4 fears you need to eliminate to become more creative

In my last post, I wrote about the power of prototyping, something that the international design firm IDEO has used quite effectively to help companies become more innovative. In this post, I want to discuss some ideas that IDEO’s Tom and David Kelley wrote about in “Reclaim Your Creative Confidence,” an article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review.

If you don’t have time to read the full article, Alison Beard of HBR interviewed the brothers for a podcast called “The Four Fears Blocking You from Great Ideas.” It’s a great listen for entrepreneurs, small business people or change agents in larger organizations who feel held back or otherwise stymied—often by their own fears. You can also watch this TED Talk by David Kelley.

As the Kelleys note, creativity is something we are all born with, but many of us have stifled our creative impulses through socialization and a desire to be more analytical. Yet, creativity is actually essential to success.

To rediscover our creative confidence, the Kelleys say we need to “get past four fears that hold most of us back: fear of the messy unknown, fear of being judged, fear of the first step, and fear of losing control.”

When I think about this past year and being self-employed for the first time, I can definitely relate. I’ve had many jitters, especially about the unknown, but I’ve found each time that those fears melt away if I just apply myself and work towards my goals. As the Kelleys write, “You break challenges down into small steps and then build confidence by succeeding on one after another. Creativity is something you practice, not just a talent you’re born with. The process may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but…the discomfort quickly fades away and is replaced with new confidence and capabilities.”

In a nutshell, here are the four fears and some ideas for overcoming them:

  1. Fear of the messy unknown. The Kelleys maintain that you can’t be creative sitting behind your desk processing information from predictable sources. You have to go out into the messy, chaotic world and do some field research. In other words, go where your customers are and see the world (and your company) through their eyes.
  2. Fear of being judged. One of our biggest fears is not being accepted. So we stick to safe solutions and avoid risk. According to the Kelleys, “Half the battle is to resist judging yourself.” Listen to your own intuition and embrace more of your ideas. Some suggestions: Take baby steps. Capture ideas in a notebook. Schedule daily “white space” on your calendar where your only task is to daydream. When you try to generate ideas, shoot for 100 instead of 10. Encourage judgment-free collaboration.
  3. Fear of the first step. At some point, the Kelleys say, “You need to stop planning and just get started—and the best way to do that is to stop focusing on the huge overall task and find a small piece you can tackle right away.” Another way to push yourself to take the first step is to ask: “What is the low-cost experiment? What’s the quickest, cheapest way to make progress toward the larger goal?” Also, force yourself to start right away. Rather than stalling and allowing your anxiety to build, just start!
  4. Fear of losing control. Most of us are control freaks, but the Kelleys encourage their teams to let go. One simple suggestion that I like: “[B]reak the routine of a weekly meeting by letting the most junior person in the room set the agenda and lead it. Look for opportunities to cede control and leverage different perspectives.”

I hope to employ some of these great ideas in my second year as a solo practitioner. Like the Nike slogan, “Just do it,” there is something to be said for simply starting and not worrying so much about whether it’s the perfect plan!

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