Building Creative Confidence and Skills

Creativity is a fundamental element for design processes and innovation. However, many people think that they are not creative, that they are more practical types. David Kelley states that we all have huge potential within us. People are naturally wildly creative, and we just need to take the blocks away from keeping us from being creative. So, how to think out of the box? By following a series of steps, you will solve problems more creatively, make better decisions and attack challenges in the way a designer would do.

Today, a creative person is seen as someone who has an innate potential to think creatively and who can improve creative thoughts by certain techniques and methods. We collected some ideas inspired by Kelley and Tschimmel, how to tackle the empty page problem in idea generation and start thinking more creatively.

Creative Thinking

According to Satiro and Tschimmel (2020) creative thinking can be classified into four groups (Tschimmel, K. 2022). Keep in mind that these following skills are all interconnected, and designers apply all these forms and thinking abilities in their creative processes.

Perception with all senses is an essential form of creative thinking. If you intentionally use all your senses, you can enrich your perceptual experience and produce new and unusual combinations of ideas. Also, a key for creative thinking is the ability to take time to work with unfinished perceptions to not reach conclusions too fast. So, to be able to generate new ideas, you need to avoid stereotyping.

Asking questions can be a driver of innovation. Provocative questions such as “what makes you respond the way you do?”  confront the truths and realities people tend to accept without critical reflection. Imaginative questions such as “what would happen if?” help break the ordinary reality. By asking questions, you can open a variety of answers.

Comparison is the ability to assess ideas in the context of other ideas, where you can make uncommon associations and new combinations of ideas. For example, thinking in analogies helps you to think of one thing as if it was another. By thinking in analogies, you can create novel ideas.

Language is a form of creative thinking where through using narrative thinking and expressive language you can give meaning to people’s lives and to the world. In innovation, using narrative thinking such as storytelling helps make the message of the service or product you designed more accessible to people. Use storytelling and expressive language to set a clear voice to your design.

Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills

#1 Choose creativity

Creative people have one thing in common: they decided to be creative (Sternberg). Deciding for creativity does not guarantee that creativity will emerge, but without the decision, it certainly will not. So, make the decision to be creative, try to find your own way, and look for ideas that are both novel and useful in some way.

#2 Expose yourself to new ideas

If you want a good idea, start with a lot of ideas“, said Linus Pauling. Try to have an open mind for different ideas and apply beginner’s mind to something you do every day. Never fall in love with the first ideas since the first ones are never original ones. Search actively out for inspiration. Try to stay inspired and turn creativity into a habit. Keep in mind that quantity matters!

#3 Understand the needs of end-users

Creativity and innovation need empathy, the ability to see an experience through another person’s eyes and to recognize why people do what they do. Try to observe the persons you are creating for. Do observations in the field to gain more information about how people really act and what are their non-obvious, latent needs. And when you spot a contradiction between what you see and what you expect, it’s a sign that you should dig deeper.

#4 Ask “Why” and “How” questions

Learn more and go deeper by asking questions like “why” or “what if”.  As stated earlier, questions can be drivers of innovation and get you to the heart of the matter. Always try to ask five “why” questions. Ask questions from different people and different age groups. In addition, questions may help you to reframe your challenges. Asking “How might we….” may lead you to find the right question that needs to be answered.

#5 Collaborate your ideas with others

Many of the best ideas result from collaborating with other people. You don’t have to generate all the ideas on your own. Figure out how you can have your own advisory board – it might be a temporary one for a single project or a more permanent one. Build your own creative support network.

Written by Riikamaria Vartiainen and Marika Malmström


Tschimmel, K. (2022) “Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – a ménage à trois”. Perspectives in Design II: Research, Education and Practice II “Series in Design and Innovation” Springer International Publishing (in print).

Tschimmel, K. (2022) “Design vs. Design Thinking”. In Creativity and Innovation Affairs (in process). 

Tschimmel K, Design Thinking Master Class 3.- 4.9.2021 materials. Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business.

David Kelley (2012): How to build your creative confidence. TED Talk

Creativity — Robert J. Sternberg (

7 thoughts on “Building Creative Confidence and Skills

  1. Thank you for bringing up this very important issue of creativity. The subject concerns many people, whether they think being creative or not. Often people who are struggling with their creativity, are just lacking the confidence. And I know it from my own experience, since I have had some ups and downs believing in my own creative confidence. It is very beneficial to be reminded time to time that creativity needs to be a chosen by ourself and that it can be improved. Also, I strongly agree with you that a collaboration plays a crucial role in Creative Thinking, and I think that it is a great advice for everybody to build their own creative support network!

