Book Review: “Creative Confidence; unleashing the creative potential within all of us”

Kelley, D., 1951 and Kelley, T., (2013) Creative confidence: unleashing the creative potential within us all. London: William Collins.

I have two appraisal objectives that are centred around improving services to different groups of users, and I’ve been struggling to come up with ideas. I support a course called MICL, the Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership. Their learning is often concerned with harnessing creative thinking to improve Things in the world, and one of the techniques they cover is Design Thinking.  I’ve long been interested in what goes on in their programme so when I happened across this book on a trolley, which is concerned with creativity to inform and improve design thinking, I nabbed it in the hope that it would help me.

I was going to write some notes up on it for myself as well as recommend it to a few colleagues, but our handy staff development blog means I can do this same work, but share it with a much wider audience.  People interested in UX may find this book particularly interesting, but anyone with a problem to solve might like it.

Creative Confidence has a simple premise, that we are all innately creative but socialisation, education and life in general tends to extract joyful imagination from us as we age. I was already fully signed up to that belief so enjoyed the rest of the book, which centres around the authors’ experiences at IDEO, an innovative design company they founded.  Like many of these kinds of books, it was a bit repetitive, hammering home the central tenets with anecdata and case studies.  We are all creative, it argues, but we are not confident about our skills. We can unblock our creativity and use it to solve work and life problems by:

  1. Exploring the world for inspiration and “seeking experiences that will spark creative thinking”.
  2. Learning to synthesise our findings so we can identify problems more clearly.
  3. Experimenting with solutions through rapid prototyping and considering lots of ideas at once, a ‘fail fast’ philosophy.
  4. Refining and implementing our most usable idea, road-testing it as we go.

(Kelley and Kelley, 2013, pp. 23-24)

Some of the key concepts I was drawn to in this title are quite personal – I suspect others would find other parts resonated more strongly with them. Chapter 5, for example, is all about the importance of finding what you’re passionate about, not just what you’re good at, in order to achieve personal fulfilment as well as work success.

For me, here’s what stood out:

  • “The ‘Do Something’ Mindset” and “Stop Planning and Start Acting”.  I am an appalling procrastinator, especially when something is unfamiliar or potentially very difficult. In these two sections, covering pp.115-126, we are encouraged to just start, creating messy, sloppy work or complete failures, but to do it quickly so that we improve, and cycle through lots of ideas, thus hitting on workable ones as we go. Procrastination is recast as ‘resistance’, a concept from Pressfield’s “The War of Art”. Resistance is the space between who we are and what we hope to be, a “force we can do battle with” (p.124).
  • Develop a ‘bias towards action’, p. 146. Have an idea, don’t spend too long thinking about it, mock up a prototype or start storyboarding it, rather than mulling it over for three years – “become an agent for change in your environment.”.  I am definitely a muller about some things (see also, procrastination!) so I’m hoping to try more things out loud instead of just pondering.
  • Using positive language, p.198: this is a fancy version of ‘just stop moaning’. There are a few key phrases picked out as being supremely unhelpful – we’ve tried that before, I can’t, that will never work, and some more positive alternative versions: how might we…, I could if I…,  and the simple act of asking why.  The idea is that using more positive language constructions helps open up possibilities instead of shutting them down.  I don’t think I’m a total moaning minny but I do think I could stand to be a lot more positive, so I’m going to try this in my work and personal life.

One of the good things about the book was the number of practical suggestions interspersed throughout. I’ve picked three I particularly liked:

  • The Bug List, p.115: an ongoing master list of stupid and/or frustrating things that need fixing. It’s not a promise to solve any of them, but rather “a useful source of ideas when you’re looking for a new project to tackle” and a way to help you see more points where you might be able to solve problems.
  • Tips for Quick Videos, p.134: this is part of a longer section on using videos to prototype things you can’t easily build, and gives the following tips – work from a script, use voiceovers to convey a ‘story’ in a streamlined way, use a shot list storyboarded in advance to keep organised, pay attention to lighting and sound to make it more professional, and be mindful of visual rhythm and pacing to help the video zip along.
  • Storyboarding a service as a prototype, p.138: map out the flow of the new service as it would be experienced by a user, using stick figure drawings on post it notes. Use it to examine your ideas and test it out on “users”, volunteers you find to walk through it.

The final chapter, 7, has a set of exercises for opening up creative thinking and problem solving, starting with my very favourite tool for planning anything, a good old fashioned mind-map. I do love a mind map, and I am surprised I never thought to do ones for my appraisal objectives (until now. They’re stuck on my wall now.)  The exercises are:

There’s also a helpful list of free online resources such as:

In conclusion, this was an enjoyable read, extremely light on hard theory but inspirational and practical, and the exercises as well as some of the concepts may well come in handy for me in future.

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