On the Myth of Creativity

This summer the book Creative Confidence, by the brothers Tom and David Kelley, came into my hands, which I recommend reading. As you know, the Kelley brothers are the founders of IDEO, perhaps the most important company in the area of Design Thinking.

I had been drawn to this concept for a long time. I knew that companies like Apple, Starbucks, GE, IKEA, British Airways, The North Face and others had not only implemented it in their innovation processes, but also made it part of their DNA. But, I confess that I didn’t have a very good idea of what that meant.

In this book the Kelley brothers first focus on debunking a fairly widespread belief that, unfortunately, has led us to squander the value and contributions of great talents, and, to make things even worse, in many instances praise the most toxic kind of mediocrity and vanity. All human beings have enormous creative potential, but our social environments can suppress, negate or conceal it. We may not know how to cultivate it, or we may associate it exclusively with expressions in very limited spheres like art, architecture or literature.

Thus, it seems that the curiosity, daring, creativity, and restlessness that we harbor in our first years of life begin to fade or are eclipsed, though latent, when we start going to school. Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk in 2007 masterfully criticized this fact, as he asked whether schools actually crush children’s creative spirit.

I have always thought that we all keep alive, although hidden, the spirit of that child we once were. It is said that one of the keys to the success of gamification activities aimed at adults has to do with the fact that they awaken that spirit in us, in a context in which we do not fear being embarrassed, because our peers are participating too.

The Kelley brothers call on us to overcome these stereotypes in modern societies, and challenge us to nurture and boost our creativity and sense of innovation. They call it recovering creative confidence through self-esteem, and they encourage people to transcend pre-established schemes and to value their ability to generate and develop ideas, regardless of their professions or roles at the organizations for which they work.

The second part of the book delves into the concept of design thinking. What seems like a complicated methodology is nothing more than a regulated process involving lot of common sense. The basis is empathy, as an essential step for the definition of the problem to be tackled. And the problem should be formulated centering on the person, on their insights, their behavior and experience. Empathy as a starting point may seem like something obvious, but I think that, often, little attention is paid to it, or it is totally overlooked because, like the capacity for active listening, empathy is actually a rare human virtue.

d.school Stanford “Design Thinking” process
d.school Stanford “Design Thinking” process

The third step is that of ideation: collective brainstorming conducted in the “We Are Smarter Than Me” spirit, and in which “yes, but…” reactions are prohibited, along with knee-jerk criticism, hasty assessments, the disparagement of fellow students, and, of course, pretentious know-it-alls and prima donnas who consider themselves indispensable. The ideas belong to everyone. They are co-created and belong to the group, and will cease to be so the moment they are implemented and placed at the service of the individual, group or society for which they were created. Meanwhile, it is this task force that has the power to reject, develop or refine the ideas that are advanced.

These are usually concepts expressed in embryonic form on paper, in a journal, on a Post-it, a flip-chart or a white board. But they must be made tangible, and prototyped. This is the fourth step in an idea gestation process that, in time, faces its moment of truth: its implementation, its testing, this being the fifth step, with all the risks that this entails. Well, these risks are actually nothing more than opportunities, because making mistakes is all part of the process.

This phase should be fluid, as so many great ideas never get off the ground due to “the paralysis of analysis“, because they do not have deadlines (plans without a schedule are really no plans at all), or out of sheer procrastination.

We must make mistakes, fail, err, and, of course, not suffer for this, but rather accept that this is part of the journey of innovation. I remember the words of Astro Teller, the head of Google’s secret ideas laboratory, Google [X], when he said that mistakes are our friends, and talked about their struggles and setbacks with driverless cars, balloons to carry Internet to every corners of the world, the Wing drone project, and Google Glass’s Explorer program.

Dismantling the Myth of Creativity is all up to you. So, humbly, but with great self-respect, it is time for you to name yourself “Executive Creative Director” of your own life … and make no apologies for doing so.

Ángel González

By Ángel González

Founder & CEO
Ideagoras