  2. Thank you for the useful video and a nice book review.
    After sessions with Katya Tschimmel and reading “Creative confidence”, I found out several important points that will undoubtedly help me personally to develop creative confidence in any work. In addition to the things mentioned in your article, these are the following insights:
    1.People are not divided into creatives and non-creatives
    2. People are afraid to be judged and stop their creativity
    3. No need to be afraid of failures
    4. It’s better to study Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory
    5 If you want to make something great, you just need to start making.
    Most times when I get the inspiration to draw, I usually procrastinate out of fear of the blank white paper before me. What I knew is that Procrastination = Resistance. If you have trouble getting started you can:
    -Get Help
    -Create Peer Pressure
    -Gather an Audience
    -Do a bad job
    -Lower the stakes
    The last words of your blog text about building the own creative support network, I define as the most important for all of us, especially now when we’re starting to get into unfamiliar territory of Service Design.

  3. Thanks for the comprehensive summary of creative thinking! It’s great to know that anybody can be creative. David Kelly’s words are comforting – he believes that we all have a great potential within us, and Sternberg states that creative people have decided to be such! At Katja Tschimmel’s Design Thinking masterclass I met for the first time some of the exercises to learn thinking out of the box with Perception. The tasks practiced creative thinking on the E62 model’s E3 Experimentation phase. I found the language-oriented tasks challenging, however, practice makes perfect. Creativity, including perception, can be enhanced by putting social and cultural influences away and by intentionally using senses to enrich one’s perceptual experience and to produce new and unusual combinations of ideas, e.g. music and sounds work as stimuli for some.

  4. I think one critical step in building creative confidence and skills is handling uncertainty. At least, in my experience, that is one trait I have observed. Abductive reasoning process required in DT or for creative thinking in general involves the ability to handle a good portion of uncertainty. In fact, in the very beginning of the process, you don’t even know what you will do with ideas you dump on a piece of paper. The piling uncertainty creates mental unease and strain on people, which in return create individuals to refrain themselves from the creative process. Connecting this to DT education—and creative thinking education—I think one part of building creative confidence is providing the skills and the mindset to handle uncertainty and be comfortable operating within it.

  5. Thank you, it was interesting to read about building creative confidence – a fascinating subject.

    As mentioned, many of us might think they are not creative, also due to a traditional and narrow view about what creativity is (understood mainly as visual arts and other concrete manifestations). I would also claim that our culture has not traditionally been very encouraging to individual creativity at work, as the idea of ”hard worker accomplishing pre-established goals and not questioning too much” still persists in many workplaces.

    We’d also need a cultural change, as individual achievements are in many cases highlighted instead of celebrating the success of teams. However, collaboration is the key in creative design thinking. As stated during Katja Tschimmel’s masterclass on Design Thinking at Laurea, “design thinking is a collective and participatory process, and as many stakeholders as possible should be included in the creative process.”

    This is also where inclusiveness steps in – for creativeness to bloom, it is essential to gather very different people to work together. Collaboration helps to challenge everyone’s stereotypes and to think ”outside the box”, as everyone’s boxes tend to be different.

    The teams should have a safe, encouraging environment for bringing forward their ideas, to experiment and fail, and to continuously learn on the way. As stated during the masterclass, mistakes and failure are an important part of every design process. Without them, nothing really new can emerge.

  6. Dear Riikkamaria and Marika,

    you identified and analyzed a very interesting and challenging topic, Building creative confidence and skills. As your blog and the video by David Kelley states, we’re born uncensored but build mental blockings to our own minds after receiving criticism and negative feedback. One needs to be strong, perhaps even stubborn to overcome that and believe in own abilities.

    Recognizing the limitations, either by oneself or when educated and coached by a person we trust enables us all to open the dam of confidence and start innovating. Do we reach the level of Leonardo Da Vinci in creativity is a different story, but with the awareness and knowledge on related tools and processes guides us on the way to reach our full potential.

    You made a perfect choice with David Kelley’s Ted talk. The Guided Mastery -concept by Bendura as one and how the MRI experience was totally changed for the kids through a new room design and related user story. Truly inspirational. I’m positive we’ll all learn a lot during this MBA journey, see some career changes and contribute back to society.

  7. Well written article of what our class also learned from Katja’s two day lecture this autumn. It surprises me how many people in my team (approx 20 people) did not think they are creative when I asked this question yesterday. I have now shared the very same TED talk with them via our team chat and have asked the question again 🙂
    Regarding your point #4 Ask “Why” and “How” questions, I also learned during the class that it’s often just as valid asking “Why not” in order to try to push people thinking more extreme ideas.

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