Book Review: Creative Confidence | Tom and David Kelley

Do you need a confidence boost before you step out and start creating? Brothers Tom and David Kelley, founders of global design firm IDEO and the Stanford d.School, want you to know that we’re all capable of being creative. And, that bringing creativity into your life turns you into a problem-solver and a difference-maker.

Their book, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, shows us why there’s no such thing as “creative types” and “non-creative types.” This 2013 NY Times best-seller can help individuals, teams, and entire organizations find ways to innovate through design thinking and creativity.

What’s this book about?

The Kelley brothers built one of the most creative organizations of the last century. IDEO is the design firm behind, among other things, the first ergonomically-designed computer mouse. More recently, IDEO helped create the first wearable breast pump, better baby food packaging, and reimagined the classic Viewmaster toy.

However, besides some brief mentions of the mouse and their work with Steve Jobs, none of those stories get attention in Creative Confidence. Instead, the authors introduce us to people they’ve helped empower to be more creative — be that through working with IDEO or going through programs at the Stanford Design School (d.school).

David and Tom Kelley

Among the people you’ll read about are an engineer who modified medical imaging machines to be more kid-friendly, a scientist who dropped out of a PhD program to become an entrepreneur, a pair of analytically-minded students who developed one of the first successful iPad apps, and a woman who gained the confidence to file more than a dozen patents while working for 3M.

All these people were influenced by human-centered design thinking, which enabled them to come up with creative ideas. Design thinking highlights the value of activities such as field research, customer journey mapping, mind mapping, empathy maps, and prototyping. The Kelley’s book makes these processes seem much less corporatey than they sound.

Throughout the book, the Kelleys offer insights into how they spark creativity among their students, employees, and clients by explaining how d.School classes work and how IDEO approaches creative problem solving. They also offers actionable tactics and activities you can use to encourage creativity in business and everyday life.

Who is this book for?

Creative Confidence is probably best for those in leadership/management who are trying to both become more creative and nurture creativity where they work. The Kelleys work with a lot of big companies and super-smart students. It’s easy to feel a bit intimidated by that — or to use that fact as an excuse for having a lack of confidence in yourself.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the sentiment of this book is that there’s creative power inside everyone, and the purpose of this book is to push people who feel uncreative to start thinking differently about their capabilities.

In general, this is a great “business book,” and if you read magazines like Fast Co., Inc. and Entrepreneur, you’ll enjoy it.

What did I think about it?

All the stories in Creative Confidence really helped drive home the points the authors wanted to make. Yet, each chapter also offers direct advice and outlines steps you can take to boost your creativity.

I think my favorite part of the book was Chapter 7, “Move”, which features a collection of team and individual exercises to unlock creativity. You’ll see how mind-mapping can help you dream up a better dinner party, and how random nicknames can eliminate hierarchy during brainstorming sessions.

The Dinner Party Mind Map Courtesy: IDEO.com

There was a time in my life when I was gobbling up content about innovation and entrepreneurs. I was practically idolizing them and felt somewhat envious of people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and a host of other tech founders who were about my age — yet seemed to be accomplishing so much more with their lives.

At certain points while reading this book, I felt similar pangs of frustration and regret. But, that’s exactly the kind of thinking the authors want readers to overcome.

In Creative Confidence, the Kelleys frequently bring up the work of Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura who first proposed the concept of “self-efficacy,” or as Bandura describes it a personal assessment of “how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”. Bandura’s work focused on self-efficacy and battling phobias. The Kelleys apply it to gaining confidence in your creative abilities.

“… our belief systems affect our actions, goals, and perception. Individuals who come to believe that they can effect change are more likely to accomplish what they set out to do.”

Tom and David Kelley, Creative Confidence

Believe in yourself. You’ve probably heard that before.

But it’s so simple, it just might work.

Watch a TED Talk with David Kelley

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