When was the last time you tried something new and failed? Did you feel proud of yourself then? You probably should have, because chances are that your failure was a sign of you pushing your creativity to the limit. And it takes a lot of guts to do so.
As IDEO founders David and Thomas Kelley point out in their book Creative confidence creativity means that you can imagine the way the world should be, believe in your capacity to make positive changes and be brave enough to take action (2013, p. 64). Creative thinkers discover new opportunities, think in variety of possibilities and take multiple perspectives into account. They experiment and operate against well known solutions and stereotypes. The plot twist? We all have what it takes to be a creative thinker (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p.4-6).
Creativity, like any other skill, can be trained (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 5-6; 30). The training program for your mind muscles are processes that these days goes by the name design thinking (see for example Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença 2015, p. 69). These processes help to build empathic understanding, to find new perspectives and make sense of the world around us. Design thinking processes are human-centred, multidisciplinary, collaborative, optimistic and experimental (Tschimmel et al. 2015, p. 6; 72). Design thinking is also design doing: it always aims to produce something concrete and new to the world.
Stirring the status quo
Unfortunately many of us adults are too afraid of failure and the lost of appreciation of our peers to fully tap into our creative potential (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 6; 44; 53-55). We often see creativity as something that “the artistic” or “the innovative” types have. Because of these beliefs good ideas are left unshared and the unique solutions go undiscovered (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 62).
In the future working life transversal skills such as creativity, collaboration skills and ability to take initiative are on high demand (Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença 2015, p. 6). But using design thinking to unleash the full power of our creative capacity is not only a matter of skilled workforce. As the over 7 million people marching in the global Climate Strikes in September 2019 reminded us: there are no jobs on a dead planet.
The biggest challenges of our times are summarized in UN Agenda 2030 goals that are interlaced and overlap each other. Like in design thinking the needs of people are in the center of these goals: for example the need for a livable environment is fundamental. As many of these challenges are described as wicked problems, it is becoming increasingly clear that we can’t tackle the problems created by the current ways of living by continuing “business as usual” (see also Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença 2015, p. 72). As the problems we are facing as humankind are getting more all-encompassing and complex, the need for human superpowers like empathy and creativity is ever increasing.
So where do I start?
Not all of us are educational leaders or politicians who have the power to disrupt systems teaching us how to think and behave. Luckily, as we have established, everyone can make a difference. Here are some of the tips from the experts that we can try in our everyday life to unblock the creative superpowers within us and the others around us:
- Try until you fail and push others to try too. Learning cycles including failure are an essential part of unblocking creativity. You can think that if you haven’t failed yet, you weren’t reaching far enough. Try to create opportunities for those around you to fail as well in a supportive environment. Start by failing small and aim for massive failures as your creative confidence increases.
(Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 50-53; Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença 2015, p. 7; 72.)
- Label your next great idea as an experiment and let everyone know that you’re just testing it out. Make sure that the people around you know that you only have reasonable hope for success and the whole point is what you can learn from the failure if and hopefully when it happens. (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 47; 50.)
- Pay attention and intervene when someone around is feeling insecure or undervalued. Keep in mind that insecurity isn’t always a sign for lack of skills or experience. Perfectionism can be crippling if we think that being and expert means excelling without a flaw. Fight these feelings of insecurity by always giving credit when credit is due. Remember to give credit from trying and failing as well, not only succeeding. (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 57; 61-63.)
- Start keeping an idea journal. It doesn’t matter whether you write, draw or dictate your ideas. Create a way to have a way to store you ideas right away no matter where you are, because even the greatest ideas might be fleeting.
(Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 216-218.)
- Remember that creative processes are collaborative processes. Share your ideas, ask for help and take care of your social support system. (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 58; Tschimmel et al. 2015, p. 72.)
Enjoy creating, embrace failing!
The writer is a career counsellor venturing in the world of design thinking. She failed yesterday with a new veggie stew recipe, but is determined to try again (much to her family’s horror).
Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. 2013. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us All. New York: Currency.
Tschimmel, K., Santos, J., Loyens, D., Jacinto, A., Monteiro, R. & Valença M. 2015. Research Report D-Think. Design Thinking Applied to Education and Training. ERASMUS+ KA2 Strategic Partnerships. Available online: http://www.d-think.eu/uploads/1/6/2/1/16214540/researchreport_d-think-dv.pdf [Accessed September 30th 2019].
Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking [lecture]. Held on 6-7 September. Laurea University of Applied Sciences.
Thank you for the great article Sara! 🙂 What conclusion did you end up too, can we save the world by unlocking our creativity? At least creativity gives us tools to solve these problems, as Kellys’ describe.
I liked the practical steps the book described about how to release your inner creativity. I already started my idea journal when reading the book 🙂 I think it’s a good idea to train the creativity -muscle, just as you also wrote. I also think design thinking should be taught already in comprehensive school, as most of the design thinking principles and tools would also make the world better place for children and adults already by themselves – such as for example the topic you also pointed out: “Pay attention and intervene when someone around is feeling insecure or undervalued”.
I really like that you have emphasized the necessary failing part of the creative process. It is very encouraging and places creative actions in more achievable position.
Though I have to admit that when reading Kelleys’ book I found it little surprising how much effort they put in convincing that everyone is creative. Since I take it for granted, the book was very eye-opening.
Thank you so much Sara for such an inspiring article!
It’s amazing to envision Design Thinking as a training program for your mind to enhance your creativity.
I believe we ca truly changed the world though empathy, collaboration and clear objectives.
It’s so important to see that creativity can be trained and is not something you are born with.
Sometime we need to be reminded that we have to adopt a growth mindset and understand that we can learn whatever we want to learn.
As you mentioned, creativity is a skill. Maybe to give another example of a skill that can be learned and people are not aware of is charisma. I have heard so many times “I’m not charismatic” or “You are born with charisma”. Charisma, as creativity, is a skill that can be learned and one can train themselves to be more charismatic and more prepared in social interactions.
To move further, the tips in this article are extremely valuable and inspiring. I believe your vision of failure is fantastic. Instead of being ashamed of failure we should embrace it and learn from it. Because as you mentioned, if you don’t fail you weren’t reaching far enough.
Thank you Sara for such a motivating writing! For me, design thinking gives hope that it is possible to find sustainable path for better future. And through creativity and experimentation it will lead to concrete actions instead of countless papers dusting in the shelves. But there’s that gloomy enemy on our shoulders that we need to beat and that’s perfectionism, as you mentioned in your text. In order to conquer that monster we have a very powerful force already that we are using in design thinking and that’s empathy. In addition to feeling empathy toward others, we should also feel it toward ourselves when we try something new and it goes “wrong”. With self-empathy and support (and empathy) from others around us we will succeed together and grow in many ways, I’m sure of that!
Thank you for an interesting article, Sara! I especially liked that you combined the possibilities of design thinking with timely world matter such as climate change and gave concrete and concise ideas for all of us to try out on our journey towards more creative life. I find it especially interesting that framing your new idea as an experiment was mentioned, as we have using a method called “kokeilukortti” (“experiment card”) at work that lets you define a method or a way of working you want to try out, set your objectives for the experiments and how you plan to validate them. We also have colleagues as peer-mentors who help you by discussing your idea with you and setting the objectives and scope of the experiment. After that, the card and its objectives are approved by one’s supervisor who also in the process gives support to trying out that idea and seeing what can be learned from the process. I used it myself once to find out whether a method I was thinking might help with a certain work project but wasn’t sure whether it would be feasible or not as it required me to learn new technologies. Through the process I learned that the technology I chose might not be the best for the job but also gained understanding about what kind of problem I was working with, and that helped me to move on with the problem better than just sticking to my usual way of working. And it was also really enjoyable to learn new things!