Sometime when we were in elementary school, our creative endeavors took a halt.
We started caring about how our peers perceived us.
Up until that point, as kids we let our imaginations run wild. We experimented, squiggled irregular lines on paper and called them dinosaurs. We constantly asked questions about things that didn’t make sense. We took stuff apart, and sometimes put them back together.
We believed that we had the ability to do things, change things, all because… we didn’t know any better!
“We were all born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso
We weren’t afraid. We weren’t afraid of failure and we weren’t afraid of being judged — we were motivated by wonder, curiosity, and playfulness.
And very soon…
We were faced with judgment and rejection. A peer may have told us “that’s not a dinosaur, that looks like a horse!” It’s amazing how such a debilitating remark can keep us not just from drawing, but also from tending toward all other creative endeavors.
Slowly, the standardized education and social assumptions conditioned us to believe that each one of us was born with a certain level of creativity and intelligence. It led us to believe that our wonder or the loads of questions we wanted to ask, didn’t matter; rather, what mattered are the questions of the imposed curriculum. GPA scales, grade systems by teachers — teachers who are supposed to inspire, to nurture creative confidence, who we looked up to — separate who isgood and who is bad at something. They penalize mistakes, highlight them with red ink — showing there’s only room for the right answers.
And soon this happens: when inspiration strikes, we lose the courage to act on our ideas. Why? Because we become wary of judgment, of getting it wrong, and we create assumptions about others’ expectations of our work, so we don’t even try.
Some of us were fortunate, though, to have parents, teachers, and mentors who continually invested, inspired, and encouraged us to dare, to tinker, and to fail.
Realizing our potential
Every human being on this planet has a unique creative talent. Every single one. We all have incredible creative potential that’s waiting to be unlocked and harnessed. Although most tend to associate “creative” with “drawing,” “designing,” or “writing,” fundamentally, creativity is a mindset and an attitude. It’s about connecting the seemingly unconnected; it’s looking at the world with more empathy; it’s re-imagining what’s in front of us to generate new ideas and approaches. How do you unleash this talent? There are a multitude of ways. Here, I will attempt to show you why the fundamental, relentless belief in your own ability to create is the foundation for them all.
Creativity is not a flash of breakthrough insight that only “geniuses” experience. Rather, it is a process anyone can excel in. But you have to have the creative confidence to believe in the process — that the process will yield results.
It starts with caring enough about a problem and empathizing with others. Empathy leads us to challenge pre-conceived beliefs and find out what is actually true. Then we look for inspirations, reframe the problem, test solutions, learn from mistakes, and repeat.
In hindsight, the end solution, whether it’s a way to reduce waiting times at checkout, or a mobile app, seems inevitable, but far from obvious at the beginning.
Creativity is often stigmatized and buried under the weight of rules manuals,traditions, and everything else that makes jobs formulaic. Rather, it applies to marketers, nurses, executives, admins, as much as it does for actors, artists, etc. Whether it’s deeply connecting with a consumer to understand her needs, or reframing a challenge to generate more meaningful ideas, we can all tap into our creative potential to change things around us.
But we don’t. When given an opportunity to expose or grow a new skill to better express ourselves creatively, most of us prefer to lie in our comfort zones for fear that our limits to our capabilities and creativity will be uncovered. Whenever we’re brainstorming ideas in a team meeting, I’ve noticed the “business” people in the team never grab a marker and sketch their ideas on the whiteboard. They resign to themselves that they “can’t draw” and thus subconsciously force themselves to articulate an idea verbally because whiteboard is just not an option to risk looking petty.
This doesn’t just happen to people who don’t deem themselves as “creative.” It happens to the world-renowned creative professionals. There are more half-written novels than published novels in the world. In her famous TED talk, Elizebeth Gilbert, after publishing her international bestseller Eat, Pray, Love talks about the sheer fear and anguish that comes from having to follow-up a freakish success, but all she can do is to show up — and not be afraid of the hype and the anticipation. She talks about how we came to accept the notion that creativity and suffering as inherently linked.
Fear of not meeting expectations affects everyone regardless of the skill level — restricted either by fear, perfectionism, or anywhere in between.
“Every one of my books has killed me a little more.” — Norman Mailer
Courage to falter
Sure, any skill or talent has to be acquired — with effort and perseverance.
But we often forget that the precursor to the effort, to the practice, to the act of any creation, is the courage to allow ourselves to falter, to be judged, so we can keep growing.
Facebook’s office has wall posters that say, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
This question throws a dart right at this dilemma. Because the only limitation to our imagination and our creativity is our own pre-conceived belief of who we are and what we are able. If a new project conflicts with that belief, fear sets in: fear of expectations, fear of being judged, fear of failure.
We run away, and we never get to make our ideas actually happen.
Kanye West says a lot of things. Love him or hate him, in a recent interview, he had this gem to say:
“That’s the main thing people are controlled by: their perception of themselves. They’re slowed down by the perception of themselves. If you’re taught you can’t do anything, you won’t do anything. I was taught I could do everything.”
I couldn’t have said it any better. As we grow up, we are taught to compromise, conform, and are conditioned to accept the social assumptions and norms — that the world is the way it is, and our job is to just live in it.
But we ALL have the ability to create change in the world. Including you. Yes, YOU. The first step is to believe in your creative capacity — the conviction that we can achieve what we set out to do. If creativity is at the heart of innovation, and innovation is key for human progress, then it is our duty to build technologies that help people nurture and strengthen their creative confidence — to help them generate new ideas, and more importantly, to help them cultivate the courage to act upon them.
Arduino, Paper by Fifty Three, Pinterest, and Medium come to mind. These make creativity accessible by making really simple and engaging tools for creative expression — so simple you don’t have to think about it. You just do. There is no friction to create — possibilities are limitless. They get people to drop their inhibitions, stop trying to be guarded, stop focusing on their outward appearance, and let something come in, to affect them, change them, and shape them.They have some magical combination of collective excitement, community support, and a beautiful organization that make you enjoy doing the tasks to create.(I will cover how we might design technologies to cultivate courage in a later post).
Recapturing Creative Confidence
It is this confidence that we have to instill and nurture in people around us, and to let ourselves as creators be nurtured. Because the only way the world can generate more creators is accepting the simple core belief that each one of us are already naturally creators — we just have to help others rekindle their creative tendencies, and support them during their endeavors.
Self-esteem is perhaps the sanctity of human life that we protect the most. Being perceived not good enough strikes us and causes us to be vulnerable. But vulnerability is beautiful; it’s how we grow. Both the people giving feedback and taking feedback have to know how to best give and take feedback: encourage, constructively critique, ask questions; be resilient, always look for improvements.
Building creative confidence is not a sprint, it is more of a life-long marathon. The human spirit is capable of great things. So as we keep believing and creating small, but meaningful things, we earn the ability to build the self-efficacy, slowly and steadily, to build much larger and more impactful things — things that never would have been created if you never joined the race.
I am eternally optimistic of how humanity can be, and I believe in order for us to solve world’s greatest challenges we have to have faith in our creative spirit, and to not let fear, of all things, deter us from reaching our potential.
Whatever you do, don’t leave creative fulfillment to chance. Dare to do, to create, and to invent.
Don’t let the messy unknown, fear of failure, or of being judged, stop you from creating what’s meaningful.
Take creative control.
If you agree with me…
Be the change you wish to see.
There are pursuits more worthy of our creative potential.