emergencies. If we’re not careful, our days and weeks get swallowed up by a tsunami of notifications, text alerts and emails.
However, as we practice living with greater intention, our life filter becomes more and more refined. We begin seeing what truly matters versus what doesn’t.
It takes practice, but we eventually begin seeing hidden solutions in unexpected places.
From Fear To Courage
What other barriers prevent us from living out our full creative abilities?
For starters, we must address and eliminate the failure paradox.
Over time, we’ve mythologized and romanticized history’s great inventors. In pop culture, their discoveries are often misrepresented as made-for-TV eureka moments.
The intelligence and creative talent of Leonardo DaVinci or Thomas Edison goes without saying. However, they all had something in common much more mundane.
They failed as often as they could.
As Edison said, “The real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into twenty-four hours.”
Constructive learning through rapid failure is as essential now as it was when DaVinci invented ball bearings or Edison created the light bulb. Our greatest inventors knew this. Every failure removed a variable that blocked the road to success.
Unfortunately, this wisdom has been derailed and diverted.
Compare Edison’s definition of success with our traditional education system.
As Sir Ken Robinson describes in his famous 2006 TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, our modern education system functions in almost direct contradiction to Edison’s advice.
“We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. Education is the system that’s supposed to develop our natural abilities and enable us to make our way in the world. Instead, it is stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn,” Robinson says.
Our schools breed timidity and perfectionism.
Foster creative confidence? We actually penalize it. Nurture students to explore and discover? We actually muzzle the exhilaration of learning.
These learned behaviors cripple creative confidence.
Conversely, by understanding the difference between the growth zone and the performance zone, we begin appreciating the interrelation of risk, failure and innovation.
We can’t grow if we don’t risk. We won’t achieve peak performance if we spend our lives cowering under a perfectionism blankie.
Eliminate the failure paradox and replace it with a new mindset.
Let the magic happen.
As Emerson reminds us, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”
From Blank Page To Insight
We spend more time working than almost any other activity. In fact, career wellbeing is one of the five essential elements of overall wellbeing.
Yet, Forrester research shows technology will displace 16% of all U.S. jobs by 2025.
The good news is 9% of these jobs will be replaced. This still means a net loss of 7% of U.S. jobs over the next eight years.
How do we maintain our balance amidst such uncertainty?
How do we seize and create opportunities when everything around us seems to be growing and dying and growing again at such a rapid pace?
Dr. Amanda Sammann, IDEO medical director, suggests adopting a new mentality. We must do a better job of reframing our challenges.
An accomplished surgeon, Dr. Sammann used to begin patient conversations that involved treatment plans and patient backgrounds. However, after witnessing the power of establishing an empathic relationship with her patients, she has changed her strategy.
Today she approaches patient conversations as more of an anthropologist instead of a surgeon. Her conversations focus on the human element of each patients’ situation. Dr. Sammann now asks patients to show her how they interact with objects and tools or to draw her a picture or diagram of their experiences.
This shift helps her better understand the true needs and concerns of her patients.
As chapter three in “Creative Confidence” concludes, “If you let go of what you “know,” you can start to look at things with fresh eyes—and with more questions than answers. But the real insights come from getting out into the world and gaining empathy with the people whose lives you want to improve.”
Seek the human need first. Reframe the challenge with better observation and better questions. This helps us get to the true heart of the matter.
As a result, we innovate more thoughtful and novel solutions that make a real difference.
Live more intentionally. Eliminate the failure paradox. Focus on the human element.
Remember, we’re all innovators. Sometimes our creative confidence just gets a little rusty.
A little practice and a little focus and we can recapture the creativity that’s always been there.
If you missed out on that super cool hammock or solar-powered electric toothbrush on Amazon Prime Day, treat yourself to a copy of “Creative Confidence”. Well worth your time.
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Thank you for reading.